16 December 2010

You Can't Fire Me

Outside it's the right temperature for snow to achieve a certain perfection, fluffy but still crisp, around twenty-three degrees Fahrenheit. This is not the snow that on colder nights seems to be dropped in from the darkness of the outer cosmos, the flakes landing one by one, their shapes precisely outlined as on microscope slides. No, this is a convivial, Christmasy snowfall, charmingly eager to cover anything grown gray and sludgy since the last snow. (It has its work cut out for it in the landscape surrounding the laundromat where I'm writing this.) It's nice.

I feel a general giddiness in winter. Big decisions or big catastrophes (big relative to the regular small texture of my life, that is) tend to happen to me in these months. The evening mood is restlessness, a dreaming of big projects that will not let me sleep. During the days I am held down by gray skies and the half-frozen slop of the roads, but between these heavy layers there is a twitching paranoiac intelligence felt mainly in the chest, an uncomfortable sharpening and branching of the senses which seems always about to resolve into some revelation. And when, as happens once or twice a month in the midwest, sunshine breaks through, the thaw brings into me a sort of blubbering gratitude; every motion is clumsy and bizarre because it is the holding back of a skip or a leap, and even the least heartfelt smile is accompanied by a welling of the eyes. In winter even relaxation is only a temporary recovery from some exhausting minor mania or other.

Along with these familiar moods, I lately had been feeling again as I did when I was least well (OpenOffice's autocomplete feature believes that I mean “least well-loved,” and this is probably also true), in high school, so desperate to be left alone by life as to be constantly inviting crises that might provide some valid exemption from it. If one can not act out, one instead walks along and conjures violence upon oneself: so sorry I could not come to work, but on the way I was stabbed in the chest. My apologies for the lateness of this exam; it is just that I fell off a building in the middle of Question 5. Some near-fatality from which one could slowly recover into a quieter, warmer new life.

But this is just a weakness of the will. (As eventually I learned.) It is a fear of making decisions, of the damage one might do if one assumes control of one's life, of the blame one might incur. I have worked hard at being less afraid. With much nail-biting I occasionally now manage to resolve to change my life rather than dreaming of calamitous escapes. Accordingly, on Tuesday, I quit my job.

I gave a month's notice. Besides my boss and the board, I've so far tried to keep the news to friends who will be understanding, rather than the anxious majority who will cluck at me with questions about what I will do next and do I understand how awfully unwise it has been to leave a job without having another lined up. To avoid such conversations, I've tended to lie when quitting jobs. More than once I have quit over the telephone with apologetic stories of the new job I have been offered out of the blue, which requires that I start in a week or two, or right away.

This is, according to an imprecise and paranormal logic, how I got my current job. I was sick to death of my job waiting tables, and wanted to spend more time with my visiting boyfriend, so I called and explained my imaginary situation, and never went back. Two days later, walking through the tropical bird house at Lincoln Park Zoo, I received a call from the temp agency I'd worked for months ago offering me my current job.

To avoid meeting with another such winking trick of fate, I told more or less the truth when I resigned this position. To be sure, I hung the whole thing on a rather minor reason for my dissatisfaction – my salary – and crossed my fingers against a counter-offer which, thankfully, has not come. Any efforts to convince me to stay have been so small that I am sure those making them must know how ineffectual they will be. And every day my relief to be leaving has grown stronger. I could withstand a lot in the way of persuasion now, I think, and still not turn back from the door.

Did I ever say what happened? No, not really. It involved an overnight ouster of my old company and takeover by a new company, the firing of my one remaining office-mate, an interview before the Board for my old boss's position (which seemed as close to campaigning for office as I ever hope to come), and my being given an absurdly adult and responsible job. For a month and a half I have been trying to do the work of three to four people, succeeding only well enough to keep up appearances. It has been almost no fun. There were almost no reasons to keep doing it, except for the ones that other people will seize upon immediately: the money, the authority, the experience (in a field I do not plan to spend my life in), the unusual and really underserved good luck having of a job at all. 

It will be hard for a while to deal these worried ones, parents and the like, so concerned for my well-being. I instinctively bristle at such lamentations (always barely hiding accusations), as when I'm told to “be safe” on my bike. But I am feeling rich with the good fortune I have just claimed for myself and must be generous. I must remember to remain polite, and hide my rather gauche smile. 


  1. my roommate pointed out to me the other day that i always tell people to "be careful" when parting. i told her it's because i ride my bike and not a day goes by where i'm not put in some life-ending situation (which bothers me none). she thought this odd (or in her words, i'm "crazy"). anyway, i'm always thinking of being careful when i ride. aren't you?

  2. Yeah, I know it's not a totally rational reaction, and I ought to be grateful for peoples' concern, I suppose. But my initial thought is always: "OF COURSE I'm being careful! YOU be careful!" I mean, people get into car accidents all the time, but drivers aren't automatically told to be careful any time they get behind the wheel.