Do you ever have one of those experiences that suddenly casts everything in your life into doubt? Good, I hope you never do. I don’t wish it on anyone…or then again, maybe I do.
I recently had one of these experiences, it was a conversation over lunch that sent me reeling and had made me rethinking my life and my choices. If you read this blog regularly you know I do have moments of self-doubt (don’t we all?), but usually these periods of self-pity self-analysis are passing and I’m able to find the silver lining in any situation pretty quickly. This one was tough to shake off.
On a recent trip back to my former city, NYC, I visited my first professional stomping ground: the CBS Radio network newsroom on 57th Street. This newsroom contains a lot of history, both for the profession of journalism (it’s where Walter Cronkite delivered his nightly newscasts) and for me personally. I was actually supposed to go in to CBS on September 11th 2001, but after smoke started rising from lower Manhattan (visible both on TV and out my window), I walked downstairs to use a pay phone (remember those?) on 78th Street I left a message for the woman who would hire me a few days later. The message went something like this:
“Hi Linda. This is Emily Mahlman. Obviously I know you are really busy this morning. I’m not sure if you still want me to come in. I don’t think the subways are running, but I can walk. And even if you don’t have time for the interview, but if you need any help in the newsroom, I’d be happy to come down, even if it’s just to help you answer the phones. Thank you!”
I started the next week, at a distinct moment in history, working long hours, nights, weekends, and loving every minute of it (although on the day of my visit, Linda said she remembered me crying a lot, which I have absolutely no memory of. I’m such a drama queen). I learned so much from the amazing journalists in that newsroom. I also made some great friends. One of them is named Ingrid. She still lovingly (I hope) refers to me as a pilgrim (my going away cake referred to me as “Mayflower Madam”), I hypothesize because I was (and still am) so pale and have the lexicon of an octogenarian.
That day, after a decade away, I managed to find my way to the newsroom (the hallways of the CBS Broadcast center, which used to be a dairy, are so narrow, long and uniform that it really was a miracle) and was hit with a wave of nostalgia. Familiar sounds, smells, and smiles. After delivering hugs and updates to my former colleagues in the newsroom, Ingrid and I crossed 11th Avenue to have lunch.
Ingrid is also a writer, a very talented one at that, so as we caught up on life, talk naturally turned to writing. Ingird doesn’t sugarcoat things; it’s one of the things that makes her such a valued friend. As our meals arrived, she asked me if I regret leaving New York. She recited all the reasons I had given her, over another meal five years prior, for why I was moving to Boston (wanting to slow down the breaking news pace of my life, wanting to have more time to write what I want to write, wanting to make more time for a personal life) and asked me if I was happy with my progress. She basically called me out on my shit. I didn’t know what to say, and she was waiting for an answer. I did a quick survey: at times I am just as tightly wound as I was when I was a journalist, I still haven’t written the book I’ve talked about for years and I’m not married.
As she waited for me to answer, my voice started to quiver and my eyes filled with tears. “Are you disappointed in me?” is all I could croak. I was being confronted with the reality of a huge life choice, one I can honestly say I never regretted before that moment, and suddenly I was worried I had made a terrible mistake.
She insisted that she was not disappointed in me. She is a devoted follower of this blog, and acknowledged that it would not exist if I had stayed in The City. But that did little too quite the suddenly excruciatingly loud voices in my head.
“Are you crying?” Ingrid asked, as if she could not believe I was reacting this way. I tried not to blink. I didn’t want the moisture welled in my eyes to be forced down my cheeks.
Weeks after this conversation–weeks of inactivity on this blog—Ingrid again doled out a dose of tough love in the form of a Facebook post.
Her message was loud and clear: even if I had made a mistake (still deciding, may be deciding the rest of my life), and even if I was lacking the free time and inspiration to keep this blog up the way I like to, I just have to suck it up and keep going. I may not have accomplished everything I set out to when I got behind the wheel made my brother get behind the wheel of that U-Haul headed to Boston. And every post on this blog may not be a work of art in prose, but that’s ok. I’ll just keep moving forward, and eventually I will get there, wherever there is. And if I don’t, because circumstances or priorities change, that’s ok too. I’d rather my life be a zigzag than a straight line.
Thank goodness I have friends to give me a swift kick in the butt when I need it. Thanks Ingrid!