the hat-rabbit and the teacup goddess

It's been a long week.Without lapsing into a sea of complaints, I'll say this: right now, I'm overwhelmed and mentally exhausted. I knew going in to this job that there would be periods in which I simply wouldn't be able to cope with the tide of work, no matter how intelligently I planned my time or how many hours of overtime I put in. I'm sliding—fast—into one of those periods. I guessed rightly that it would be coming at the end of January, but I misjudged its strength and ferocity.

I belong at this job, belong so much it scares me—fate has a sense of humor, and I'm still waiting for the punchline to stomp into the middle of my back. They've not yet thrown any single thing at me that I can't handle, but my boss was completely honest when she interviewed me. Most people specialize in one thing: code, graphics, PR, human resources; they needed me to be able to be competent-to-expert in all of those fields from the moment I walked in the door on my first day. Politics, graphic design, code, research; from day to day, I rarely have any idea which of those will be first up on my tasklist when I walk in the door, but I can count on touching on nearly all of them almost every day.

I knew I was in pretty deeply the first time I tried to stick my office key into a lock on one of the doors of my house.

There are days that I walk out of the office and rest my forehead against the cool metal of the elevator as it takes me down from floors three to one, grateful for the moment of calm between work and commuting.

I've had a phrase in my head for the last week, and I've tried saying it to a few people and been surprised at how little it was understood: in this line of work, you are only as good as your last piece of work. It's great when people compliment you, or love what you've done, but the truth is that in a few days' time, there will be another project, another design task, and you have to start all over again, prove yourself yet again, knowing that your co-workers have no reason not to expect the same level of brilliance that you tossed out last Thursday.

Saying "I'm only as good as my last piece of work" is an acknowledgment of a massive fear. Where does the creativity come from? Why does it go away? How do I coax it back out when I need it? I have no answers for this, just the nagging fear that there will be a big project, a Massive Something that someone's counting on me for, and I'll sit in front of my computer and reach deep down into my brain-shaped hat and realize that I'm totally, utterly out of rabbits.

"Broadway duchess
Darling if you only knew
Half as much as
Everybody thinks you do"
—Steely Dan, 'I Got The News'

Jake and I chatted for a while last night, through the abbreviated conversational medium of phone-based text messages. In that medium, words are carefully chosen; each phrase is thought out ahead of time for maximum impact. We talked about feeling overwhelmed at work, about putting our personal lives in stasis, about how much focus it takes to get through the day—and how, at the end of the day, we both often felt like we had nothing left to give.

It was telling that we had this conversation via text, and neither of us considered transforming it into a phone call. A phone call would have required quicker response times, more mental intensity, than either of us were capable of giving. Still, it was comforting. It was nice to be able to acknowledge what was going on, to someone who understood it, who wouldn't say silly cheering things but would instead just acknowledge that sometimes, simply surviving the day is tantamount to winning.

Last night, after sending my last message, I wrapped myself up in blankets, and slept a sleep of nightmares. My body does that when I'm stressed. Enough long-term worry and I don't even have to ask—when faced with overload, my brain will take the opportunity of unconsciousness to yell and stomp and say everything it needs to say.

I woke up at five-thirty, grateful to emerge into a sensical world in which those I loved were still alive and nothing was on fire, and fed the cats. For once, they chose to be grateful little brats, and immediately came back to bed with me. They piled upon me, and I fell asleep in a comforting snuggle of purrs and tailthumps.

When next I dreamed, I dreamed of comfortable couches, of friends and teacups, of the warmth of hands wrapped around steaming mugs of liquid solace, and I realized that no matter how tired I am right now, how frustrated and overwhelmed, I still have resources that give me comfort.

The project that landed on me on Friday—I'll figure it out. Patrick was right. I'll find a way. It's too big, too prominent, too important; it's the kind of high-profile work that mortals like me build portfolios around. The overtime—well, I'll just have to look at it as my way of making sure that I've got enough comp hours for a trip I need to take in a couple of months.

Right now, though, I'm planning quite the Teavana purchase next weekend. One cannot be a teacup goddess when one is rapidly running out of tea.

Here's hoping for lots of rabbits.