I got my first job the summer I turned 13. My high school, set against the backdrop of the poorest relative zip code in the US at the time, had a mandatory summer prep to “get us ready” for the rigors of secondary education. We had the option to tack on a mini-job that paid by the hour. As I entered the program at the edge of child labor laws I instead received a stipend at the end of the summer. I chose to be an assistant in a hydroponics laboratory; there I learned the pleasures that come from making something with your hands, with tending to a growing thing. I also learned that if a dollar was placed in my hands for any reason, a portion was to go to the household.
I have been in the workforce over 25 years.
As a woman of color (a term I use specific to the challenge I am describing because while I am visibly Black, pre-judgment of me on job applications is more informed by whatever biases are held against my visibly Hispanic name) I have often done double-duty; the job I was hired for, and the job of managing the biases of my coworkers while navigating the racist system that capitalism in America is built upon. Whether it was undermining as I rose from pet to threat, not being credited or outright stolen from, harassment met with unsupportive management, workplace mule-ing, or walking the “friendly, or unprofessional?” line at afterwork events, work for me has always carried an additional mental load.
And that is before I discuss what work means to my personal life.
There is a certain pressure for the single, childless woman to “make something” of her life-as one cannot decline the life of wife and mother without “reason”, of course. To walk this earth unpartnered can only be seen as a tradeoff, and society demands to know the reason daily. I must be dedicated to my career, then. Education advancement. Aggressive self-improvement. A reason, a purpose, some different way to serve-lest I am on this earth for no reason at all. At least the “selfishness” of ambition is understood, even if derided; seen as a reason to shake one’s head and predict a future of regret.
But to simply exist? Oh, no. One does not simply find contentment in choiceful solitude; a simple life of a day’s work and a night to one’s self (as much as is feasible as I am single, not orphaned, and have familial obligations). If I told you I answer “then why are you here” (posed by, a stranger) at minimum once a week you would think me a liar.
It is no wonder then, that since hitting the big 4-0 the only thing on my mind has been a sabbatical.
It is here that I must pause. This is not a tale of rest. I unfortunately have not had the sort of quarantine that allows for me to work from Appalachia, learn a new skill or immerse myself in the arts, re-dedicate to my yoga practice or become the fittest version of myself. I obsessively scroll and scan the news. I flinch at text notifications. I worry for my family of essential workers. I’ve written an in-memoriam and offered condolences more times than I care to count. My sleep is fitful. My 401k is shot. My job is not secure. I nurse a panic attack after essential errands. I live in an area over-policed for the very things the governor has ordered us to do, like covering our faces and boarding buses from the back door.
Yet even with all these factors looming overhead, it is interesting what has emerged.
My life is lived mostly day-to day now, with the theme being “what can I do to maintain some measure of calm in a situation mostly not of my control”. There is no future (in the forward-planning sense), no worrying about the trajectory of my life or whether I’ve given enough to this world, or wondering if my simple life is the product of contentment or defeat. I put in my company contribution largely unsupervised, and pack up my workstation at the end of the day. I listen to my body more, and let it tell me what it wants to feel good that moment.
This purgatory nightmare of quarantine is not a sabbatical. But it is a pause from the factors that caused me to want one. My workplace interaction is exponentially decreased (even with the zooms), everyone is too busy worrying about keeping their job to undermine or micromanage mine, I do not answer for my existence or navigate daily microaggressions. If there is anything this time alone has given me it is the realization that I needed a break from the politics of the workplace, not work itself.
With that said, I don’t have a neat ending for this one. I do not have the calm in my life needed to pull the obvious further lessons from this, such as how this would inform my movements going forward. I cannot tell you if this will mean a career change, or a re-thinking of my educational goals, a re-mapping of my trajectory or a concrete decision to simply milk the entry-level life and live as full an existence outside of it as can be afforded. I don’t even know if I’ll have a job come third quarter, an epiphany is a lot to ask. I want to be alive in October. I want my loved ones that are still around to be there with me. That is all I can manage for now. While there is no upside to *gestures wildly* all this I am grateful for small moments of reflection, and the ability to hear what my body and spirit tell me in this time.
We will discuss love later, btw.
** This post was born of a writing prompt by Raegan Mathis’ “Book of Tiny Prayers”. Click here to purchase a copy of your own!