An office email went out, stating that I’d put in my notice and would be resigning my position as of 4/30. Drew and I agreed we would say it was because of my writing, that I have this deadline to meet, blah blah blah. Really, of course, we’ve been saving for the upcoming move to Oregon for over a year and my resignation has nothing whatsoever to do with the book. Still, you have to say something, and Drew needs to keep his job until we find a place to live up north.

All day long, people have been seeking me out in tight corridors and the tiny kitchen cubby when I go downstairs for coffee. Why are you really leaving? Did you get another job? Did you have a fight with X, Y or Z? What’s the real story here.

I tell them I’ve written a book, that I want to keep writing books and maybe selling them.

Without fail, a look comes over my co-workers’ faces. It’s the glazed, jammed-up expression of a listener who thinks the speaker is certifiably insane–the slow, wondering question (a book?), a self-comforting hand cupped around the cheek. I know the expression well, I’ve worn it myself. It’s the open-faced nod I give my boss when she crosses herself for saying goddammit, the placating aspect I adopt when my mother starts talking about Muffy dolls or my neighbor urges me to vote Santorum. It’s the invisible wall that suddenly assumes height and breadth and the thickness of a bomb shelter, between a mindset you understand and one that is completely foreign and utterly mystifying. I could not be any more odd to these people if I flashed my ass and revealed a curlicued tail.

We should have come up with a different story.

Who do you not understand?

62 responses

  1. People who can read but don’t—and are proud of this.

    They must have some kind of reason for this pride, but I doubt I’ll ever understand it.

    • Another thing to make us go hmm. The not-reading I understand–different strokes–but why be proud of it, as if reading is a demon of free-thought, narrowly avoided.

      • Exactly.

        You don’t have to like reading—I don’t like a lot of things that are good for me—but scorning it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  2. My MIL. Narcissists. Mothers who never, ever complain.
    Congratulations on your delicious alibi. I mean, who gets to say that with a straight face? “I quit because I’m off to become a successful author.”

    • Well, I suppose that if I really were quitting my job to be a writer, when the grand total of my writerly earnings has been less than $300 over two years and I’m about to send my second child to college, I really would be certifiable. So The Look is well directed.

    • Not only do I not understand mothers who don’t complain, I also don’t trust them.

      • Yes!

        I’m also not buying the ‘mothering is the hardest job in the world’ conceit. It’s hard at times, but is it coal mining? prostitution? are we working at a factory in China?

        Valuable and worthy, hell yes. Hardest job in the world? No.

  3. I know that look and I hate it. No matter what it has to do with, when I see someone escaping to that hidden room, all I want to do is scoop out those glass eyes and shatter them to the floor. Disengagement is so offensive, personally and indirectly.

    • {shifty eyes}

      Well, in my defense, I will say that I don’t associate The Look with hostility. I mean, I haven’t harbored an angry thought about my mom since I was sixteen, but I will never in a thousand years understand her love for the Muffy doll. I think of The Look as an expression of genuine bafflement.

    • Yeah, I might be secretly giggling a bit. I find that the older I get, the more interest I take in other people’s reactions to me and the larger world. My boss across the hall, with her Ronald Reagan calendar? Fascinating. Of all people to take up wall space, it’s a dead president who, if he were politically active today, would be running as a Democrat.

  4. The electrical engineers where I work obsess over ohms and volts, and spend hours rewiring the lights in the office so they can be controlled from a second location. They then retire en masse to play something called whirlyball, which when I checked it out on YouTube turned out to be the lamest idea for a sport I’d ever seen. They know I’m a writer, so we tend to look at each other with the look you’re describing. Mutual disrespect, I guess.

    • Okay, I looked up whirlyball and had to laugh. This is SO the kind of sport a bunch of wire geeks would love.

      I think I’d resort to The Look if the engineers described how they’d need to rewire the lights to be controlled from a second location. Why would you need to turn the lights on or off unless you were in the room? Most curious.

  5. Yes, the look. My sister-in-law has been kind enough to send multiple job postings to — wait for it — my husband. For me! Guess she’s hoping he’ll explain the process or put his foot down. She even used the words ‘i know you want to write a book, BUT.’ For some reason it really bothers her that I don’t have a 9 to 5 or rather, my old 7 to 7.

