Right on Time

I was laid off one month ago today. It was not a shock; there had been several lay-offs in the small start-up where I’d been working since October 2010 over the previous year, and it had begun to feel like a matter of time before I lost my job. The morning I was let go, I began taking pictures off of the bulletin board above my desk. I just knew. Then the company’s founder sat with me for a few minutes in my cubicle to break the news. We exchanged a few kind words.

When he left, I closed the door and called TIAA-CREF to begin the process of cashing out the teeny-tiny bit of retirement money I had from a job I left almost a decade ago–the only one I’ve even had that contributed to a retirement fund–gathered the last of my things to throw in the car, and walked. Literally walked. I power-walked down to North Beach, a couple of miles north of town on the bike path. When I got there, I took off my boots and socks and did some yoga. I sat, counting my breaths and listening to the water. Then I lay down and watched the clouds for a long time.

The texts and phone calls followed quickly that afternoon—Greg, my parents and sisters. By evening I was talked out, and turned my response to taking pictures and posting furniture for sale on Craigslist—the pull-out couch in the basement we got for free from some moving neighbors seven years ago but never used, another couch none of us liked all that much, the one I bought for $100 last year while I was housesitting and stored in a co-worker’s barn for six months, imagining the new home I would make for me and the girls. A raku bowl. My bed frame.

I spent that entire weekend burning hundreds of CD’s onto my computer so that I could haul the old wooden crates away to Goodwill, along with eight garbage bags filled with assorted toys and outgrown shoes and clothes. I put the phone on speaker while I washed dishes and folded laundry, waiting to speak with a customer representative at Ameriprise about lowering my car and home insurance premiums. I emailed my accountant some questions and filed for unemployment.

I’m not a complete stranger to the experience of not having a traditional job. I have resigned from positions before, voluntarily stepping into that open space of not knowing what would be next, decisions I made in the context of being married, each one tethered by having a baby in daycare whom I would go to nurse every day at lunchtime and longed to spend more time with in her first year. I dove into self-employment twice in the last ten years, following my strong desire to create my own rhythm and most of all, to shape my work-life within around my family life. And there was always some cocktail of freedom, inspiration, and faith shaken with struggle, a kind of pushing quality, trying to “make things work.”

This was different. My life was changing when I re-entered the workforce, and I would not have chosen to leave without knowing what would be next. This time, the Universe decided for me. I was no longer in a financial partnership with Greg beyond our mutual responsibility for the girls. So during that last week of April, after the initial rush of activity, I did a lot of sitting. A lot of cleaning. Some yoga classes. Long, delicious conversations with friends, in person, over coffee. I knew I needed to move slowly, as slowly as money would allow, rather than just grasping at a new full-time job just for the sake of replacing my income. And yes, this was and is scary.

Towards the end of the summer of 2010, when it was becoming clearer that Greg and I were going to separate and coaching would not be a viable way to support myself and my girls, I began networking. I was so very grateful to walk into a newly created position that would deposit a predictable sum of money into my checking account every other Friday, grateful for the structure, for getting up every morning, showering and getting dressed and getting my latte between dropping the girls off and going to the office. Grateful for the shower in the building where I worked, which meant I could run during the day by the lake. Grateful for the espresso machine in the kitchen, for colleagues I truly enjoyed and respected. And it was the financial and emotional anchor I needed. The job came right on time, a total gift.

Now, I have to believe it went away right on time, too.

Two and a half years ago, I spent a few months furiously writing what I thought was a memoir. I knew there was a story I needed to write and tell. During that same period, Greg and I went to a couples counselor for the first time in our marriage at my urging. We felt stuck to me, so very in love with our life and devoted to each other and our family and at the same time seemingly unable to “get past” a feeling of struggle. Depression, financial strain, restlessness—these were symptoms we’d navigated both individually and in our marriage for years.

In early March of 2010, the day after I returned from a week alone in Vieques, where I wrote for five or six hours a day, trying to zero in on the “about” of the book I thought I was writing, I said to Greg, “We’re not happy.” It was the scariest thing I had ever said out loud. I too returned to counseling during this time, telling the therapist during our first session that I felt like I was sitting on a landmine. Something was surfacing, and I felt driven to figure out what it was. I was coaching clients and becoming increasingly uncomfortable sitting across from individuals in my home office and witnessing their growth and forward movement yet wondering how I myself was growing.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any significant amount of time, you probably know where this story leads. In June, the fissures we had both experienced for years finally broke open, an earthquake that leveled us and the life we had built in a matter of moments, days. And these last two years have been epic in grief and growth, Greg and I both sifting through the rubble while caring for the children, reconfiguring our family constellation, learning how to stand in the world without the anchor of our marriage, and slowly discovering that we have not lost each other at all. My love for him continues to expand as my life expands. There is room, amazingly, for all of it.

On Wednesday, Greg and I dropped the girls at school then stopped for coffee on the way to the airport. I was on my way to Phoenix, having bought a plane ticket twelve hours before, to be with Mani. She and I “met” three years ago as a result of a post I wrote, and the unfolding of our relationship is its own story, one I will perhaps share at some point here. Tuesday afternoon, I did a kind of tally of how much money I have and have coming in, calculating that I would be okay at least through the summer even if I went ahead and bought the plane ticket, assuming I find good work (excuse me for a moment while I spit over my shoulder). Mani was facing some tough life stuff, and rather than backing away, I wanted to go to her, to cook for her and hold her and just be there with and for her, in person.

And all I can say is how blessed I am feeling. In the past couple of weeks, I finally turned my attention away from how to shape hundreds of pages of prose into a memoir to the poems I shelved two years ago. And what I discovered is this: the poems are the memoir. They tell my story, from meeting Deborah Digges and Greg at Bread Loaf in 1996, through marriage and motherhood and coming out and separating and falling in love with myself and my life, in a way that no other narrative can.

Michelle, who originally designed the cover using a photograph my sister took, is working on the back cover and some of the formatting stuff I can’t wrap my head around. I bought an ISBN number and am waiting on one more blurb. And soon, hopefully within a few weeks, the book will be available to purchase online. It has been a long gestation for this baby. And I think it’s going to be born right on time.

7 thoughts on “Right on Time

  1. gailnhb says:

    Yay for you and your writing adventure! I cannot wait for that book to come out, dear Jena. Please keep us posted as to where and how we can purchase it.

    These are tough times for you, for sure. But good is already emerging, isn’t it?



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