Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Something Precious"

"He told me and, on the instant, it was as though someone had switched off the wireless and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short; an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude of sweet and natural and long-forgotten sounds - for he had spoken a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror's name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight."
- Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Last week saw a significant anniversary in my life, an occasion for which I believe there are no gift guides or Hallmark cards: one year sans full-time job. Yes, it was one year ago that I exited my dingy below-ground office, disgruntled and angry and anxious, and feeling as if I'd been peeled raw by the humiliations and aggravations of the past months/years. (Perhaps my fragile emotional state at that moment can be partly attributed to the debilitating hangover I was suffering, thanks to my extremely fun going-away party the night before. But only partly.)

As with any anniversary (other than Birthdays-Ending-in-Five-or-Zero, which make me cower and avert my eyes), I'm using the occasion to check in, see where I am in relation to the year previous, try to figure out what direction I'm pointed in, and valiantly attempt to determine if it's the right direction - the proverbial taking stock. And I have to say, I'm quite pleased with the stock on hand.

First and foremost: I'm not miserable! How about that! I don't feel stuck or trapped, or filled with dread at the start of the workweek (what workweek?), and I no longer have the feeling that I am without options. So, even excluding all other criteria, it's been a very successful year.

I can also see how my thinking has unfolded over the course of the past twelve months, how a sense of where I want to go in my life has gradually cohered, thanks to a whole slew of events and a rather stop-and-start train of thought. I feel open now - emotionally, yes, but even in a physical sense, as if my ribs have unknit themselves and my chest has opened up. I remember years ago, I was in San Francisco with a friend who had lived in that city for quite some time. I kept pointing out things that caught my eye: a particular sliver of view, an old-school sign, a building painted an oddly arresting color. Finally he said, "Siobhan, I've never seen any of this stuff. You're a noticer." I think I'd lost that capacity in recent years - it's as if I were just hurrying along, head down, brow furrowed and all that. In the past year, I've started noticing things again. I must be standing up straighter, looking up and around, not just focused inward on those dark and stormy thoughts.

And I have plenty of opportunities to look around, to stop and smell the proverbial daisies. I have a lot of unstructured time these days, the kind of time that makes some (employed) people shudder and say, "Oh god, aren't you bored?"

Bored? Bored? I'll tell you what's boring: trying to kill time at a job you hate, where there's no momentum, no creativity, where in fact momentum and creativity are routinely quashed. It's not that I'm so madly active now, but it's inactivity by choice, thank you, not enforced inactivity, or worse, enforced activity of the pointless and menial variety. Now, if a glimmer of boredom appears on the horizon, I can either pop up and find something to do, or I can kind of look at the potential boredom, ponder it, poke at it, see what it brings up. Solipsistic, yes, but it's not as if I'm inflicting my solipsism on anyone else (other than you, a little bit), whereas sometimes it seems to me that nine-to-five life is all about someone inflicting their fetishes and neuroses and paranoias on anyone in the near vicinity.

To go on just a bit more about my fascinating states of boredom: what they evoke for me, more than anything, is the boredom of childhood - an afternoon with nothing to do, no one around, a time when I could just futz around my room, looking at my things, reading bits of books, talking to my cat, lying on my bed and daydreaming. Which is perhaps why the above quote from Brideshead jumped out at me when I was watching the series last weekend (for the umpteenth time). Charles Ryder and I have very different situations and circumstances, but like him, I feel that I've had an epiphany (not so much a lightening-bolt epiphany, but instead a rather drawn-out and prolonged epiphany, but an epiphany nonetheless) that has brought my past rushing up to me, making years gone by more immediate and relevant than my recent history. The metaphor of an incessant static being silenced resonates with me: it's as if now that I don't have a constant buzz of anxiety and fear and low-level panic, I can tune into another richer, more meaningful station - some sort of core self that is helping me find my bearings right now.