      • c’mon now–he’s got great hair. although, i do find obama incredibly attractive so i’m no better off than your neighbors. have you seen photos of santorum in college? he looks 20 years older than he does now and a little bit like a character from one of those alaska reality shows where gruffy men are always yelling at each other.

        i think that while you may not necessarily have quit your job because you’re about to be a full-time writer, that is exactly why you have quit your job. you know, on some higher-conscious, all-knowing level that we don’t necessarily have access to during the day-to-day grind. from this side of the monitor, it appears the universe has carved your way straight to portland, and you’ve taken all the right steps to get there.

        in response to betsy’s question the other night–can you teach me how to do that?

        • Obama is bee-utiful. Did I ever tell you that my family got to sit and chat with him for ten minutes? I DID? Sorry about that, it’s my one claim to fame.

          Santorum is unbelievably creepy. One of these days we’ll find his mother’s dessicated corpse in an attic rocking chair, dressed up like Betsy Ross.

          I love that you imagine me as a full-time writer in Portland, but believe me, the first thing I’ll be doing when we step out of the car is looking for a job. We can’t afford for me not to work.

          Plant waterer. A perfect match for my skill set.

  6. Just zip your lips and run to Portland. You can concoct a new elevator pitch for your life en route. It appears that the end is in sight, in a very good way. Enjoy the unfolding!

    • Upon further reflection over a fat bagel with cream cheese – Hold your head high when & if you speak about your writing, Averil. You DO have a deadline, so that’s a great line. The glazed-over folks don’t need to know the specifics of your work. I’m very vague about content with everyone. When people ask, if I say anything, I shrug and say, “It’s an introspective mood piece about this girl… I can’t really describe it…” The subject changes very quickly after that.

      Marking off the days with a fat, black marker helps, too.

      • Mmm, I’m having a blueberry bagel with peanut butter. No, really, it’s good.

        Most people don’t ask about the book–they skedaddle outta there the minute I say I’m a writer. But for those more intrepid inquirers, I’m stealing your log line about the introspective mood piece.

  7. You guys did the right thing. What in the hell are you supposed to tell them? Whatever you want! And you’re right, of course, to protect Drew’s job. In the end, it’s none of their business; they are not your friends; they looked at you like this before you quit.

    (I’d like to point out my misuse of semicolons above!)

    And here’s a thought. Maybe they don’t think you’re an odd creature. Maybe they’re jealous because you’ve escaped, and of course most of them — like every stranger you meet — are certain they’ve got a book in them too. They’re speechless because they’re wondering how you did it.

    • You know, it’s funny you should say that because the inventory guy who’s given me such shit all these months is suddenly at a loss. He told me I needed to help him with the tracking log next month and I was able to say, Sorry but I won’t be here. That was an entirely different Look he gave me. A wistful, dog-left-at-home look.

      He’s gonna miss me.

  8. I assume you didn’t tell them that you got an agent, what with anonymity and all, right? The sad thing is, people are more accepting of writerly news if they feel there’s an external source of success. If I meet a writer (whether published or not) and I’m introduced as “a writer,” I can see the glint of doubt/worry flash through their eyes, like, “Oh god is she going to talk to me about her self-published memoir??” And then the person doing the introducing will mention the circumstances of Living Arrangements and that look fades and they consider me legit. I hate that this is the way it is, but there definitely has been a change since I started publishing and getting some recognition. I just hope to god I never give other writers that same “look” myself.

    But of course everyone here is right — who the hell cares what they know about your reason for leaving? Unless I missed something here, these people and this job mean nothing to you. You can always send them a postcard from Oregon later on, preferably with news of your book deal.

    • No, but Drew told some people. And you’re right, no one here means anything to me, except in the way that all people do, once they form an opinion of you. I’m a pleaser, unfortunately. Always trying to leave ’em with a good impression.

  9. I’ve gotten that look my entire life, in fact I don’t know what to think when I don’t get that look. Add to that an obsession with wanting to understand what those sceptical people are thinking and you’ve got an idea of how I do it.

    You are leaving with your usual ease and grace, good on you girl.

    • I think we all obsess about what others think. Or, on second thought, maybe that’s a chick thing. Many of the men I know could give a shit. How do they do that?

  10. i’m familiar with that look. Has anyone shown interest in what you might be writing? Did they even know you were a writer? I would lose the word maybe and just say that you are an about-to-be-published-author and have work to do.

    I thought you had already moved. I guess there will be a ton of blogs on that one to look forward to. Good Luck, Averil, and have fun doing it… next Tuesday will be here pretty quickly and you will be breathing fresh air.

