Friday, June 6, 2014


I've been struggling to write about unhappiness, not because I'm so damned happy, but because I don't really know what do say about being unhappy.

If my life is like Minnesota, the self-described "Land of 10,000 Lakes," then there are parts of my life where my happiness is like Lake Superior. My friends, my relationship with Mike, my sculpted body; sure, there might be a polluted beach or two, but for the most part, I can take pleasure and comfort in the depths of these things.

Other areas in my life? Not so much. My creative side, which started off vast like Rainy Lake, feels like it's slowly draining. As my personal time becomes more limited, writing and crafting - which bring me such pleasure! - are some of the first things to go. In the face of a full-time job and a rapidly-approaching wedding, when there are databases to update (despair) and caterers to harass, creative time feels like a luxury. Or exercise time, which I claw out of my limited time. Exercise doesn't really make me happy; it's more that not working out makes me feel so crazy and sad. There's a little bit of pleasure there, but it's the pleasure of an arm sore from a recent inoculation.

And the job itself? The joy I find there is a little puddle, maybe the size of Spoon Lake, which maxes out at six feet deep and is about the same size as Yorkdale Mall if you include the mall's interminable parking lot. I don't even really want to talk about the job.

People always chirp, "Do what you love and love what you do!" I did what I loved for just over a year: I freelanced, I ate lunch with friends, I played outside and went for bitterly cold winter walks. I also cried over money, and the impression that I would never find work again. Now, loving what I do means loving the hectic stress of an office in transition, loving the uncertainty of who my boss is or will be, and loving the mundane boredom of being alone for 80% of the workweek. It means finding joy by floundering in a sea of decontextualized and scattered information that someone needs right now, no please, no thank you, so go track it down and synthesize it and make it pretty. Now.

And I know how lucky I am to have a job. Any job. But is it good luck or bad luck? The more time I spend with this one, the more I feel like maybe this lake will someday turn itself into a swirling drain, and carry me down into a further darkness. Six feet is enough to drown in.

I need to get a little dinghy and stay above the muck of my little puddles, my unhappy lakes. They matter, because I can't see where to step in their muddy waters, but I can promise myself I won't disappear in their sludge. That much I can do.

I need to swim more often in the cold waters of my deepest lakes. They save me: the friends, the family, the partner, the fitness, the making, the eating, the sleeping. I can dive down to where the water will force the air from your lungs, and shooting to the surface is teaching yourself how to breath all over again.

Image: "Message," 2014, Shawn Dulaney