birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Pressure to Be Enough

I do not have many dreams these days that I remember. I’m sure there’s some REM or psychological reason for that—sleep too deep? Not deep enough? I’m just not sure. At any rate, some of the dreams of anxiety I do remember tend to be about work. They usual indicate some task I feel I must do, but either forgot to do or feel incapable of. Here is one type of work dream I had repeatedly in my 20s and 30s.

For around 12 years, I was freelance writer for the Calendar section of the L.A. Times. In my early years, personal computers for the average citizen had not yet been invented, so I had to type information into a Times custom pale brown “Coyote“ word-processor/computer. Freelancers were perpetual scavengers and rotators with no assigned work “pod” in the wheel –shaped workstations to call their own. As I think of it, this is, I hear, the flexible work model of many tech companies today. But back then—it just felt inconvenient and bred a constant feeling of not really belonging in the place one worked. I was obviously supplemental—not regular, not full-time, not a staff writer.

Toward the end of my run, Coyote workstations were being converted over to PCs and as I recall, for the pop music calendar column I had to do, I had to enter a certain type of coding. As the computers updated, I didn’t know how to do the coding on the new ones. I needed some deep training that I dreaded. I have tech-phobia to a certain extent—can you tell? The anxiety was exacerbated by the fact I had to learn this technology for a boring form of “writing,” because the fact was, my once reasonably regular stream of freelance articles I contributed had dried up due to my lack of inspiration/assertion pitching ideas, and editors assigned articles to more proactive/young/zippy/inspirational writers around me. I was a lame duck, hanging on for a measly 400 bucks a month cobbling together listings with no creativity—just drudgery. And I started having nightmares on a regular basis that I was a) rudely booted out of someone’s workstation b) arrived at the office with no idea how to run the new hardware or software c) no one even recognized me when I showed up for work. An ironic coda—a woman with my name, only spelled slightly differently, started freelancing fascinating articles for the same section. Sometimes Payroll switched our paychecks—and people started leaving messages for her on my phone. Talk about persona non grata!

I’d planned a trip to Europe right when I was supposed to knuckle down in training and truly master the new system. I finally got the courage to face the truth that, while the Times was everything to me for years, it was not a source of much in my life at this point except angst, so it was time to let that period of my life go. So I quit. And yet the anxiety dreams continued for years.

I still continue to have occasional, mostly pleasant, Times dreams featuring the many fascinating people and scenes from my more productive writing days. That place has a way of permeating one’s psyche.

Dr. Nadya

Mea Culpa!