Two years ago, in July 2016, I quit my safe, comfortable, ten-minute commute, 9 to 5 job to pursue my writing dreams. Yep. I had just turned fifty and had been mildly content in that job for seven years. And by mildly content I mean, I only harbored violent fantasies about a handful of co-workers two or three times a month. I thought, this isn’t so bad— small office group, meetings outside on occasion, the pay is shit, but at least I have my own office with a door.
And yet, I had been growing weary of the lifestyle unfolding in front of me. Same drudgery, day in, day out— get up, get dressed, go to work, come home, cook, eat, family time, watch crap television, go to sleep, repeat. Somewhere along the way I stopped choosing my situations and it began to feel as if situations had begun regularly choosing me. Although I looked middle-age, in my in head, I was still seventeen, getting ready to …. I don’t know, do something.
When I turned forty-nine, three years ago, I began to notice a loud ticking clock in my head. In a panic I realized I had a mere twelve months left to be a forty-something year old woman.
Spring 2015 began my awakening. There had been a family celebration hosted by yours truly, but the celebration had gone terribly awry.
Maybe it was the setting, that foo-foo, overpriced restaurant; it might also have been something in the air or in the appetizers or in the water, because for the duration of the celebration weekend some of us took turns gradually, methodically, losing our shit, one melt down after another. My mother, in an attempt to upstage everyone, incited my wrath. I saw RED as in redrum red (yah! murder). Helpless in my fury, I screamed threats through clenched teeth—I swear to God, if you don’t sit down!— meanwhile, the servers of our private room played deaf, dumb and blind. Oh dear, it was quite the memorable weekend.
In the months thereafter, I walked around in a daze, not catatonic exactly, but not fully embodied either. I was drifting away from myself while trying to hold on. I was moving, talking, smiling …. and occasionally, I would remember to exhale. I slept, cooked, bathed, conversed when necessary, laughed sometimes, peed, pooped, drank, ate, but I also cried …. in private …. and a lot.
I then composed myself and continued showing up wherever I was needed, loving on anyone who required my particular brand of love. I knew something had to change but I did not yet know what.
Maybe it was because the prospect of turning fifty made me feel like I was on the fast train to relic-ville, but the thought of turning 49 got my attention. I guess I had been so busy mourning the loss of my thirties and so busy reacting to all the situations which were choosing me at the time, I forgot to savor most of my forties. All of a sudden 49 began looking pretty damn good.
At age 49, my alter ego, Forty-Nine stepped into the picture.
Forty-Nine, she appeared so alluring, so playful, so sexy and she seemed a little dangerous too, like she was ready to do a bit of damage. Forty-Nine scared and excited me all at once because she looked a little familiar. I knew her! I think we parted ways during an abrupt and ugly break-up. Yes yes, I remember!—Forty-Nine almost got me killed back in the day. She drank, she smoked, she cussed like a sailor, and her behavior was often risky. Forty-Nine was a wild woman, posing as a respectable mother, wife, and worker-bee.
Ugh. I had to admit, I kind of missed Forty-Nine and the good times she had once shown me. Forty-Nine was fun, but she was also bad news …. or so I thought. Once the drinking put me into the hospital and sobriety showed up like a smiling evangelist, I turned my back on all those forty-something versions of myself without ceremony.
So when Forty-Nine stared back at me in the mirror, her eyes twinkling mischievously, I shook my head and looked away. Back then, my sobriety was only five years young and I couldn’t see where Forty-Nine and all her wild personas might fit into the new life. And yet there she was, knock-knocking on my door, whispering some kind of sounding call, like it was time for something we both understood. When I looked away she laughed at my embarrassment, stared me down and gyrated those round hips of hers, daring me to live a little.
I couldn’t help it, there came an invisible pull, and I had to reconsider Forty-Nine more thoughtfully. Forty-Nine had taken up the mantle, calling out to me from somewhere deep down, on behalf of all my lost years, letting me know, it was time. Time for what? I wasn’t sure, exactly.
Going on instincts, I took up her call. I bought journals and notebooks, I created folders on the computer, at home and at work, and I pledged to write every day for the next eleven months of my 49 year old life. And I did exactly that, writing, jotting down notes, recording as much as I could each day, and each moment I could remember to capture, no matter how seemingly mundane.
By the time December 2015 rolled around, I found I had written myself into a major life decision, the decision to leave my day job.
Two years ago, this very week, after giving notice, I walked away from my safe, comfortable job and haven’t looked back since.
Not just freedom, but FREEDOM. For the first time in my life I was completely FREE. Do you understand what that means to a woman like me? I was free to DO and BE whatever I wanted. I could use my gifts, finally. I could use my talents.
Don’t quit your day job? Fuck you.
Writing at nights and on weekends may be an option for some people. I marvel at the writer who can work all day and/or take care of their kids and manage to write in their spare time. I think they’re amazing and beautiful creatives, doing exactly what they were born to do. And if that means hustling their asses off to pay bills while they write during hard, sought after freed up time, that’s outstanding.
As for me? No matter how you slice it, I could never have become that person, the one who works her day job as she toils in her spare time, writing her creations to life. So far it has taken these two years of freedom to discover who I am, two years to be introduced to the real me as a grownup, the real me as a sober woman, and the actual Self I was born to become. These two years which have given me freedom, absent all obligatory ties is the ONLY way I could have ever truly written. I needed complete freedom to write, the way fish need water to breathe.
When I quit the job, my newly acquired freedom wasn’t just freedom. My freedom was life triumphing over death, the death of a soul meant to breathe life into a body. I chose to live. After so many years of sacrificing, I chose my life above all others.
Two years revealed the falling dominoes of every season, from infancy to grade school, from college to alcoholism, from depression to parenthood, from marriages to career woman, from welfare to worker-bee, and not all in that order. In each of those seasons any freedom I snatched, grappling to hold it like a slippery eel, came with strings attached to conditions, to commitments, and to obligations of one kind or another.
Once I quit the day job my freedom represented a break from every entanglement— be it good or bad, loving or loathsome, life-giving or life-draining— I’d ever had. My freedom became a stringing together of close escapes, ending childhood rapes, beatings, abuse and the demons that are the haunting by-products. Facing down my addiction and overcoming it in favor of sobriety, battling through depression, flailing through adult life, and sometimes hurting the ones I loved. Detaching from toxic and/or life draining relationships, even if I left behind loved ones. Walking away from a job that took more from me than it gave. Disconnecting the propaganda box which flooded my mind with its endless gorge of negative messages about black skin, womanhood or both.
One thousand and ninety-nine tiny cuts to my soul, all in the short space of fifty years. Meanwhile, sleeping demons lounging along the floors of my mind, waiting for random sleeps when one or two of them might violently enter my dreams.
Don’t quit your day job? Yeah, okay. Duly noted, but I think I got this.
Note: This post is Part 1 of two essays. It was split in two because as I wrote about my two year journey, I realized it would be too long for one post.
P.S. Instagram is my occasional downtime place. Scroll to the bottom of the blog and click on the little camera to find me there.