For the next few weeks I’m writing some posts inspired by the wonderful blog posts I’ve read in the last six weeks. About a year ago, I acted against type and made a huge change. I’ve been reflecting on this decision a great deal after reading Geronimo: On Falling with Style from Lily at Such Small Hands.
I quit my full time job. Now I work part time at an interesting, fulfilling job and the rest of the time I devote to writing. I work on my blog, and I’m also writing a novel. I know that quitting your job to do other things may not sound like much of a leap, but it felt like a nighttime dive into Medina Lake, in which the depth ranged from iffy to barely adequate. I was ninety percent sure I’d break my blooming neck.
I took a personality test once, and I got an “A.” When I looked at my results, I pumped a mental fist in the air. I don’t like to get “B’s.” That’s who I am. My velocity has always been fifth gear. Until I made the leap, I was a stereotypical overachiever. I made lists, and lists of lists. I’d rather have a nasty zit than turn up late. I bashed my way through parenthood, marriage, teaching, graduate school, and community responsibilities with the headlong purpose of one of those bulls in Pamplona. I wasn’t always sure of my direction, but I headed somewhere, hard.
In the midst of charging toward each destination, I was already contemplating my next pilgrimage. I lived, not in the moment, but in the next moment. And the moment after that. For most of my life, I had the impression that being a good person meant working very hard and taking on large amounts of responsibility. For me, restful equaled stressful, because good people are not supposed to enjoy relaxing.
This is the type of faulty thinking that starts in the tangled webs of childhood and can’t be laid on anyone else’s door but your own. What I’m saying is don’t blame my mother, because we all generate our own excrement.
I can’t say exactly when the Gospel of the Churning Gut started to lose its appeal. However, the need for change really became clear when Super Husband was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Cancer was the bull that gored me. After a lifetime of making my own life hard, something truly nasty had charged through the alley. My natural ferocity in dealing with life events, I knew, would afford no advantage. I started to realize that other aspects of my life were equally out of my control. I worked long hours, and spent a good part of my day with angry people. Those people were often angry with me. I had trouble sleeping, and found myself sitting in my office with the lights off at least once a week, praying no one would see I was in there, begging for the shit storm to pass me by for just fifteen minutes.
I’d toyed with the idea of changing jobs before, but now I thought about stopping. In January of 2014, I mentioned my idea to SH. “I’ve been thinking about quitting my job. I could work part time for a year, or not work at all.” He surprised me by saying it was about time, and he’d be perfectly happy if I quit. The rest of my family was equally supportive. I turned my resignation in two weeks later, effective the end of the school year.
My family was honest, I’m sure, but I don’t know if they understand how grateful I was for their sensitivity. If one of them had said anything to indicate that I was imagining the pressure at work, or dramatizing it, or that my income was critical to the family’s well-being, I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to quit. I’d worked hard to get that job. I made good money. People looked to me to get critical, important work done. My ego was tied up in being a faithful employee.
Leaving after seventeen years was an admission that I had failed, that I could no longer rise above my current circumstances. The wrenches: telling my boss, “I’m not happy,” writing the resignation letter, the two line response to that resignation, packing up my red and white enameled desk, thinking about how to make my home into a workplace, the child who said I was the only reason he made it to high school. Parting was hard like an arm is hard when it hits the ground and breaks.
In just a couple of weeks, I’ll have been on my “pause,” for a year. When I quit last May, I expected to return to the charge in the 2015-16 school year. I thought if I could just disengage for a while, I’d be ready to return to the frenetic pace of my former life. Now, I don’t know if I will ever be a charger again. I haven’t changed a lot, but I’ve changed enough. Enough to be happy, mostly.
I’ve been too glib about this leap, in my interactions with people, and here on thepauser. In periods of time when I’m not working, I am home. I have to sit in the stew that is Joni. Total freedom is hard. Instead of setting goals I can seldom reach (pre-Leap Joni), I just don’t set any. It should feel freeing, but honestly, it feels slothful. My internal timer, the one that rushed me out the door so I’d never be late, has blinked out on me. Sometimes I fail to properly hydrate. Or stop watching Netflix, or wash my hair every day. I read poorly written literature. In the car I listen to the Blue Collar Comedy Channel and switch to NPR when someone is riding with me. Occasionally I eat only slices of sharp cheddar cheese for lunch. I don’t jump on the treadmill every day. For an “A,” there are no small sins.
I have to constantly remind myself that I’m good enough, just the way I am. That everything doesn’t have to happen in a hurry. I’m relearning the art of walking in my own humanity. In my driven way, I thought it would take less time than it has. But in this pause, I’ve learned that I can only do so much of the driving. Sometimes you have to let go and trust.
I’ve also learned about this space, here, on the page. I have always written, but not with the regularity that I have in the last year. I’m forty pages into a novel, and this is my seventy-fourth post since the inception of my blog on August 28,2014. Time and space to write is the greatest single gift that anyone has ever given me. I needed this space, here, on this page and all the others, to internalize the quietude my soul so badly needed. I will not relinquish my balance again without a fight, and tapping on the keyboard at two in the morning has afforded me the courage to state so.
I have not made my last Leap. The next, like all of the others before it, will be as terrifying as the last. But in my next leap, I’ll have a sharpened number 2 Ticonderoga pencil. I’ll have my journal. The scratch of lead against paper will be my mitigator, change agent and stabilizer. I’ll carry spares in my bag for you, my fellow leapers, in case we meet on our next journey into the void.