It was a year ago I left the building I had worked in for twenty years carrying the chair I stubbornly insisted on keeping because no one else’s butt would fit in the curves like mine did. The agency let me take it. They knew better than to wrestle it out of my hands. For the last time, I walked down the concrete steps that, according to the clunky twenty-year old calculator I also lifted from my office, was number 11,680.
I am usually a cheerful self-starter who likes to complain for a while and then gleefully dig into a monster of a project and demand a deadline so I can the feel the high of finishing it at 11:59 when I grin in triumph and maybe even do a little celebration dance.
Unfortunately, for the last 360-something days, that beloved scenario didn’t take place, and I have felt alternately adrift and determined, buried and stubborn, stuck in my pajamas and forever ensconced in yoga pants.
When people ask what I have done with my time, my answer depends on the day, my mood, my productivity, the season, what’s on TV, if I made my bed that morning, or what challenges our nation is facing.
Things I equated with unemployment: Sunday nights felt just like Thursday nights. I got a puppy. I visited my grandkids. They visited me. I had surgery. I had nothing to talk about at dinner parties. My former work friends forgot to invite me to a going away party. Oh, and then there was the presidential impeachment and the national pandemic. I felt it was my patriotic duty to participate in those events by spending hours watching TV.
Things I equated with self-employment: I taught a travel writing class for the senior center and planned a whole series of travel memoirs based on the crazy adventures Paul and I have had over the years. I also dug in deep and finished a final draft of my novel about two families who live on a farm in 1928 Alabama. It is about race, class, social culture, feminism, baseball, dahlias, wild boars, self-determination, forgiving the past, celebrating the future, and mourning the loss of the one who held it all together.
Then something terrible happened. I asked someone who I respect and admire to read the first chapter of my book that I thought was pretty much done. He disliked the dialogue, the backstory, and an important character. I was crushed. I didn’t write for several months. I didn’t talk about it either. Luckily, my husband who is normally a man of few words, grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “I don’t care what you do, I just want you to be happy.”
So, I felt this little drumbeat start inside me. I needed to be happy which means I needed to be heard which means I needed to write. I had two choices: shop the novel or get a job. I did both.
I am embarrassed to say that in the past, I’ve thought of self-publishing as similar to a vanity press situation where the quality of content and ability to use the apostrophe’S’ languished somewhere other than in the pages.
Well, I was wrong. I’m a member of a few social media pages where mostly women are teaching me how to share ideas for topics, develop strategies for advertising, and cultivate support for one another. They have power over their writing, publishing, and goals. What a great place to be.
So, even though I was still bruised and skittish from my encounter with negativity, I got back in the saddle. I hired a new editor who read every word of my manuscript. She taught me about the craft of writing and showed me where I nailed it and where I woefully missed it.
She also complimented my work and asked if I didn’t want to think twice about finding an agent who would sell my book to a traditional publishing company. I thought about it for a nanosecond. ‘Nope,’ I decided. ‘This book is mine and I want to walk it up and down every step.’
It’s hard for women sometimes to take in what an expert says about your work. She told me out of the 600 books she had edited over the years, she considered mine in the top tier. I stood in front of my book shelves. I easily own 600 books. I looked at the top shelf and felt very pleased.
This novel is the culmination of losing my way and finding a new and unexpected path. I’m still in that place where life could be better, but it is ‘good enough’ as Paul says.
If you find yourself trying to decide if you are unemployed or self-employed, you will ultimately find yourself, I promise. It takes some courage. That chair? One day I was just mad, so I drove it down to the back alley of Habitat for Humanity and pushed it so it launched over the bars of the drop/off station. I use the old calculator daily to check my word count, and I stopped working in my home office because it is dark and messy. Instead, I bought a beautiful curved desk and placed it in the corner of two windows in my bedroom. The view reminds me that the tides come and go, and sea gulls don’t give a damn if you have a job.
My novel, Socrates Bravo, will be published in January, and I hope you will purchase it. (Paul says I can’t give out all free copies…) I’m working with a company who will help me with formatting, and I commissioned an artist to design the book cover. If all goes right, the novel will be in paperback, ebook, and audio on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and other sites.
I am often asked how Socrates Bravo got his name. Well, just to pique your interest, it was the marriage of a northern scholar and a southern housemaid who came up with it.