I’ve been away from the library now for about two months. I don’t talk about it much because there are a lot of mixed emotions there. I spent six and a half years in that job, and it was easily the most enjoyable I’ve held so far. But the way I left and the reasons behind it are a wound that hasn’t quite healed. It feels like a break up. (I mean, I guess it does. I didn’t have a ton of dating experience before Kalen, but I still know what heartbreak feels like.) I know I made the right decision, even if it was hard and more than a little painful.
I know it was the right decision. There are a lot of people who would argue that it wasn’t, since I don’t have another steady job lined up. But I remind myself there’s more to life than a steady job. And I’m fortunate and privileged to be in a position to take this time away from traditional employment. I know most people don’t have that luxury, or even if they were financially stable enough, might not have a supportive spouse. But I do.
I’m struggling with the terminology. My hardworking, protestant German immigrant ancestors (and some of their more recent descendants, to a point) wordlessly whisper that I’m not contributing, and that is unforgivable. When I made some changes to our insurance recently and they asked what I do for a living, I said I was unemployed. But I quickly added “at the moment,” so they wouldn’t think me lazy.
Lots of women stay home while their husbands work. Or at least they used to. But that’s not a world I’m familiar with. My parents both worked. Almost all of my friends had two working parents. Most of my aunts and uncles were two income families, even if one of those incomes was part-time. Am I now, technically, a homemaker? Is that how I avoid saying that I’m unemployed? If I am a homemaker, I’m a pretty terrible one. I let the Roomba vacuum for me. The dishes that can go in the dishwasher do, but the pots and pans often sit in the sink a little too long. The bathroom only gets cleaned before we have company and I dust even less often than that. I do take care of laundry when the hamper is overflowing, but I hate it, and much of it gets relegated to the evenings and weekends when Kalen can help me.
And I’m not entirely unemployed. I recently got approved to do captioning as an independent contractor. As I improve, my pay will get better too (and it’s not like I was making bank at the library). And it’s enjoyable. I’m not allowed to talk much about the work, but as someone who almost always watches television and movies with captions on, it’s a lot of fun to see where they come from and to do some myself.
I also tested something else out. At a rare (for me) social event a couple weeks ago, a small luncheon for my goddaughter’s confirmation, I was inevitably faced with the usual questions of “How’s work?” immediately followed by, “Well, if you’re not at the library, what are you doing?” There it is. Quid Facis?
A couple years ago, I binged “Jane the Virgin” on Netflix. I had previously been put off by the title, but my mom told me it was really cute, and I needed something to watch, so I watched it, and Mom was right (she usually is). Early on, in an introductory scene, someone asks Jane what she does, and she asks if they want the brave answer or the realistic answer. The other party asks what the difference is. Jane’s realistic answer is that she’s a teacher. It’s a solid, reliable career. It’s how she gets her paycheck. Her brave answer is that she’s a writer. She hasn’t had anything published, but writing is her passion and she has big dreams about it, even though she knows they might never pan out.
I’m not quite so brave as Jane. But I took a little inspiration and very cautiously answered that Quid Facis with, “Well, I’ve been writing a lot,” which is true! I’ve written more here than I’ve written in ages, and I’ve gotten into a routine of writing, at least a little, nearly every day. I’ve even worked a fair amount on my (very secret, definitely not ready for general discussion) novel. The novel will probably never be published. Maybe someday I’ll get it finished (although, just between you and me, I started the original heart of it over a decade ago, so bet on that horse if you like losing money).
I didn’t elaborate a lot on either the book or the website in those conversations. I’m superstitious about the book, but someone assumed I meant a book, and that was flattering, that they thought I was capable of that. I quickly pivoted away from discussing the book, though, and mentioned that mostly I was writing a blog, but I didn’t go into great detail there either, because I wasn’t sure the crowd was my intended audience. But then, I’m not sure who exactly my intended audience is, really. I’m sure that’s a problem of note in most of my writing.
And even though I shied away from too many details, felt the imposter syndrome clawing its way up my skin, and quickly pivoted the focus to the captioning gig, it was kind of thrilling to say aloud to a group of people, “I’ve been writing.”
I also know leaving the library was the right decision in assessing my mental health. I’ve always been an introvert, long before it was such an internet buzzword. I think it was the only natural outcome for an only child raised out in the country. I quickly learned to entertain myself and that has been my natural mode ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I loved helping people at the library, but having to always have my social mask turned on became exhausting. It worsened as the political climate became more rabid (especially living in an area where my views are very much in the minority), and even more so as so many around me neglected pandemic safety protocols.
I had no patience for strangers, and I was always tense and often angry over the smallest things. I gave no one the benefit of the doubt because I felt like I was using all of my energy to be a good person, caring, cautious, and considerate, and I saw none of that in return from so many around me. I see now that I had a severe case of burn out.
Since being away from the library, I am recovering from that. My schedule allows me to go to the grocery store at off-peak hours, and I no longer feel like I am competing against every other shopper for food items and uncontaminated air to stay healthy. I previously was only able to feel safe (crowding-wise) going to the gym at 5 a.m., and even then, I felt like every person there was a threat, competing for scarce resources. I judged everyone, “She’s skinny enough, why does she need to be here?” “He’s too fat, why isn’t he working harder?” “He’s so old, what does he think he’ll achieve?” “Don’t they know other people want to use that? They should go faster.” “Look at this idiot who didn’t move down so we could all space out more evenly. What a moron.” I didn’t like who I was, but I couldn’t stop thinking that way.
But I’ve found that the gym is just as empty after the lunch rush, and now when I go, it’s a little different. I’m a little different. I saw an old man sit on his walker, blocking one of the two rowing machines, to chat with a woman using the other rower. I had no intention of using the rower, and it didn’t look like anyone else was waiting for it either, but I felt that bristle inside because he was blocking a machine, how inconsiderate! I was able to dismiss it, though, and realized, he’s probably just kind of lonely, and the Y might be the only place for him to socialize. I also noticed he was wearing a political hat, and I managed to squash down the rage, recognizing that he probably doesn’t understand how truly terrible the messaging attached to that hat is. I still hope that he’ll fail to vote in the next election, but that’s a big improvement from wishing he’d drop dead immediately.
I feel myself returning to a kinder and safer state of mind. I’m trying to make my mind more flexible again. And it’s getting there. I don’t think I would be making this progress if I hadn’t left. I still mourn the regulars I didn’t get to say goodbye to, the children I won’t get to see grow up. But I needed to grow in ways that weren’t possible under those circumstances. And I’m seeing that growth already. I made the right decision.