Without really knowing it, I’ve been reinventing myself for the past year and a half. By necessity and by choice. Not always with great results.
So what precipitated all this change? Well, a lot of things.
Through a “reduction in force,” I lost my job in July 2016 after five and a half years at a small educational publishing company. The meeting was unexpected, long, and, frankly, a little insulting. It was scheduled at the end of my workday under the pretext of an informational meeting to discuss my new role at the reorganized company—a role that, unbeknownst to me, had been terminated. Effective immediately.
This occurred just five days after my thirtieth birthday, twenty days after I was assaulted and mugged outside my home, and about a month after a fiction publishing startup I was volunteering for went dark.
I wasn’t having a good month, and this feeling would only be exacerbated in the ensuing weeks as I watched my long-term boyfriend lose his grandmother to cancer. I was in shreds.
Flash forward a bit.
Last month, I reread Frankenstein for the first time since college. I’d forgotten about the story-within-a-story framework, and I was struck by the intensity and relevance of a few key themes throughout the book (more on that below).
It was then that I realized I’ve been Frankensteining my life, building and rebuilding myself, and now I don’t know what’s to come of me, because—here’s a secret—it’s still happening and probably always will. I bet you’re in a similar boat. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
Here are the Frankenstein themes I’ve somewhat unknowingly engaged in over the last sixteen months.
Find your purpose
After losing my job, I felt like a sailboat without a sail.
Not really because of the job, though. I never intended to work in educational publishing. Since I needed an income while I worked on my MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts, I took what I could get at the time. I worked at this company until 2016, despite having graduated in 2013. Only after losing that job could I look back and ask myself, Why haven’t I written anything substantial in the three years since completing my program and publishing my first book?
I’d gotten too comfortable with “work.” I was “too tired” to write outside of work or didn’t “feel like it.” I’d abandoned something that I thought was my purpose to pursue corporate shenanigans and “job security.” Look how that turned out!
In the novel, Victor Frankenstein knows what he wants, and he pursues it with a passion that borders on insanity. Although I’m horrified by the events that unfold in his hubris-filled pursuit of destiny, I envy his drive. I don’t want to unleash a murderous fiend, but I do wish to create something even half as real and emotionally compelling as the so-called monster, an intelligent but ugly being who becomes a monster only because Frankenstein shuns and deprives and despises him. Whether it was right to create him or not, Victor did, and irresponsibly so.
Through Frankenstein, I’ve learned that I should not shun my creations, no matter how ugly they may seem on the outside. I’ve also learned that I should be mindful of ethics throughout the journey of creation. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I must not only pursue storytelling as my own destiny but also write with clarity and purpose.
To that end, I’ve been writing a new story collection about brothers and sisters. I actually did some preliminary planning this time, as opposed to my first book, which was generated purely through serendipity and feeling. (I’ll share more on this new book over the next few months.)
My progress has been a rollercoaster, but I’ve written more this year than I have in any year since 2013. In the course of reinventing myself as a writer, I must do the work of writing. When I fall, I must pick myself up.
Meanwhile, to pay the bills these past sixteen months, I’ve freelanced—mostly as an editor and a project manager, mainly in education. This time, it is a means to an end, providing me with food and shelter. It is not my purpose, although I’d argue I’ve gotten pretty good at it and I do enjoy it from time to time.
But I do it in between stolen glances at my ugly, first-draft creations. And I am proud of them, bruises and all.
Avoid the horrors of despair
Throughout Frankenstein, words like “despair” are prevalent. This general theme, whether expressed in actual dialogue or in tone and mood, is a constant presence in the story.
To be honest, Victor in particular is a bit of a sad sack. A moper. Woe is him and everything he touches, and it’s all his fault for creating this “daemon” that he has judged as evil and disgusting from the start, but he can’t do anything about it now.
But he can. He could have, at least. Since he insisted on following his problematic passion, his thirst for the knowledge of life, playing God, it was his responsibility to do so thoughtfully. He refuses the being he perceives as a monster, so the monster becomes a monster.