    • You are so confident! I’m afraid to jinx myself with any expectation of being published, in case the writing gods suspect smugness and smite me.

      We’re getting close to the move, but are waiting for the school year to end because my daughter will be graduating and we want to make it as easy on the kids as possible. So, mid-June, though my husband is as fed up with the office as I am and is making noises about how he won’t be able to last that long.

      • You need to be confident too… you won’t jinx yourself, what will be will be, just keep working hard on your book, to make it ‘be’.

        I see, you both work for the same company. Well; tell him to hang in there, don’t do too big a happy dance on May Day, promise to buy him a Mai Tai at the Alibi Lounge when you get to Portland. All will be well!

  11. “I could not be any more odd to these people if I flashed my ass and revealed a curlicued tail.”

    But you did, Averil. You did. Don’t you know that’s what we writer types are in this culture? We are the very Satan that tells them their values are not all-encompassing.

    Be that as it may, I gotta get my ass, tail and all, to the office.

    • Apropos of nothing, I have to tell you that I spent yesterday afternoon trying to imagine you as a child eating a grilled cheese sandwich. With a MOM, of all things. I always imagined that you sprang fully adult from the brow of a god.

      Darling Tetman. A little boy. So fucking tickled by that.

  12. This is like pornography, the dream of saying, “I quit. I’m off to meet a deadline.” Thank you for following your dream and allowing me to be a peeping Tom, taking notes and mumbling, “Is this possible? Yes. It must be. She has escaped. So can you.”

    • You know what I’ve finally learned about dreams? That they come about through planning. I would NEVER have thought Drew and I could save the money we did in one year, or that I could have my book finished and agented before the move. But if you take these things one small step at a time, they become possible. And the hard work becomes easier, because you have a goal in mind and are not simply trudging toward the horizon.

      You can make the changes you want in your life, chickadee. You’re not stuck, you just haven’t worked out the plan yet.

      • you’re my new oprah, tony robbins, and deepak all rolled into one beautiful writer’s blog! (i say this with total and complete love, affection, admiration, gratitude and sincerity.)

      • Do you remember our first conversation about this (I think it was maybe while we were sitting around after Lila’s baby shower)? You were absolutely emphatic that it COULD. NOT. BE. DONE. But fast forward two years — omigosh, have I been gone two years? — and look at you now!

        I would say something like, “I’m so proud of you,” because that’s how it genuinely feels, but I get a little creeped out whenever people say that to me. It always comes off as condescending, no matter how well intentioned. So I’ll say, “Way to go! I knew you could do it!” and leave it at that.

        Oh, and I’m digging the instagram pics so far. You’ve got to get a few more followers and people for you to follow to make it really fun. (Yeah, I said that here on purpose…)


        • The instagrams are so much fun already, though I can’t figure out how to get some of the photo editing features they describe on the blog. Maybe because my phone is so old?

          And YOU were the one who said at the baby shower, It can totally be done, just do it.

          So we did.

  13. People are odd. I always find it strange when someone I NEVER talk to about my writing, like a family member, tells me how proud they “all are” of me. Then I whip down my jeans and show them my curly tail.

  14. I’m pretty sure you won’t have many neighbors in Oregon urging you to vote for Santorum. When I bought the piece of land my little cabin is on (all second growth Ozark forest) many people looked at me astonished that I wasn’t going to put a crop on it. When I said it was going to be my writing retreat, they laughed and called me Thoreau. I wish!

    • The cabin sounds blissful, very Walden Pond and quiet and lovely. It makes me happy to think of you writing there. Please say you have a front porch and a rocking chair. . . .

      • Yes, to the front porch (overlooking the lake) but no to the rocking chair. We do have several comfy (though stationary) camp chairs.

  15. So that’s whats going on in your brain when I speak of Muffy dolls! I had to reply because of course I have observed the tolerance you show with my gushing over them (I almost bought another on eBay the other day). I am not unaware of the smiles exchanged between you and your sister as I inquire who would like to inherit the little sweethearts. As to your exit from the job you handled it just right. I think they are all jealous and that look is their mind wondering how the hell to get out of that crazy place themselves!

  16. Yes, the Muffy dolls are a mystery, though you really are adorable when you speak of them. Rest assured we’ll find them a good home.

    Though I may keep Heidi.

    • Mom. Heidi’s twin sister? That’s another Heidi doll.

      Step away from the computer. Do not pass GO, do not turn on the shopping network.


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