What do you do? - #39
Or rather, what do you hope to.
After several weeks of being ahead of schedule with these newsletters, I am now sitting in the next town’s library, staring out at the mountains with just these words on the page. It’s Saturday at 3pm. Whatever you’re reading was written 17 hours ago. I pre-scheduled the last couple newsletters because I was away in Dominica, scrambling through the jungle and getting rashes all over my body — all of which were worth it. Just days prior to leaving for the Caribbean, I’d finished a professional chapter and said my goodbyes to a wonderful team. Then Ben and I drove 6.5 hours to Denver, got on a flight with our masks and our prayer hand emojis, and hoped for safe and fulfilling travels.
That trip started what is a full month between jobs. Because that’s what I do when I am not writing this newsletter or living the words that fill it: I’m sitting at my desk, working a 9-5.
When someone asks me “what I do”, I tell them I’m a writer. I remember the moment several years ago when I was renewing my passport, and the application asked for my profession. Then, I was really a “content person.” That’s what paid the bills. But I wrote W-R-I-T-E-R and stared at it til the ink dried, like I’d been confronted by a guard while sneaking into the castle. He believed me, the application believed me, and so it was.
Since then, I have been navigating the knife ridge between “being a writer” and “making money.” I love making money, and as a more-or-less single income household for the last five years, I also have to. So I have been trying to guide the income streams closer and closer to what fulfills me, where my interests lie, without forsaking my ability to buy a dress from Farm Rio every once in a while. We all have our vices. Mine is tropical prints.
For the last seven years, I’ve been working in mental wellness and mental health. Prior to that I was working in manipulative capitalism, otherwise known as advertising. But after years spent trying to convince people they needed more razors or that Applebee’s was a cool place to hang out, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I took a job at Headspace as Head of Projects and Production. Headspace, if you’re not familiar, is a unicorn meditation app built on subscriptions. My career took off at Headspace. I had my qualms with the business, but whether they let me or simply didn’t notice me going hog wild in the content department, that’s what I did. I moved up to Managing Editor, then Editorial Director, then Director of the Movement and Sport vertical, then Director of Core Product. After 4.5 years and a couple deeply ironic visits to the hospital for stressed-induced chronic nausea, I left to dick around.
That was July 2019. Ben’s career as a cyclist was coming to a close and without Headspace tethering us to LA, we knew it was time to leave. By August, the nausea was gone. We took our fateful road trip around the West, looking for home, and settled on this tiny town. In November of 2019, I put out my feelers for freelance work and thanks to a mentor of mine, was connected with a company called Sanvello. Sanvello is an app that helps treat severe anxiety and depression. It felt rewarding to move up the acuity scale of mental illness in my career while my own mental health was improving. After a few months freelancing with them and leading all of their Covid response content, I took a role as VP of Content, fully remote. A year later, we found our house.
My time with Sanvello was incredibly rewarding. Flexible hours, kind team members, and business objectives that focused on the improved mental health of our customers rather than subscription numbers — I don’t know that I would have left had they not been acquired.
But they were. So I did. After seven years of writing about anxiety and depression and meditation and stress, I was ready for a change, and a transition was the right time to see myself out.
One of my biggest concerns about moving to the middle of nowhere to buy an objectively expensive house was my continued ability to pay for it. Would I lose my value as a worker by being remote? Or, a more honest representation of my fears, would everyone forget about me? A year ago, I interviewed with a company based out of Boulder for a Head of Programming role. I met with their CMO and their Head of Content - both brilliant and lovely women that I was salivating over the idea of working with. But in the process, we all realized I was more Head of Content than Programming, and that role was obviously filled. But that woman didn’t forget me. In fact, as soon as we realized there wasn’t a role for me there, she started sending me all the roles she was being headhunted for. And one of those jobs was for Modern Fertility.
She put me in touch, I interviewed, and I got the job. Modern Fertility is revolutionizing access to fertility education, testing, and the like. I’ll be starting with them as their Director of Content and Editorial June 6, fully remote. This is, technically, a demotion in both title and salary. But there are a few key reasons I took the role:
The way people talked about each other during the interview process. Across the hierarchy of roles, everyone referred to each other as partners. No one expressed fear.
Flexibility to live your life. One woman I met with said her toddler had been sick all week, and I asked her how the team reacted to that. She said, “oh pretty much no one has emailed me.”
Maternity leave. If we’re going to consider having a child, I’m not going to work for a company that offers a shit policy.
It takes me back to what I want to be doing.
For all my roles at Headspace, the happiest I ever was was when I ran editorial. I had an incredible team, we always paid our writers on time, we got to cover incredible work, and we won awards while rarely actually working more than 30 hours a week. I wanted to get back to that, and I wanted to do it with a company working on something I was passionate about. And the only thing I am more passionate about than women’s rights and health is beavers, which…
While Ben gets the woodshop up and running, and also heads into town for his new job at a different kind of shop as a mechanic, I head up to the unfinished (and rarely photographed) loft to open my laptop. Remote workers, as you may have been bombarded with in the news, are a scourge. I’m not blind to this, nor do I think I’m an exception, but we told Dick the truth when he was grappling with selling his cabin to a couple of “Californians”: we were moving with the intention of staying. We would be full-time contributors to the local economy. Ben would get a job in town. I would volunteer locally. We would become permanently enmeshed and do whatever we could to make this region hospitable to more than just oil heirs and people who yell their conversations into AirPods in public places.