I struggle with despair, too, like we all do from time to time. Freelancing for a living is hard work because you have to not only do the work you’re contracted for but also do the work of finding contracts and clients. It can be exhausting and rewarding all at once.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve caught myself wallowing in the hard life of being a freelancer and not knowing where my next check was coming from—or when. Having to cancel on or otherwise RSVP “no” to events I want to partake in, just because I need time to find new work or to work on the mountain of work I’ve already lined up. Or because my boyfriend, who’s working two or three jobs at once, can’t take off work or maybe it’s just too late to request off.
I try to be mindful. I try to preempt these feelings by not dwelling too much on the distant future.
I tell myself that it’s important to have a long-term plan, but you have to live in the now too. Or you aren’t really living, are you?
Sometimes it’s OK to take time for yourself and to commune with others. The mountain of work, and the looming bills, will still be there in the morning.
Don’t mope. Do.
The day after I lost my job, I started the process of filing for unemployment. I put feelers out on LinkedIn and started a massive job hunt. After all, I would have to pay rent in about a month, and that would deplete a large portion of my small savings.
Then something amazing happened that I hadn’t expected, at least not so soon or in such a big way. My network came through for me.
Through a couple of connections, I lined up a substantial amount of freelance work at two companies, and it would take me into the fall (actually, almost until Christmas, but I didn’t know that at the time).
I started my freelance gigs within two weeks of losing my job. I filed for unemployment one week and then never again.
I had become a freelancer, and my income hadn’t dropped in the process—in fact, it went up a little that year. I’m doing just fine this year, too, although it can be touch and go.
I’ve already talked about the difficult aspects of freelancing, above, and those were the lessons I learned the hard way in the early months of 2017, when work dried up a bit following a surprisingly good fall 2016. Thankfully, I managed to rebound in the latter half of 2017. I have great partnerships set up at several companies now, and I’m making new connections all the time.
It’s been a long road, and although I haven’t approached it with the same tenacity that Victor Frankenstein thrives upon, I’ve rebuilt my professional life out of necessity. I’ve had my share of ethics struggles on this journey, but so far, I’ve managed to do the right thing in the end.
Rebuild yourself again
Looking back at my path through the lens of Frankenstein—through the idea of building something new and ambitious that I’m actually excited about—I see that I’ve been reinventing myself in several other, more personal ways too.
In January, after seven years as a couple, my boyfriend and I finally moved in together. That in itself has been an interesting challenge, but maybe that’s the topic of another blog post.
Around the same time, I decided to change my appearance as well.
The new apartment had a gym, so why not take advantage? I’m not buff by any means, and I don’t have any plans to become a 200-pound bodybuilder, but I feel good about my body. Better than I ever have. And that’s what counts.
I also decided I would try growing a beard. I’d long been, for lack of a better word, prudish about facial hair. Perhaps because of my darkest days in the closet, I had come to associate beards with heterosexual machismo, a form of hypermasculinity that I wasn’t allowed to touch or enjoy.
Lately, something had shifted in me. The well-groomed bearded men I had previously overlooked on magazine covers were now more attractive to me, and I had come to appreciate my boyfriend’s near-constant stubble.
Bearded men were no longer a threat to my sexual identity. They had become a part of it.
Let’s be clear, though, I’m still not into the ZZ Top look. No offense to them or anyone who loves long, shaggy beards. I’m just not there yet. 🙂
Really, and this is the most exciting revelation, I’m still inventing myself.
What about you?
If you haven’t read Frankenstein before, I highly recommend it, especially with Halloween coming up. Besides the themes I’ve already outlined, there are many others that are applicable to the joys of humanity in addition to the horrors. You can pick up a copy on Amazon or maybe take a walk over to your favorite local bookstore.
If you read the book long ago, you should dust off your copy and take a second gander. You may notice, as I did, that’s it’s more relevant to your life now than ever before.
Now, for anyone who’s willing to share, I’d love to hear your story. How is your life mirrored in Frankenstein?