God, I just can't seem to get into the habit of posting here. I think about it every couple of days but have a hard time actually sitting down and making it happen. Must get better about that.
I drove south down the Oregon Coast yesterday, trying to get one more quick trip in before Keith's surgery. It rained almost the entire way down, four hours of leisurely driving through mossy old growth trees and open windy bays. Claire sat happily in the backseat, staring at either me or out the window, happy just to be along for the ride.
I listened to music most of the way, which is really what you need to do to get lost in thought properly. I thought about restarting this blog this week, about what the important things were to say (I know what a luxury this break is. I know everything we've given up for it. I cannot waste it, I will not waste it, and I hope that recording some of it keeps me honest about how I'm spending my time and the decisions behind all the things that come next). I thought about what some of those things might be (I want to start a non-profit, I want to continue to be creative on a regular basis, I want to get myself ready to work hard again and then to do it, for something I believe in.). I thought about visiting with my mom and my sister and my brother next week, and how excited I am to see them. I thought a little (but not too much) about how and why I left Amazon but mostly I am at peace with all of that now.
When I stopped for lunch I found myself reading an article from Patrick Pichette, the CFO at Google. He wrote a post about why he's retiring and it was so lovely I had to stop reading it because I thought I might burst into tears right there at the counter in the truck stop diner. I finished eating, paid my bill and went to sit in my car to finish it. There's lots in it that I love -- for starters, a FINANCE guy wrote it. He thinks of his bicycling as his introvert happy place, he talks about being a member of the FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers (!), and he is grateful and happy for his life but choosing something bigger and scarier and more meaningful. I liked this part in particular: "...The short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road - celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted." I have never before heard anyone refer to a midlife crisis full of bliss and beauty, but that is it! That is what I'm having. I insist!
This translated memoir by Diogo Mainardi is a sweet book but really too focused on fatherhood for me to relate to all that well. Diogo delivers the story of his son's botched birth and the beautiful way he embraces his son and his struggles with cerebral palsy.
Even though the parenting focus is not my thing, there are many beautiful passages, and one of the morals of this story I can relate to: be careful of what you flippantly wish for yourself and others.
"I went on to say that my wish — and I quote word for word — was to have “a turtle child, and whenever he became too agitated, I would just have to roll him onto his back and he would lie there, silently waving his little arms.” I got my turtle child."
"Knowing how to fall is much more valuable than knowing how to walk."
It's only Day 5 and I'm already feeling restless. I'm so worried that I'm going to squander this time off that I get antsy any time I have a spare unscheduled moment and start pacing around and fretting. Today was another errand day, eye doctor appointment and Flywheel and waiting on a delivery. After the delivery I took and shower and got out and stared anxiously out the window trying to decide how best to spend the rest of my day. I don't like that feeling.
Now I'm at Elliot Bay having a latte and a snack while I force myself to create, both some word on the page and some art in my journal. I'm only out because I've committed to going to a talk tonight that I hope can be a networking opportunity, but of course I don't feel like going now.
It doesn't feel fantastic, but at least I got a lot of shit done today. Two doctor's appointments, ran a couple of non-inspiring errands, signed up for the STP, and got a few hours in at a cafe -- drew a little bit, wrote a little bit, did a bit of job hunting (and even found something that might be interesting).
I certainly wouldn't want every day during this break to be like this, but it feels good checking things off my to do list so quickly. Of course I got two follow up to dos from one of the doctor's appointments but that's ok -- they're things I really should have already done for myself.
I'm counting down my sabbatical days including all weekends so even though this is technically my first real day off, it's marked as Day 3. So. My first Monday off. Here's how I feel today: I don't want to go back there. Ever.
I know there are lots of fantastic reasons to go back. I have a good reputation and I make a lot of money and it's a place that constantly challenges me. And I love lots of the people there. But it's a hard place to be, too. And what was it that AW said the other day? Just because you can do a thousand push-ups doesn't mean you have to do them. Sometimes it's enough to know you can. And after 14 years I know I can do it; I'm not sure I want to any more. I think working there has made me impatient. And it's made me a little hard. And with the exception of this year abroad (and more importantly AWAY from the mother ship) it has stolen nearly all of my personal interests and creativity.
The past few weeks have been such a relief. Here are some of the things I've been thinking about:
- The amount of responsibility I have felt for the things I manage isn't rational. Don't get me wrong, I'm really proud of everything I've achieved, and do feel like the work I've done over the years has had a positive impact on customers, on the people who have worked for me, and for me. But the act of handing things over, wrapping them up, and disengaging from the work has given me perspective on what exactly my contribution has been. And it's not enough to make up for all those lost days/weeks/months/years, the opportunity cost of not keeping up with the writing I used to love, the time away from my love, my family, my friends. If I'm spending that much of my energy and life on the work, I want it to be mine.