And in the meantime, I would get closer and closer to my passport declaration of writer. This town has been a home to artists for decades. That’s one of the reasons we love it. Writers aren’t rare here. In my tiny town, I’ve already met three other writers. One of whom actually had his book turned into a movie with George Clooney. And if there’s one career that had a whole lot of “remoteness” to it before the pandemic, it’s the one inextricably tied to running away to a cabin in the woods to get it done.
Which I did. We’re hovering around 75,000 words of Shangrilogs newsletters. For all the times I’ve raged that I don’t have time to write a book, I obviously do. And the more I “consider” having a child, the more desperation I feel to get my favorite characters down on paper before they die in my head.
In theory, I should be using this break between jobs to do this. But instead, I’m using it for what it actually is: a break. A mental reprieve. An HGTV marathon punctuated by morning dips in the hot tub and three cups of decaf a day. And most importantly, hikes. Long hikes, short hikes, snowy hikes, sweaty hikes, hikes in my town, hikes not in my town, hikes that require complete wardrobe changes. Because hiking is, without question, where I do my best work.
My favorite, most wonderful, absolute best part of living somewhere remote is that I can, almost without pause, talk to myself the entire time I’m hiking because there is almost never anyone there. Trying to just think a story is like trying to hear someone in a very crowded bar — all my thoughts in an indecipherable cacophony, competing for loudest at all times until I stop trying to explain what my name is and give up and yell “KELLY.”
But May is not the greatest month to go hiking. The weather is chaotic at best (fresh snow clinging to the new buds outside as evidence) and many trails aren’t exactly clear. Who cares, though, right? We’ve got some talking out loud to do. So on Friday, I went to do a hike I’d never done. I started by looking at historical reviews of this trail on AllTrails — I wanted to see from the past few years how early in the season people attempted to tackle it. No posts from the month of May in the last few years. But snowpack had been dismal this year, and temperatures (excluding today) were quite high. I made a bet it was passable and put Cooper in the car.
We drove 35 minutes to the until we hit our turn, and then another 25 to the trailhead on a 4WD road. I got out of the truck several times to clear fallen branches from last week’s windstorm from the road. At the trailhead, we were alone and we headed into the backcountry. The trail itself was littered with dead fall, and with no one but the birds to judge, I felt free to do my best action hero sequences, leaping over and sliding under, making unnecessary super hero poses all while narrating the escape from whatever imagined villain was accompanying me.
But our escape slowed about three miles in when we came to a narrow, humped snow field. I couldn’t see the trail on the other side of the hump, but I could see upslope and ahead that there wasn’t any snow. We could cross and find the trail. The snow filled out a gulley and slid steeply down below. Slipping wouldn’t be deadly, but it wouldn’t be great. I’d picked up a hiking stick earlier along the trail from a fallen aspen and started to make the traverse, kicking into the snowpack to find footing and digging the stick into the snow below to give me an anchor, Cooper staying close behind. The snow was resisting my kicks, iced over from its own melt, and I was silent in my focus.
At the crest of the hump, I went down onto my knees to slip onto the other side and froze. Twenty feet from me, at the edge of the snowfield, was a bear. I was alone, with a 22-lb dog in the wilderness, on what was essentially a sheet of ice, holding onto a stick.
The bear’s muzzle was to the ground, investigating something, and for all Cooper’s barking when he thinks there’s a porcupine outside, he did not seem to have any idea there was a bear just out of his line of sight. I shooed Cooper backward and lowered my body, pushing off from the stick, sliding backward down the snow to the trail behind us. As far as I saw, the black bear never looked up. I mouthed a silent “Go! Go!” to Cooper, who never turns down the opportunity to go back to the car as quickly as possible, and pad footed my way backwards along the trail, gripping my aspen stick, bear spray in the side pocket of my pack.
Black bears are almost never dangerous. But surprising an animal bigger than you is usually a terrible idea. And it’s spring. You never know if there are cubs nearby. It was her trail that day, and we were trespassers. Safely out of sight, we jogged back to where the trail had split earlier and went the other way. And the further we got from her, the more joyful it felt. I sank into the details of how her gingerbread coat waved in the wind, of how intentional and focused her snout was to the ground, of how exhilarating it was to see her just living her life, not dumpster diving or perusing a campground for scraps. A bear just bearing.
That’s what I was doing after all, a being just being, choosing tools from the forest floor, climbing and scrambling in a way that feels ancient, all because when I asked my new job if I could have a month to breathe they said yes.
I moved here for that sensation: wild, connected, alone and alive, dirt in my fingernails and snow in my socks, bears in the foreground and words on my tongue. I don’t always know what to write about. I don’t know if the stories in my head are any good. When I sat down two hours ago, staring at the mountains from the library window, I didn’t know I’d end up here. The page is still my favorite trailhead: not sure what I’ll find but always sure I’ll find myself. I’ve wondered at times if this newsletter is a distraction from the writing I really want to do, but as the issues come and go, I can see that it’s a foundation, a house I am building myself where I can sing and dance alone in the wood. And when I want to traverse the snow field, I’ll be ready for the bears ahead.
Being a writer is a murky thing. There’s writing everywhere, and it was all written by someone. Road signs, menus, websites, novellas, TV shows, textbooks, etc. But as I’ve bounced from dating blogs to fitness magazines to brand guidelines to mountain fairytales, I’ve been lucky and grateful to have readers who have stuck with me through it all. On June 18, I’m hosting a workshop with Trust and Travel on How to Build an Audience for Yourself Online. I’m going to talk social strategy, platforms, some how-tos on Reels, and general engagement tips. If that sounds interesting to you, sign up for the course here.