#reverb10 prompt, day 5: Let go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year?

Letting go brings a feeling of loss. Someone told me recently that any type of loss requires a period of grieving. Initially I rejected this. Why does it need to sound so terminal? No one died. How can I compare my depression — which of course must be self-inflicted — to true grief over the loss of a loved one?


Even though I haven’t lost a loved one, a few things I have let go of and am grieving the loss of this year:

The Urban Hive.
Last year I helped found a coworking community in Midtown Sacramento. It was the realization of an idea I’d been working on for nearly three years and in June 2009, the stars seemed to align with an available space and willing people of a similar mindset. The opportunity was amazing; too good to pass up. It also allowed me to do a lot of cool things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise: moderate several panel discussions in partnership with The Sacramento Press; facilitate and host Sacramento’s first ever Freelance Camp for independent professionals; by connecting appropriate people with Vox Sacramento and the Sacramento Rescue and Restore Coalition, I like to think that I had a small hand in making an art show happen for Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Because the opportunity and community were so incredible, letting go of it was one of the hardest decisions I made this year. And I think that enough time has passed (it will be one year in January) that I can share one small insight: when you feel like you’ve been laboring to birth an idea, you need enough self-awareness to determine if that idea’s about to have a premature birth. Sometimes when you be believe in something so strongly, and you are so passionate about it, you talk yourself into doing ANYTHING to make it work, right? You’re going to force the idea to be born no matter what, and YOU are gonna make it happen; it WILL work if you just get everyone on board, if you just convince everyone to care as much as you do, if you just start taking action, if you just…if you just…

Whoa. Take a step back. Ask yourself, “What am I compromising for this project, and is it worth it?” Examine your situation and evaluate the compromises you’re making to pull it off. Are you compromising relationships? Values? Downtime? Peace of mind? And is the thing that you’re willing to do ANYTHING to make work worth those compromises? My answer to that question was yes…for about 6 months. Even when saying yes was no longer sustainable for my mental and emotional stability, walking away felt like I was giving up (and I’m not a quitter!). Like my 8-year-old self who let her precious kitty, Pig, be to sleep after a dog attack. (So sad!)

Grieving this loss was more about preparing me for the next beautiful and exciting adventure than giving up.

This year I filed for bankruptcy. You’d think that letting go of debt would be an easy thing to do. A clean slate? Absolutely. Give it to me. Now. Where do I sign?

But the pathway to it was excruciating. In my mind, bankruptcy meant that I was incapable of taking care of myself. That I couldn’t support myself. That I’m helpless. That I can’t do anything right. Because it’s not just that I can’t support myself by paying my bills, it’s that I was the one who got myself in the mess in the first place. It’s my choice to freelance. It’s my choice to not have health insurance (mostly because I can’t pay for it, but that is a result of my choice to freelance). I was my choice to use credit cards when I didn’t have any money. And all those choices led to an unmanageable debt, for which I filed bankruptcy. If I had just made a few different choices along the way, maybe the whole ordeal, tears and all, could have been avoided.

Grieving this loss was, and still is, more about letting go of my own feelings of inadequacy than letting go of the debt.

Not one, but two houses.
One was foreclosed and the other surrendered in bankruptcy. When I first moved out on my own, I owned the townhouse where I lived. It was a two bedroom, and I rented the second bedroom for 500 bucks a month — 1/2 my mortgage. In the first year that I owned the townhouse, the value increased 100% (we’re talking circa 2003 here). So I got the idea in my head that I could own rental property, earn passive income and eventually live off that. (Yes, I really thought this.)

It’s not that I didn’t want to work ever, I just didn’t want to work full time. I wanted to write. Still do. The hard thing about wanting to be a writer if your name is Janna Marlies Santoro is that you can only write what other people tell you to write for so long. Sooner or later you get tired of following someone else’s rules and you just want to write about what YOU want to write about, dammit. After all, you have a lot of distinct opinions and a lot of good stories to tell. Why would you waste your creative energies writing news for El Dorado Hills? So when you finally can’t stand it any more, and you need the creative energy to finish your grad school master project anyway, you quit your job and never even think about going back to what the rest of society calls a “real” job. Only problem is then, when the rent on your two houses doesn’t cover the mortgage and the insurance and the taxes, oh, and maintenance, you don’t have enough money to make up the difference. I guess you could say it’s the classic cart-before-the-horse scenario: you bought property before deciding on a lifestyle that could support a mortgage, let alone two.

Grieving this loss was more about letting go of an antiquated world view than letting go of two houses.

What other people think.
Especially when it comes to writing. I have been practicing writing — and publishing — without worrying what others will think. When I wrote about getting permission to piss people off? Yeah. That was me giving myself permission to piss people (you) off. Is it working?

This mantra started as a mere inkling at the end of last year when I caught a glimpse of a book titled Ignore Everybody. I had no idea who wrote it or what it was about. I didn’t need to know those things to know that I wanted to paste those two words all over my house as a reminder to plow forward in spite of the critics, in spite of others telling me I’m psycho, in spite of the voice in my head saying, “What the hell are you doing?!” Ignore everybody means EVERYbody — including myself.

Then when I was working on my 2010 personal plan with my planning buddy Shawn, one of the goals I wrote for the year was “practice ignoring everybody,” and the sentence was finished with the tactic, “by writing as though I am writing to my college friend Jen K.” See Jen K. thinks I’m frickin’ hilarious. We’ve lost touch in the last few years, but after college we stayed in contact for quite a while. I would write her novella-length emails about the saga that is my life and she would tell me how frickin’ hilarious I am. I loved writing those damn emails. It doesn’t always work, but now when I sit down to write I try to imagine that I’m writing an email to Jen K.

Grieving this loss was — wait a sec, I’m not grieving this loss. So there.

Grieving, as it turns out, does not require death. And that’s OK. It’s OK to to allow yourself to grieve loss — as long as it’s for a time and not forever.

One thought on “grieving: death not required

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