November 06, 2009


I tell the story of leaving my job over at "The Education Of Oronte Churm," one of the blogs hosted by Inside Higher Ed.

Here is the opening of my essay, "Let It Rain":

I just snarled at my boyfriend over a piece of fruit. More specifically, my last banana, which he tried to claim for his lunch. “I’ll buy you another one,” he promised, and he would. He’s good that way.

The problem is that I’d wanted to eat that banana within the hour, and he tends to pick under-ripe produce. So I’d end up running to Safeway myself, which means getting dressed and stepping outside. At which point, I’d remember oh! the envelope I need to mail and oh! the birthday card I need to buy for my mother and oh! I need to make photocopies of an essay and oh! I’ve got a 3 p.m. coffee date—might as well head over early with this copy of Real Simple and read until she gets there.…

“Don’t mooch,” I snapped at him, with the ferocity of someone defending no mere piece of fruit, but hours worth of work. That’s right: the act of putting on pants can derail an entire day’s productivity. Welcome to the life of a full-time writer.

You know the drill. When someone asks what you do, you trot out whatever workhorse pays the rent—in my case it was “scholarship coordinator,” then “personal assistant,” then “magazine editor”—before arriving at your true destination. “I’m really a writer.”

This elicits a respectful head nod or, if talking to a fellow writer, a bittersweet shrug. We know the odds. And you swear to yourself Someday, the answer will be, I’m a writer. No hyphenating. No qualifying.

I quit my job. I quit so that for the next year I can live off the combination of an advance on a nonfiction book, periodic freelance gigs, and honoraria attached to two poetry collections. I am a full-time writer with the bathrobe and sparse cupboards to prove it.

Yet the “what do you do?” exchange is no easier than before. The respectful head nod has been replaced by a quizzical tilt. The bittersweet shrug has been replaced by a narrowing of eyes or, worse, a nauseated smile.

“So you, um, you don’t work anywhere?”
“How are you covering health insurance?”
“That’s pretty brave.”

Yes. No. COBRA. Hmm.

It’s not as if I had been deveining shrimp for a living. I worked as an editor at a national magazine of arts and commentary, the kind of venerated place one settles in for a lifetime (literally: two supervising editors had, combined, over 50 years experience on staff). People all around me—including my best friend, including my boyfriend—have been laid off in their professions. Meanwhile, I walked out on a steady income with full benefits and three weeks annual vacation.

Is “brave” codeword for “idiotic”?


Read the rest here.


Lyle Daggett said...

Enjoyed the essay.

In 1986 I up and quit a job I'd been at for eight years. The job paid well (union scale wages), had good insurance benefits, good vacation time, etc. Not an ideal job, by any means -- there were things about it I detested -- but there were too many things about it that were good (or at least useful) to just leave it behind. Until I did.

The more or less immediate reason, in my case, was that the employer was starting to require us to work forced overtime, 12 days in a row followed by two days off followed by 12 more days working followed by... indefinitely, no end in sight. After a few months of that I left.

Amid the other things I did in the years after that (going to vo-tech school, working at various other jobs, etc.), I had a lot of time to write, and so I did. I went to a writers' conference, then three years later went to another one. I went to lots of open-mike readings. I stayed up late a lot. Things like that.

Eventually, four jobs and a decade later, I wound up back at the company I'd quit ten years earlier, or more or less the same company, it having gone through a couple of corporate upheavals in the between years, and a different job from the one I'd been at the first time around. By now I've been back there about thirteen years.

Always, through all of it, I've kept writing.

It's all been worth it.

The Quarter Life Affair said...

I got here entirely by accident, but I really enjoyed this piece. It reminds me why I'm still pursuing this writing thing, albeit haphazardly.

Jessie Carty said...

I love hearing that someone else left a perfectly good job to pursue what they love. I never thought I'd like essentially being an unpaid freelance writer/editor/poet while my husband works. But I do :)

I would hope, at some point, to get paid for some of it!