It’s a process

My creative epiphany came this week in the form of Sandra Oh’s character on Grey’s Anatomy speaking to the chief about the upcoming merger. The past few weeks we’ve watched as she scrambles from one specialty to another as she tries to save her job and something shifts in her and she tells her boss that he should fire her because what scares her more is not doing her specialty, her work, then staying on in a place that won’t allow give her what she needs. (I am clearly paraphrasing here, but this is how I heard it.)

I felt that little bubble of recognition in that televised moment. For weeks I have told my day job that I want out of a project. It doesn’t feed my creativity, nor do I have any real time for it. I want to focus on the parts of my work that not only fulfill me, but help things on a grandeur scale. On some level, they listened and got me temporary help, but when that person goes, I will be back.

We all have things in our day jobs that we don’t like. We are told to suck it up and do it with a smile on our face and be positive. I couldn’t do it last week. Instead, I felt physically sick about it. And it is because I don’t think that I can stomach the idea of doing something that doesn’t nourish me.

Sounds dramatic, it is just a facet of my job. But it is a facet that I never wanted. It was something that forced upon me and I have been enmeshed in it for three years. I have learned a lot about working with people who don’t quite know the direction they are going in, who perhaps struggle and try work fight from fear to make something work which no longer does and how far I will put up with something until I am physically shaking from the feeling of absolute desperation. How much my “not letting anyone down” personality trait will lead me to an emotional breakdown. And I refuse to be part of it anymore.

I am afraid though that if I really tell my boss exactly what I feel, that I will be fired. They could find someone else to do my job who will put up with things, who has a fresh perspective and will do double the work for the price they pay me (or less), but they wouldn’t get what I give in the other parts of my job. Which I am hoping that my boss sees. We are all in the end, replaceable.

I know that much of this emotional turmoil is based on grief too, so making any major decisions right now isn’t a good idea. Last Monday, my partner and I put our cat Simon to sleep. He had been walking funny and hiding under the bed and being crabby and untouchable – very unSimonlike behaviour. We took him to the vet and it turned out that he had cancer. A huge tumor had grown in his stomach. So, within two hours of bringing him in, I was back there holding him in a towel waiting for my partner to come as we held him, said goodbye and stayed until the very end.

In the Death and Dying course I took last year, my instructor talked a lot about being there for that transition from life to death. To be present for that experience is a great gift as we watch someone make that final step. I have been present for two of my pets deaths. Both times the animals were in deep agony and it was the right thing to do. It happens quickly for them and I watch as they stop breathing and all that I knew of them vanishes and what is left is the physical form that was once them. It is a gift to watch this, but it is also really awful as something I loved is gone and is not coming back.

I still hear steps and thing Simon is walking around upstairs. I expect to see the catlitter in the hallway. I still hear his meows now and then. The dog is moody and whiny and I think he is taking in the subtle emotional upheaval that has happened in the house.

I didn’t have him very long, so unlike Caya, who I had for 10 years, Simon was “new.” I don’t know what is appropriate to feel for a cat that I had less then two years. But, I feel sad and I miss him.

In my course last year, we also talking about the stages of grieving. Perhaps I was in denial all week about the whole thing. I went to work the next day and tried to just work. I noticed that I got very emotional about things but would push it down. A colleague sent cupcakes. I didn’t even know she felt that way about me or cats. That was moving. People for the first day checked in and then they forgot.

My boss forgot.

And sent me this project and it made me really angry as I wanted to only do what I could emotionally handle, things that I enjoyed doing. I pushed back because I didn’t want it. I pushed back because of the micromanagement that I foresaw on the other side. I pushed back because it made me physically ill to consider doing it. I pushed back because I wanted more compassion for what I was going through even if I didn’t outwardly show that I did.

I wanted time to process and yet I didn’t really want to because I felt some overwhelming guilt about missing a day of work.

I forgot what I had learned about grieving.But my mind goes to the same thing to avoid the feelings: “I’m not far enough in my book. I am wasting time.”
“I’m fat.”
“Its just a cat who I didn’t have for a long time, its not like when Zaida or Caya died.”

And then I did other things:
“Take it slow.”
“Honour your feelings however crazy it may seem.”
“It’s a process.”

One thing that I do know, is that we all die. It isn’t something that one can avoid (although humans are really trying to figure that one out). I am sure that is why we are fascinated right now with vampires and ghosts as we hope that there is something more to this. But, being here, I want to do something significant. To make my life have meaning and the death of my pet reminds me that I don’t want to waste any more time doing things that don’t nurture me.

Is that grief talking or is that real? Right now, I don’t quite know.


About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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