A Worker’s Withdrawal: Day 1 (October 14, 2010)

premature withdrawal stock market wall street

Yesterday was my last day at my full-time job and I am setting about the Herculean task of trying to deprogram myself. If you read this post I wrote late last month, then you are aware of the complete mind fuckery that has had me in a vise-like grip for endless weeks. Six months ago, I accepted a “standard” administrative position at a non-profit, whose human service advocacy work I completely support. A struggling writer needs a paycheck after all, and I calculated that I could work my 8:30 to 5 with plenty of bandwidth left to focus on freelance writing projects.

I had everything right, except the part about “standard” office responsibility and the energy left to focus on my authorial goals. The Boss turned out to be a real piece of mercurial work. Note to self: never accept a position where you are only one of two total employees, and the other holds all the cards. I need not restate the mental abuse I encountered because frankly, I don’t have the energy. Suffice it to say the Miranda character in The Devil Wears Prada would have to get a lot more creative in ways to crush one’s self-esteem while simultaneously squeezing every drop of available talent that $35,000 a year can buy.

But it’s over now. The Boss had a temporary worker sitting in my chair, answering my phone and checking my email account, as I arrived for my last day of work. Of course she didn’t warn me this would happen. That would have taken all the fun out of seeing the look of shocked embarrassment on my face. Is there any clearer visual message that I am disposable and can be replaced? I think that idea had already been driven home when I was told I was being “transitioned” right before The Boss jetted off for a two week African safari, fully expecting that I would stay and hold the place down (maddeningly, she was perfectly right). The Boss preceded to spend the rest of the day conducting phone interviews for my permanent replacement, making sure to tell every candidate what a “big mess” she had on her hands with the last person who filled the role (um, I am right here?). She did not thank me as I traipsed out at 4:30, or even acknowledge that I was leaving. Of course by this point, I know better than to expect courtesy from The Boss, yet a part of me was still hurt once more.

As I biked the 11 miles home from the office, feeling every bit the used up, sacked loser, I told myself mentally that I had to find a way out of this Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had spent six months working through lunches, coming in early, staying late and answering emails on the weekends. I had done a terrific job and I knew it. I received several calls from appalled board members yesterday, asking what The Boss was thinking (your guess is as good as mine friends) and wishing me well in the next phase of my life. I am a wife, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and dammit yes, a writer. Was I really going to let The Boss make me forget that? Was I going to give her the satisfaction of making me feel like an abject failure?

Apparently, the answer was a resounding “yes”, because there I was later that night, sobbing, feeling lost, asking my husband Eddie why he even stays with a no-income waste of space such as myself. What after all, is the difference between me and my mentally ill father, who has always struggled to hold down regular employment and never appears to have a direction? Most of my life, I have been Miss Overachiever, but here I am at age 32 staring down the barrel of malfunction and obscurity. This was not supposed to happen to me.

A now former colleague of mine warned me that I would get over the depression and find my way back to anger, where I was a couple weeks ago while The Boss was in-flight somewhere over Tanzania. I hope that stage of grief arrives sooner rather than later. I know that beating myself up is the height of counterproductivity, but I can’t seem to shake the temptation at the moment.

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Isn’t There Still Room for Both? (December 28, 2009)

Us mag cover

 ny times

Admittedly, I am writing this post whilst a little hot under the collar. I was affronted in one of the worst ways, according to me, by my partner Sam this morning. Sammy and I are teammates on the Chicago Office of Tourism Neighborhood Mapping Project, and normally get on famously. One of the hallmarks of our dynamic however, is a little good natured intellectual sparring now and then.

We were having one such debate over the war in Afghanistan. Sammy, just flat-out anti-conflict no matter the situation, feels we ought to pull every U.S. troop out of the region, like yesterday. I am a bit more gray in my approach, believing that leaving Afghanistan without a plan will cause further terrorist chaos locally and internationally in the long run.

At some point, Sammy made what I thought to be a rather judgmental, narrow comment, and by way of dismissal, I turned my eyes to the pages of the most recent Us magazine. This was both my way of announcing a break in the argument, as well as distracting my attention with something a little lighter. However, Sam dove upon me immediately, insinuating that perhaps my naive international opinions were influenced by my substandard literary tastes.

Now we come to the point: I am an avid reader, but I have very few rules as to what is considered “literature” in my lexicon. Who is to tell me that celebrity gossip and other airier fare do not have their own merits? Isn’t one of the goals of reading and literary consumption to be entertained? I have an International Baccalaureate diploma from my high school days, and an MA in English Literature. I have read the “great” books, but am not such an ivory tower snob that I wish to be out of touch with what turns the masses on. After all, I am a member of that mass. And I state proudly here and now that chick lit., Entertainment Weekly and Perez Hilton do it for me every bit as much as Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe and Wordsworth.

I hate to be pigeonholed, but when it comes to an activity like reading, which I hold so dear as one of the ultimate coping tools provided for us, I cannot abide labeling. I am neither the stuffy bookworm nor the vapid gossip rag connoisseur. I am both, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is people like me who made a mashup like Pride, Prejudice and Zombiessuch a hit in 2009.

I abhor the overall “dumbing down” of our culture every bit as much as Sammy. We are absolutely on the same page there. I will never accept the Red Eye a real newspaper, the way some of my other contemporaries have. But at the same time, I console myself that at least people are reading the paper in some form. It may not be a day far off when I am mourning the loss of even this abbreviated tabloid. I have picked up theRed Eye once or twice myself, as my thinking is that you cannot condemn that which you do not understand.

The act of reading, in any form other than off a computer monitor, becomes more a lost art with each passing year. Those who cherish the antiquated form of entertainment found in books and periodicals should not be so cynical as to start cannibalizing each other. I realize this argument is far from over, and I may be called upon to defend my love ofThe Devil Wears Prada again. So be it. I will do so gladly.