Wild Swoops and Cloudy Thinking

“I mean,” he said patiently, “that we’re no good at that sort of game. Our game is wild swoops, sudden inexplicable discoveries, cloudy thinking. Knights’ jumps instead of files of rooks plowing across the board. So we’d better play our way if we expect to win.”

I have spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating my career and answering questions about said career in the last two years. “What do you want to do?” people ask. There’s genuine curiosity and a little bit of skepticism. I am, after all, someone who walked away from the narrative. I had a career in publishing, moving from publication to publication in an orderly fashion. 

“You were always so focused, no matter what you were pursuing. But it feels lately like you’re drifting,” a friend recently said. True! But the second half of this year has become, by necessity, about clearing the decks for the next thing. And the next thing is not me following a playbook or saying the lines someone arbitrarily assigned me before I fully understood what was in store.

As I’ve been thinking about my career, I’ve also been thinking about that quote at the top. Wild swoops, inexplicable discoveries‚these are the things that my life is made of. On occasion, I’ve been asked about my five-year plan. In 2011, I was a temp copy editor four days a week. Five years later, I was editor-in-chief of Playbill. I do better without a plan. I leave myself open to every possibility, for better or worse. Want to try me out s a bartender for one night? I’ve never done service work in my life, but yes, why not? Want to fly me to Atlanta to try me out for a week as chief creative officer and copywriter for a sex toy company? Sure! 

In 2008, I was miserably contemplating my unhappy first magazine job when another quote popped into my head: “The laws don’t apply to people like him—or us,” Selina tells Bruce at the end of Batman Returns. And I realized that I didn’t have to leave my job only upon receipt of a new offer: I could walk away and, like Charity Hope Valentine before me, “figure it out later.” I did, and I paid my bills and lived my life and generally had a ball before I ended up in a full-time job three years later.

I have spent enough time second-guessing myself and my choices (and I’ve spent precious little time doing either). It would be fairer to say that I abandoned the game rather than lost it. And I’m going to play my way if I expect to win.

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