Monday, December 15, 2008

Home and Away

Being laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me, despite it occurring within weeks of the birth of our daughter and the purchase of our house.

1. Because it forced me to finally take sides in an argument I had been having with myself for a long time: do I want to be a serious writer or do I want to be a ______ (fill in an occupation, and precede it with the word soul-sapping).

2. Because it allows me to wear sweatpants and the hand-me-down slippers my mother-in-law gave me. (I have little Sally feet, like my little Sally hands. They came as a set, in fact)

I was laid off in the fall of 2006 after two years as web master. Great job. Great pay. Great benefits. Great co-workers. Translation: I was miserable.

That is to say, I was comfortable, which means I was not writing. Which further means that, deep in the well of my soul, I was a disappointment to myself. No, not that self, the other one. The one who didn't want to be a writer, he HAD to be a writer. I was pretty good at self-loathing, if you will. A daily mantra my conscience would whisper to me as I showered and dressed: "Stephen King published HIS first novel when he was not yet 30. But hey, I see you're busy getting ready for your important job, so I'll let you get back to it. Nice tie, by the way."

The voice in my head - the one dogging me about not growing a pair and actually striking out on my own to be a writer - has always been there. It was always needling me. Goading me. For years. Until the day I was laid off.

My boss at the time sat across from me in his office and said the magic words: "We're not funding your position after this fiscal year."

A quick calculation in my head put the end of "this fiscal year" at 30 days from that moment. I was further told that I was not expected to work for the next 30 days, if I didn't want to.

My reaction surprised even myself. I was elated.

Okay, yes, of course, I was stunned too. I mean, getting laid off is a form of rejection. You can't help but feel like someone is pointing at your acne and laughing. It, you know, kinda sucks.

But I got over it fast. I remember saying "Well, that's too bad."

That was it. No indignation. No feelings of betrayal. No rumblings of sudden, deep loss. Honest to God I felt free. At the time I really didn't recognize where the feeling was coming from. Why did I feel like a prisoner being released? I liked what I did for work there. I was proud of my accomplishments. I got along with everyone. And yet, when I left his office, left for the day before noon - only to return for a few more days to help train - it was like I had been let out of school and told I didn't need to return.

I didn't worry about getting gainful employment. I did not rush home to check out the classifieds. I just didn't sweat it.

It was Corrine, actually, who made me realize why I had been so cavalier about just losing our meal ticket. She said four words.

"Now you can write."

The words - the verbal permission slip - I had been wanting my whole life to hear.

At the moment of being laid off I had been freed to make a decision. I didn't have to quit a good-paying job, it had been decided for me. I was given a clean slate, and Corrine had green-lighted it by her show of support and understanding.

And it has turned out to be everything I had expected: financially tough, but creatively enabling. A trade off, to be sure. But one I will take any day, now that I know what it feels like with the shoe on the other foot.

I don't loathe my days anymore, or myself for enduring them.

That, in a nutshell, is what has made it worthwhile.

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