Among these bearings: I'm being reminded that there are alternatives between full-time office job and no work at all; that there are more soul-satisfying ways for me to live than I have in the past, oh, 15 years; that work can involve creativity in ways other than trying to find new tactics for negotiating office politics. And it's the reconnection to my distant past that is responsible, I believe, for my learning these lessons. It's as if, once the wireless in my head was switched off, I could slowly settle down, in the sense of coming to rest and letting the extraneous stuff drift away, and see what's left.

As a reminder of what was evoked for Charles in that moment cited above (and also just because that first episode is so painfully heartbreaking and gorgeous), let's let Sebastian wrap it up today.


  1. Funny, I am watching the film as I read this.

  2. I was just thinking recently what a fine going away party that was...

  3. Brideshead, just the idea of it makes my eyes well up with tears

  4. I can't seem to escape your handle in my wanderings about the blogosphere. Wolcott in particular, but perhaps because the handle is so distinct...

    Anyway, I finally wandered over here, and as a person "looking forward" to losing their job (very possible, which of course would be greatly stressful for normal reasons) for precisely the joy you so beautifully put above, I just wanted you to know you have a new fan.


  5. John O: Thank you! I'm glad you wandered over, and I hope you'll stick around. Good luck with your potential job loss!

  6. Listen, Siobhan, if you're ever up for a home exchange, let me know. Because I love dropping by your apartment. You cheer me up, even in this everlasting rain.

  7. You're a very good writer.

    One of the great humbling things about being a blog-reader is the inevitable for most of us understanding what a crappy writer we are.

    But I do believe you got me to the place you wanted to in this post, and that's a lovely gift.

    Now, how the hell did you survive without a job for a year, and how are you going to make any money as a writer?


  8. Siobhan - your introspective look at the merits of boredom make me think you need something to do! I'm just a simple guy far, far away from the world you live in but my experience has been that opportunities don't drop into your lap, they are realized thanks to initiative and hard work. John O is right, you are a good writer so if writing is your calling then get out there an make it a career. As Rob Schneider said in the movie Waterboy, "You can do it!"


  9. I want to know what kind of job let you save up enough money to live without a job for a year with no panic in site, including trips to Paris and lots of tasty restaurant meals (shrimp balls with Wolcott?). I could make it maybe 6 months without a job, but I don't live in NYC.

    I guess you could always be a restaurant critic or travel guide writer. You def had me reading every all thru May.

  10. THis is my first time on the site. Found you through Wolcott.

    I was in a similar situation 3.5 years ago. Laid off from a job where things had been going from bad to worse. (My entire division was layed off, but first they toyed with us for about 5 months. Total mindf*ck.)

    Just like you, I was relieved and felt total freedom when I was let go. I could breathe again. After living in limbo for months at least I knew where I was.

    Jobs in my field were dwindling, so I went freelance. The first year was good. I made about a third of what I'd made previously. The second was better. I made a little more than half of my corporate salary. The third year was absolutely horrible. The work dried up. I made close to nothing.

    For the last 18 months I've been living on my emergency fund. (Thank god I've saved and I'm thrifty by nature.) It's now almost all gone.

    I'm trying to figure out my next move.

  11. I crave boredom. It is as you noted so much better than working in misery, dread anxiety fear and panic. My kids complain of being bored, I tell them to live it up while they can.

    Ah that gorgeous creature Sebastian. Brideshead is a beautifully written elegy for the upper classes. I'm sure the servants had a different perspective - someone should rewrite it with Wilcox and Mrs Abel as narrators..

  12. There is clearly some curiosity about my situation, so let me clarify, a bit (I'm trying to maintain some privacy, even as I blog about intensely personal things; contradictory, I know, but there you go). I sold my apartment a year ago, and as soon as I had the f-u money in the bank, had the proverbial Last Straw at work and quit. I then cut waaaaaaay back on expenses and have been freelancing. I'm hardly set for life, but I'm enjoying this particular stretch.

    Hope it helps to know that I'm not a trustafarian, an ex-trophy wife, a Madoff wannabe, etc.

    Meanwhile, thanks, all, for the comments. I love getting feedback, and I'm glad there are a few people out there reading (and hopefully enjoying) my blog.


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