Yesterday was my last day at the bookstore. It’s hard to overstate the gratitude that I feel for the place—what I took for a straightforward and undemanding job ended up, of course, meaning so much more.
The day back in February when I emailed the OM to see if I could pick up some hours, the email was the only thing I was able to accomplish that day. I was still panicking hard, trying for an hour walk each day, writing down my dreams and not much else. After I sent the email, I was petrified that I would let everyone down, especially Amy, who’d be one of my supervisors.
I was worried that I was so broken that I couldn’t even do my old standby day job, which I love and which has brought me so much comfort over the years. I was still having panics in the grocery store sometimes, feeling unworthy of groceries I knew my former students’ families couldn’t afford. (Once a lunch-party guest, the brightest and most determinedly positive girl in the class, expressed envy of my baby carrots, she said her dad couldn’t afford things like that. I gave her all of my carrots and was never the same again.)
It was hard. For the first few bookstore weeks, I could pretty much only work and sleep. I rode with Amy to work most days, which, like the job itself, ended up making me feel both comforted and trapped. The shadows of school life lurked around with me, I was never sure if I was acting normal or like a mental case.
Sometimes, the young people who worked with me wanted to talk about Important Topics, and I would feel the fear and self-loathing and self-consciousness that precipitates a panic well up and I would have to stop them, but I found their existence so comforting—the wild-haired blogger who declared herself “sick of corporate America” and just stopped showing up, the philosopher who used the phrase “patriarchy as death machine” in casual conversation, they give me hope that everyone’s going to keep fighting evil, even as I move on to cozier ways of doing so.
But what I loved the most, what I’ve always loved the most, is idle work conversation. (This is why Clerks is one of my favorite movies, in spite of my brother’s complaint that nothing happens in it.) (see also: the season three OITNB conversation about the Black-Eyed Peas)
I love the genial, jokey exchanges of near-strangers, the kind that arises from the most exquisite boredom: parsing the intentions of cable radio pop singers, punning on book titles, eventually finding out what creative projects are lurking just beneath nearly everyone’s surface.
And in that spirit, another miraculous thing happened—I got a crush. One day a few weeks ago I was startled to realize that I’d flirted my way through eight hours, with only a break for lunch, and with a mix of embarrassment and exhilaration, I felt a return to myself. Another day went by like that, complete with him recommending an album and me typing while listening to it and settling back to the part of me that has muses, that gets a little giddy and then makes more things. He’s not a viable option, this isn’t that awesome of a story, but just to be off the rails a little, kind of dizzy in the head for someone, it gives me hope that I might still be capable of happily falling when the time comes. Also, it makes me just an eensy bit impatient for that time to happen.
I told someone yesterday during the process of goodbyes that I was broken when I started, and he asked if I was unbroken now. I’ll go with less broken—last week, I wasn’t sure if I had Lyme disease or was sick from all the racism news. I’m better able to engage with the world now, easing back to the Important Topics. It’s still hard to fight the sense of failure and the crippling self-consciousness that got exacerbated in the classroom.
Even though my poetry class is very fruitful and camp seems promising, it’s so hard not to feel like a failure about teaching. Talking to my brother-in-law, a born teacher, over the weekend, it’s hard not to envy the confidence he has with his career, with his place in the world. I envy my friends who all seem so settled, so at home in the world, in their families, in their work.
But playing Mario Kart with my nephew, I wondered aloud why I ended up off road so often. He said “Maybe you’re a…criminal? No, that’s not the word.”
“Outlaw?” I asked, and he heartily agreed.
Outlaw sounds about right. I hate the way that the school system is set up, the way it focuses on data and saps the creativity of teachers and students alike. I feel desperately jealous of my friends who slot so easily into their classrooms, but I have to sympathize with the intensely talented friends who’ve had their love and inspiration sucked right out—that waste isn’t okay with me. It’s not a sacrifice it seems right to make.
Somewhere in my love of connection and my madness for protecting creativity, I hope to find my next line of work. It may be in a nicer school or in homes or I don’t know where. I take comfort in knowing that summer art camp is a job that makes sense, that pays well enough, so maybe that can give me hope for the jobs that follow. My brain is still fragile, but I’m so grateful for the healing that the past four months have brought—thank you, self, for making summer come in February. Thank you, friends, who’ve supported and loved and written with me. Thank you, work, for bringing me back to myself. I’ll do my best with the road less traveled, and I’ll always choose the Kart with good offroad capabilities.