14 March 2008

The Incredibly Stupid Thing

and its Very Interesting Fallout

I managed to do an Incredibly Stupid Thing at work last week -- by crossing the Wrong People -- and spent most of Monday and Tuesday convinced that I was going to lose my beloved job at Fabulous Private University as a result. I haven't. And I probably won't, but all the same, the possibility of suddenly becoming unemployed sent my brain to some very interesting - and very unexpected - places.

Place number 1: Welcome to Stupid-ville. Despite all the time I've spent getting older and all the money and effort I've spent getting wiser (theoretically), I am still capable of doing Incredibly Stupid Things. This hardly seems fair.

Place number 2: Mt. Everest. (Not literally, more's the pity.) I have this thing about perspective. I lose it real easily. To me, in the right light, a couple of pebbles sitting too close to each other becomes the entire Himalayan range in less than an second - which is exactly what happened with the Incredibly Stupid Thing. I made a mistake, a pretty serious mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. And mistakes are forgivable, it seems, even by the Wrong People. Lucky me.

Place number 3: The Future. When I realized I had done the Incredibly Stupid Thing, my first thought (well, the thought right after 'Oh. Mah. Gahd. They're gonna fire my ass.') was NOT 'Guess I'll look for another job.', but 'Huh. Well, I guess now I'll have the time to get serious about writing and to get that freelance editing thing off the ground.'

And then my jaw hit the damn floor, because that's shocking coming from me.

I like my job. Even more, I like my job security.

I mean, yeah, OK - I'm primarily funded on grants. That can be risky. But grants run on 5-6 year cycles, so the economy can do whatever it likes - I'm pretty insulated from it. And since Boss Lady is really good at what she does and thinks I walk on water most of the time, the likelihood that she'll run out of funding any time before she or I retire or that she'll fire me is slim at best.

And the benefits. Let's not forget the benefits -- which are fan-fucking-tastic at FPU. I mean, really - they'll pay for my kids to go to college. Anywhere. It's a lesson in how to make a loyal employee....


I've been thinking about the freelance thing for a while now. Thinking seriously about it, in fact. I just didn't realize HOW seriously. And the thought of not being at the mercy of the Wrong People and being wholly responsible for how much money I make -- and not being limited in how much money I make by The Rules at FPU -- was really appealing.

And it still is.

The fiction writing has been on my mind too. I plug away at it whenever I can and I think I'm getting better. I've even written a couple of things lately that don't totally suck, so I think there's hope there, too - given the time to devote to serious effort, of course. Which I came close to having... ah, temptation....

Place number 4: Values X-ing. This was the weirdest part of this whole experience. Ultimately, the root of the Incredibly Stupid Thing was my own values competing with each other. On the one side Rabid Perfectionism teamed up with I-Exist-to-Help-Others-Do-Great-Things and lead me to find a way of circumventing a Rule set down by the Wrong People.

At the time, I thought my end-around was perfectly legit.

Unfortunately, Rules-Are-Made-To-Be-Followed sided with Abject Honesty and caused a whole lot of second guessing, which lead to two days without eating or sleeping as I waited for an answer from the Wrong People's Spokesperson about whether or not the Incredibly Stupid Thing was as incredibly stupid as I thought.

It sucked.

But while it was sucking - and this is the weird part - the writer part of my brain, skulking about in the background and ever observant, found the whole process fascinating from a 'beliveable character' development perspective.

Fascinating - my own agony. Can you imagine? How weird. And what a strange lesson to take away from the experience.

I'm going to blame Ingermanson for that -- had he not written his ezine article on great characters having strong internal conflicts that stem from conflict in the character's core values, I would never have noticed the details at the root of my suffering. But now I have and now I 'get it'. When I read the article the first time, I was like, 'yeah, OK, cool - conflicting values=internal conflict=great character. roger that.'

But now I GET IT. Viscerally.

Your values can make you do things without thinking. Check.

Your values can make you question things you have already done. Check.

Your values can get you in a whole lot of trouble. Double check.

And not only do I get it now -- for the first time, I can really see how to use it.

My poor characters. Pity them. Their lives are about to get a whole lot more interesting.



Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Sounds like quite the wake-up call. The question now is where do you go from here?

Hang in there. Sometimes, that first step off the cliff is the hardest, but once you find there's ground under you anyway, it's all worth it.

Bethanie said...

That IS the question, isn't it? And I'm not a person who proceeds without a plan, so coming up with that first step is really critical for me.

No plan as yet, but there are whispers in the background...

Stay tuned....

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

You and me both, woman. I think we're at the same damn crossroads.

Sucks, doesn't it?