“My sister really likes your articles. She sent me one the other day.”
He had one end of a heavy wardrobe and I had the other. We were helping a friend move. The piece of furniture we were tasked to relocate had been mistakenly placed upstairs during the frenzy. It needed to be downstairs, which, in a split-level house, means two small flights of stairs.
We were halfway down the last flight when he dropped this line on me.
I was suddenly struck with the overwhelming realization that actual, living, breathing people are reading what I write. It was a compliment, but before I was flattered I experienced terror.
In one giant package, all of my writing deadlines came crashing down on me. This guy’s sister expects something out of me and I don’t even know what I’m going to write about for my next column. If I had any glory days, they must surely be behind me, I thought, while trying not to scuff the walls in their new house.
These thoughts were occurring as him and I kept chatting about which article it was that his sister sent him. The part of my brain focused on that conversation was on autopilot. The other part of my brain had set course on a dangerous, circular path.
I was becoming anxious. That simple compliment was making me increasingly anxious.
But here’s the catch/solution: over the 38 years I have been alive and the 20 or so years I have been employed, I have developed a safety net for the kinds of thought trajectories that tend to make something out of nothing, or, in this case, something negative out of something positive.
This is not a self-help column. Nor do I possess any guru-like qualities. But I have observed a few patterns that I hope you find helpful. I’ve also chatted with enough people to know that these patterns are not unique to me.
I’ve been back at the farm for six years, this August. And I have been writing for Grainews for the same amount of time. These two gigs are the longest I have been anywhere. Both of these have been hugely rewarding jobs, by the way. Anyway, before Grainews and the farm entered my life, I would change jobs every couple of years.
I was never pushed out. I never had to leave, but at some point in most of my previous jobs I would make something out of nothing and work myself into such a state that I felt leaving was the only logical choice.
The bulk of these decisions happened in winter.
Jamie and I enjoy winter. But, and I have said this over and over again, to my friends, coworkers — anyone who will listen — do not make rash decisions in the winter months.
If on January 15 you are suddenly struck with the urge to leave your current job, either don’t confirm the decision for another month or two or at the very least talk it out with someone else.
There is a lot more to this, though. It takes courage at first. It takes stepping into the fog trusting that once it clears you’ll find yourself where you want to be. Offices become small in winter. Houses become small, too. The world is different. People are forced inward. You are forced inward. It’s worth being aware of.
I don’t know if my next column will be interesting or worth sharing. I don’t know if buying land at today’s prices is a smart decision. But I do know these questions carry extra weight in winter. They do for me, anyway.
When the weather changes and us farmers are outside tinkering on things, having evening fires, fishing and camping, there is a levity to life that isn’t there in the colder months.
The mind clears in summer. Decisions are easier and the things that we couldn’t overlook in February become things we’re happy we didn’t react to at the time.
I try to avoid disruptive decisions in winter. I avoid giving merit to my fears and anxieties during these months, as well. Sometimes a holding pattern is better than the alternative.
I hope this gentleman’s sister continues to enjoy my columns. I’ll take the compliment and toss the anxiety.