Jane and the Disastrous, Horrendous, Not Ok, Effing Bad Day

“Love what you do and do what you love.” –Ray Bradbury

When my boss unexpectedly fired me, I stood in blue lace tangas and a boybeater, trying to dam the tears until I had the details. He said with unbelievable ease, “It has nothing to do with your performance.” Then something like, It wasn’t my choice: upper management. I had nine days until jobless abyss. My soon-to-be ex-supervisor and I were, of course, on the phone. On my side, I scrambled eggs and fried Canadian bacon for me and Waylon, ensuring the sizzling fat didn’t splatter me in my more-skin-than-clothes work-from-home attire that I had grown to love over the previous weeks. Waylon appeared at the top of the stairs, his forehead twisted in worry, big blue-eyed empathy.

When you are fired, even if it has nothing to do with you or your performance, you are still fired, and the ego-bruising is just as traumatizingly hideous. A whole company can live without your contribution, your wide smile at the coffee station, your funky/classic office garb and keen sentences!? They may not be better off, but they rather lose you than have you, which is the equivalent of the it’s-not-you-it’s-me-break-up–except this “boyfriend” is your livelihood, not those edamame-brained skid marks you liked remarkably less than your wonky pinky toe.

As discussed in Junot Diaz’s 2013 New York Public Library conversation with Toni Morrison, around 1981, Toni Morrison was fired/quit Random House. When she went home, glad she didn’t have to work the next day, unaffected by joblessness, Beloved percolating in her brain and fingertips, she sat at the end of a pier, jittery, wondering what was going on inside her, when she realized, “Oh, this is what is known as happiness, so this is how it feels.” I wish I was as graceful, calm, cool and talented as Toni Morrison, but I am not. I am zip codes away. I squirreled away every extra nickel for my eventual unemployment, pored over my budget, paid forward on bills to delay desperation, despite everyone and their drunk hookups’ new girlfriends swearing I’d qualify for unemployment; it seemed too good to be true, and I had to face that, presently, everything that could go wrong was, in fact, going wrong. I worried in ailments, daymared folliculitis into a flesh-eating skin disorder that I couldn’t afford with my uninsured self. My savings account dwindled, and my teenager (a compact car) squeaked every time I released the brake pedal. Understatement of the late summer: I was a mess.

But even shedding those tears I knew that this major dropkick-to-the-face of a setback was the World’s way of saying, “Hey chickenshit, your life is a little too safe right now. You’re paying too much on your student loan and credit card debt, and if I didn’t spike everyone’s drinks and plant a crack in the sidewalk you would have continued bawling in your cube, hating the 8-6 life and three years later you would still be stuck on the fourth revision of your novel with all the Dr. Maya Angelou quotes pinned to your sad cubicle walls with the Pablo Neruda and the Terrance Hayes and the Joy Harjo collections hidden in with the house style guide and manuals, feeling like a fraud writer who peaked in grad school, so YOU’RE WELCOME.”

A long month-ish later, the unemployment payments kicked in. I felt the new day arrive tangled with the trade winds. Granted time to patch my life together, I scurried application materials to slush piles where I, a no name with not enough publications, have remained, since March, unnoticed. In the meantime, I wrote, revised and further professionalized myself. I wish I could have done that gracefully, too, but with a ticking clock, that textbook drama, I acted grad-school-crazy, all scattered energy, my hands in everything, listening to podcasts while I overcleaned, tiptoeing to my computer in the middle of the night to fix a story or type 600-something words after a nine-hour writing day. Other than the 24 hours I was laid out with a sinus infection, I never took a “me” day, didn’t even watch one Sex and the City rerun. Was I doing too much? Is that a thing?

Recently, while visiting family and friends I–GASP–didn’t write a syllable. For. Two. Weeks. I packed three books, read two and a half of them and decided to, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Starting now, my goal is not to seize every entry fee-free fellowship, writing contest and submission period. My goal is to focus my energy, finish things, apply for jobs that I might 97% like (instead of jobs I’d 89% hate that pay less than my previous job with an added three-hour commute), submit only finished pieces to lit mags that I’m butt-in-love with. It’s back to writing for me and following those dreams because, hopefully, while writing for me my time will come.

Jane Makes Her Move

“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” –Margaret Shepard

Waylon and I had been dating for over a year when relocating with his company became imminent. Despite the destination, we decided that I would go with him. Due to recurring daymares of me dying of staph in the street, I discouraged certain international cities before the application period began.

I didn’t love my job. Before I received my MFA I had asked myself the question that most creative people have to face: How do I do what I was put here to do and feed my face? As a contractor, I made $20 an hour wordsmithing. I had healthcare, the realistic dream of a fresh graduate, but I wanted THE dream: to be a self-sufficient writer.

One magical Monday, a word Waylon recognized as Hawaiian–super vowel-y, sprinkled with Ks and Ls–appeared on his phone, a job posting. He applied (OMG, HAWAI‘I), but he also applied for four additional openings, which included ten months of winter, smog, somewhere I had never heard of, and somewhere I can’t remember.

After wondering for months if I could ever love hockey, if I could rock a dust mask as a street accessory, if I could exist in a place I couldn’t visualize, word came: we were moving to O’ahu, the Chicago of the Pacific.

Following the initial glee, the move was not pretty (more on that later). Sometimes I think I have cried more saltwater than there is sea. But I don’t, for a second, think it’s not worth it. I get to live a mango’s roll away from the beach with my love while the sun shines down on us 99.98% of the time. (Yes, the sun is present here more than the IUD is effective.) But paradise has a price tag, and the world has a funny way of working, not to mention a bully’s sense of humor. Plus, we would be complete assholes if we got to move to the daydream destination of cubicle inhabitants everywhere without a glitch.

Fast forward to house hunting. On our lunch break, Waylon drove us to meet our realtor. At Exit 5, he asked, “What’s your back-up plan?”

My boss was letting me telecommute on a see-how-it-goes basis, the job equivalent of dating due to circumstance, like the time I convinced myself I adored my high school boyfriend because he had a car, and I didn’t want to ride the bus. My employer had a lot of deliverables, and, at the time, I was the only one able to do it. And I was pretty good at it. With two weeks behind us, I felt as confident as that teenager who had to board the big, yellow school transportation one measly time, but Waylon’s question scooped me like an undertow. I bumbled patchy variations of the following:

  • I didn’t think I needed one.
  • Technical writing is my back-up plan, my lucky alternative to adjuncting.
  • I have 500+ pages of drafts from grad school collecting dust, but I don’t have time to polish them into gleaming stories, essays and poems that will win me free one-year subscriptions to lit mags and eternal fame and glory.
  • I have revised my novel steadily, but it’s not query-ready.
  • Health insurance!
  • My CV is lower than crap.
  • Everyone hates me because I don’t have a book.
  • I 78% don’t care what paying off my student loan and credit card debt looks like.

Did I really need a back-up plan for my back-up plan? Because I didn’t have one. My sad rambling had come full circle. “No, I never really thought about it,” I said.

“No worries. I was just wondering,” he said. (In real-life dialogue, non-writers are sooo much cooler than writers. Amirite?)

Less than a week later, I would be counting down (and racking up) the hours to my unemployment. It was July.