In June, I moved into a new apartment. This is barely newsworthy given that in the past seven years I have lived in three different states and six different apartments, but this one seemed more stressful than the others, even the moves cross country.
Life is generally pain free for me, other than some seasonal depression and the occasional pangs of a very uneven upbringing, but for someone who has it good, I do feel like one of those cartoon rain clouds is chasing me. It doesn’t manifest in sadness, but rather in fearfulness…that maybe I will become sad based on a decision I made. In my estimation, it has always been easier to deal with situations that arise not from my own decisions, but from the general cruelness of the universe.
With the move, I feared that I was biting off more than I could chew financially. I moved from an ancient courtyard unit that had layers of wallpaper on the plaster walls that had been there since the Hoover Administration covered up with layer upon layer of paint into a building that is branded as a “luxury highrise” with all of the amenities and niceties and a Pavlovian doorman that gives Lola a dog bone every time she comes back from a walk. I can afford the rent, but there was a fear that I might wake up one day and realize I did the math wrong and that I would be evicted and destitute. Part of it is the fear that the other shoe could drop. The other part, the part that is harder to shake, is continually grappling with this idea that as I am catapulting through adulthood alone, I still deserve nice things. I kept thinking I would stay in the last apartment until I moved in with a partner, but even admitting that now is rather embarrassing to myself and independent women everywhere.
Still, the fates could turn on me at any moment and this could become a very bad decision. Optimistically, I hope that it will not. Related, I have a long history of being bad at Choose Your Own Adventure Books.
When I unboxed things in June, I put my Macbook in the drawer of my coffee table. What used to be a nightly routine of writing, researching, and watching baseball, turned into pulling the laptop out once or twice a month to pay bills, shop for handbags, and to add high thread count sheets and new duvets to my wish list on the off chance that someone actually comes to visit me, at which point lavish bedding, which every guest deserves because this host fears judgement as much as impending doom, would be just one click away.
I even considered selling the laptop because I have an overweight, company-issued Thinkpad that I lug from airport to hotel to airport ad nauseam when I am traveling or catching up on projects over a glass of wine in the evenings, a Corporate Stockholm Syndrome that I rationalize with, “if I do not now, tomorrow will be easier!” and, the more pathetic, “everyone is counting on me.” I don’t care to use this laptop for personal things like writing, but I was not writing anymore, so it didn’t matter.
When I chose to stop writing, it was a difficult decision. What started as just a decision to end some freelance arrangements I had in place, turned into not touching a keyboard for any writing heavier than entering my address in the billing section for an online purchase or emails. Inertia is a bitch, and when life is bloated with activity, it’s easy to terminate anything that requires thought or work cold turkey. It was my intention to just stop chasing the news cycle, keep this site going, and give myself room to breathe, but the years I spent appeasing editors, filing at 3am because working all day, hitting the gym, cooking dinner, and walking Lola meant not even opening the laptop until after midnight killed my desire to even watch baseball, let alone write about it. Baseball is fun, but like anything, it loses its appeal when you feel like a prisoner to a paycheck.
When I see the few friends I managed to keep—cutting back on social media, in some ways, is like moving away; people say they will stay in touch, but once you’re gone for a few months, those connections naturally die off—they bring up that I quit because people were mean to me on the Internet. Quite honestly that didn’t help, but I had spent the past nine years of my life burning the candle at both ends and spreading myself so thin that I morphed into an unsavory person adopting behaviors I loathed, like checking social media constantly, letting threatening emails from strangers affect my sleep, and leaving a permanent indent in my sofa from sitting in the same spot for countless hours a week watching baseball, not to mention all of the drinking and solitude that goes along with it.
There were many tipping points, the final one being calling my boyfriend well past my bedtime to vent about having to do yet another ephemeral prediction piece on an unreasonable deadline for an audience that did not give a fuck. I cried from exhaustion, cried even harder at the ludicrous idea that I was actually crying over something this insignificant. He said, like he had many times before, “Cee, I know you keep telling yourself you enjoy this… but it seems to be making you miserable. And crazy. I think it’s officially made you crazy.”
And yes, maybe it had.