- Being at that place is like being in a cult. You are taught to believe that you're a little bit smarter than everyone outside the company (but not nearly as smart as the people in the company). That you can achieve things no one else can (if you just give a little bit more of yourself).
-And mostly I keep coming back to this quote I read a few months ago:
“Working the way I have all my life is like a pie-eating contest. I worked in high school to get into a great college. Then I worked in college to get into a great law school. Then I worked at law school to get a job at a top-flight law firm. Then I worked at the law firm to make partner. I’ve finally figured out that it is all just a big pie-eating contest. You win, and the prize is always … MORE PIE. Who wants that?” from SPRINGBOARD Launching Your Personal Search for Success
Magnuson with Claire then tried a new bakery/cafe: Greatful Bread in Wedgewood. Hated it. Crowded so I had to sit outside in the unheated sun room, where it was too cold to ever get comfortable, even with my coat and scarf on. Crappy ham and cheese croissant. No wifi. Note to self: identify a long list of well-rated cafes to go to so I'm never caught short again.
But still, it was a day off, so overall it was amazing.
Jan 11, 2014
First day of sabbatical. I'll write more on that another time. For now, I'm just going with what's on my mind this morning.
I just finished reading Delia Ephron's Sister Mother Husband Dog and am completely in love with Ephron's writing style -- simple, plain-spoken sentences that just try to get out of the way and tell you a story. A good story, usually a funny story, sometimes touching, too, like when she writes about losing her sister, or about her mother's alcoholism.
I believe having an alcoholic parent is not only something to write about, but that there is an obligation to do it. Growing up as that child is lonely, isolating, confusing, and damaging. There are lots of us. If I have the power by telling a story to make an isolated person less alone, that is a good thing. Besides, I don’t believe in protecting parents who drink— sympathizing, forgiving, but not protecting. “I hope you never tell anyone what happens here.” Tell everyone. You might never get past it otherwise. The obligation of a child is not to protect their parents. Obviously. Obviously. A mom is supposed to protect her kids. Which doesn’t happen when she drinks.
That's an important passage to me, and I'm glad to have recorded it -- and I expect to write more about it soon -- but it doesn't really capture the style I'm talking about here. This one's better; Delia has just gotten divorced and has been living on friends' couches for a few months:
When I was down to my last $ 300, which would have been $ 500 except I fell in love with an orange coat, I was sitting at home one night eating chocolate pudding. It was the kind of pudding you cook— the kind that has skin on the top. I was eating it the way I always had: making a little hole in the skin, scooping the soft pudding out from underneath, saving the skin for last. I was eating like a child. I wrote about it— five hundred words about how children eat food. It was in the form of instructions. I was good at instructions. I sold “How to Eat Like a Child” to the New York Times. It appeared on the back page of the Sunday magazine, and magically, unimaginably, on Monday I was offered a book contract.
I love the orange coat detail.
This morning I started an old collection of essays written by her more famous sister Nora, who I have also always liked. This collection has writing in it that starts in 1972. Quite a flash from the past -- the essay I've stopped at for the morning is about the feud between Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan. Her style is similar, written the way a good friend would speak if she were sitting next to you on your couch with her second glass of wine just about finished.
I considered staying in bed all day. I considered getting out of bed and into the bathtub and staying there all day. I wondered if even considering these two alternatives constituted a nervous breakdown. (Probably not, I decided.) I contemplated suicide. Every so often I contemplate suicide merely to remind myself of my complete lack of interest in it as a solution to anything at all. There was a time when I worried about this, when I thought galloping neurosis was wildly romantic, when I longed to be the sort of girl who knew the names of wildflowers and fed baby birds with eyedroppers and rescued bugs from swimming pools and wanted from time to time to end it all. Now, in my golden years, I have come to accept the fact that there is not a neurasthenic drop of blood in my body, and I have become very impatient with it in others. Show me a woman who cries when the trees lose their leaves in autumn and I’ll show you a real asshole.
It's similar to the feeling I get when I read (and re-read) Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking. Like you're just sitting in the kitchen chit-chatting with your very best friend. Except Colwin isn't particularly funny. She's warm and welcoming, and a little bit conspiratory. I'd add a quote or two here, too, to demonstrate, but damn Goddamn Harper Collins hasn't digitized her books yet and I'm too lazy to go run upstairs and dig up my cprint opy. (Lost sale! I would have made an impulse purchase here, simply to copy and paste a few lines.)
I want to work on writing like that. Without grand ambition to make beautiful sentences or to win accolades, but with the very difficult goal of simply telling a good story.