Good thing I finished the 365 Days of Reading blog project yesterday. Yes, in the same way I started my blog--accidentally--I quit my job.
Now I knew something was building to a head because I found myself requesting a conversation at work, as I felt we needed to clear the air about a few things.
During the conversation, a few things did become excruciatingly clear.
In short, that I was disposable and easily replaceable.
So I left.
No job is perfect. I can put up with a lot—the chaos of the back room, shoveling myself out of the back lot, you know, the annoying crap we often find ourselves stumbling around in, sometimes literally, if the cat box gets too full, low pay, etc.—but I’ve never been able to stay in a situation where I’m just plain not valued.
And it always takes me just a little too long to realize that.
Call me human. Call me equally human.
I loved my job. Goodbye, charmed life with books. Goodbye, random shop talk. Goodbye, hourly wage.
And I felt icky leaving. But, as often happens, reading came to my rescue. Not only that, but Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorites. She’s the author of Housekeeping, Gilead, Home (three novels) and The Death of Adam, a book of essays so intense it took me about a year to read. (Plus, Mother Country, which I yearn for.) So I was reading another of her intense, dense essays, the one that saved me, before a junior high volleyball game (at Epiphany!!!!), and I had to read the same three paragraphs three times over during the loud warm-up music to actually retain the words and their meaning.
OK, and I also might have been a bit preoccupied by accidentally quitting my job.
I might have been replaying in my head a moment late in the day, one I can already laugh at for its perfection, but which was pretty icky at the time.
It needs a little set up.
Trying to explain to my boss about ways he might value his employees intangibly, as that can go a long way toward employee satisfaction, I’d told him that I wished he wouldn’t keep saying, when people came in looking for work, “All my current employees are tenaciously holding onto their jobs.” I knew he meant it as humorous, but it was getting tedious to hear.
“It’s not funny anymore,” I said, “and it makes it sound like if I’d just get out of the way you could hire that person. But we do need more staff. And you’re not hiring for other reasons.”
This open and honest communication, something I was asking for more of in the workplace, did not go over well.
So, having mulled it over in a somewhat fragile state for a few hours, alone in the store, tending to a string of customers and people bringing in books, and handling a series of phone calls, while also trying to attend to my real job, of data entry….as I said, later, when the boss returned, now almost unable to look me in the eye, but I have a gentle manner, so, eventually, he did, I said to the boss, referring to how he’d spoken to me earlier, “I don’t ever want to feel like that in my workplace again,” and offered him this option: “Should I just leave now, or should I give two weeks notice, so you have time to look for sometime else.”
“I’m not firing you,” he said. Yes, now he was looking me in the eyes.
And then, as in a movie, a tall, skinny college kid walked in and said, not knowing which one of us to address, “Are you hiring?
“Yes, as a matter of fact we are,” said my boss.
There was a flurry of small cruelty, on his part, and math challenge, on mine, as I totaled the hours on my last pay card, and off I headed to the volleyball game. Easy come, easy go.
What I read three times over during the volleyball warm-ups was this, a summary of the contemporary myth, in America, that has replaced other origin myths:
A central myth of ours, if it were rendered as narrative, would sound like this: One is born and in passage through childhood suffers some grave harm. Subsequent good fortune is meaningless because of this injury, while subsequent misfortune is highly significant as the consequence of this injury. The work of one’s life is to discover and name the harm one has suffered.
This is not a myth I live by, but I realized yesterday, at Epiphany school, it is a myth lived by many people whose lives I have passed through.
And, believe me, I respect myths. In fact, Myths to Live By, by Joseph Campbell, is on my bookshelf, held together by a rubber band. So, yes, I confess that the myths I live by are probably all ancient. And that I recognize them as myths. Stories that tell deep, abiding truths.
But Marilynne Robinson has a bit of a problem with the current abiding myth: “It is a myth that allows us to keep ourselves [my italics] before our eyes as the first claimant, in extreme cases the only claimant, upon our pity and indulgence.”
Ourselves the only claimant. Doesn’t sit right with me.
Marilynne Robinson continues, “This entails indifference to certain values celebrated in older myth, for example, dignity, self-possession, magnanimity, loyalty, humor, courage, selflessness, reverence expressed as gratitude for one’s experience of the goodness of life, reverence expressed as awe in face of the pain and mystery of life.”
I cannot tell you how awed and glad I am that the last words I said to my boss were, “Thank you, Brian. I’ve loved it here.”