But Cee Angi is not a quitter, so it never seemed like an option. There was a crossroad about two years ago where I had a legitimate choice between writing full-time and a corporate gig—that intersection all freelancers who carry other gigs wait for, where the financial scales are in balance and it becomes a legitimate decision to make, instead of knowing you’d have to slash your pay by 75 percent or more to make it work. That also coincided with a time when I saw peers and friends losing their steady writing employment, saw pitches turned down or accepted for a pittance, and had to chase down various outlets for the paychecks they had promised me. When I asked for advice about what I should do, the only people who pushed me towards writing full time were the ones who said things like, “but you LOVE writing.” Those who were actually in the game? They told me to lean on my other skills and get out as quickly as I could without ever looking back.
So, I did not look back. I traveled more, worried less, and met every deadline for my job without the stress of knowing that I needed to leave work on time to get home for a night of scouring the Play Index. I could get through long business meetings without checking Twitter, box scores, or getting messages from editors who wanted clarity on a stat I used or to see if I could fit in a quick reaction during my lunch break or do a radio hit or interview in my office between conference calls. I took up tennis, eating dinner in restaurants without televisions, and binge watching and reading pop culture pillars that I never consumed before.
During the season, a few people I greatly respect and admire asked me if I would do some writing for them. I told them “no” immediately, but then softened on that position enough to put together a couple of pitches. In the end we didn’t get the timing right to make them work, but that door was open, and they’d occasionally knock for other reasons, all of which I declined. But it made me admit that if I did miss writing enough to craft a couple of pitches, then I probably missed it enough to work on actual content. But, instead of testing the theory, I just continued to talk about the sort of content I wanted to do if I started working again. No news chasing, no predictions, no slideshows. Just long forms, narratives, and slightly important to me and no one else, actually putting content on this site once in a while.
Last month, I got an email from a professor at a local university. He teaches a course in sports writing, focused on narrative and longform, with emphasis on the intersection of sports and society. Had that course existed when I was in college I might have actually stayed in J-school instead of switching to Philosophy and Political Research. We exchanged emails about the curriculum, he sent me the reading list which included all of the names that you’d hope to see on a class with that focus—Roger Angell, David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, and some newer content from SB Nation and Grantland. The students were scheduled to read the longform that I wrote on Vin Scully, so the professor asked if I wanted to come and speak to his class.
Two days later, the faces of high schoolers who had turned collegiate were staring at me.
There was a Q&A, and as tentative and inexperienced Communications students, their first questions focused on AP Style, which made me concerned that they were prisoners of Oxford Commas and the possessive (not to mention that I have no real authority to teach them AP Style), then they relaxed and we just talked about writing. How to conduct interviews, do research, what sort of tape recorder to buy, and how to be believable as a journalist or writer. It felt fluid. I felt engaged, though slightly fraudulent given that I had not written anything more than a grocery list or emails in months.
There was a kid—are college students kids now, or do we call them adults even if their parents are paying for it?—in the back wearing a Cubs hat. He was most engaged and I liked that he nodded along with most things I said, particularly my views on the designated hitter. Then he asked, “can you tell us what you’re working on right now?”
Checkmate, my agreeable friend.
I told him that I had a couple of ideas for longforms—which is factual—that I had been kicking around that I am trying to find the right time to tackle. “Maybe in the offseason,” I said. Maybe I meant it even.
A girl asked me when I knew that I was going to become a writer. My answer to that, quite genuinely, was that being a good writer, particularly one who doesn’t want to report or regurgitate game stories for pennies, has nothing to do with being published. It has to do with desire, with the motivation to sit down at a keyboard or with a moleskine and just produce. Doesn’t matter who sees it, doesn’t matter if anyone likes it, doesn’t matter if someone paid you to put it on a four-letter network. Setting out as a student to measure one’s worth as a writer in just bylines is naïve, and unless lucky, bound to be a source of great disappointment.
That same week, an editor reached out about creating some postseason content, but I had to decline because it was too difficult to juggle with other obligations. I regretted having to say no though, something that didn’t happen when I had to reject work a few months ago. Then more emails came about teaching opportunities and writing opportunities. And I didn’t have to say no anymore, because I found a couple of opportunities that are going to work well for my schedule and the sort of content that I want to be doing.
So, I am writing again, and I have enjoyed the reunion with my laptop. I am researching, thinking, using social media, and poking around the Play Index when the games are on. I never want to get back to a point where I am spending time creating content I loathe just to collect a paycheck, but I am to the point where I would like to stop lying to myself about hating writing, because that has never been true.