I wanted to be somewhere else at the start of the year, lost as I was in the corporate maze, made unhappy each day by carrying the burden of asking others to do work I took no satisfaction in doing myself. In an environment governed by fear, all labor is forced labor. Daily I felt the great sadness of working toward a goal I didn't believe in, had no stake in, couldn't care less about. I thought to myself, imagine going into the book business expecting to generate double-digit profits -- any sane person would laugh at you. Yet that was what we were asked to do and so I hated my job. In this, I knew I was not exceptional -- how many others were laboring at soul-debilitating jobs every day and had done so for most of their lives, in the struggle to put bread on the table and a roof over the heads of their families? Even now I find it hard to shake the words of my parents' generation: work is a fundamental fact of the human condition -- you must work to eat. Or, better yet, work is privilege.
But what if there is not enough work to go around? Or what if the work that does go around is meaningless, or destructive, or exploitative, or simply bad? What then? Starve? A shameful unspoken fundamental fact of our economy is that there is not enough good work to go around, work that honors the worker and provides for the common good. Think of all the bad work people are being forced to do so they can afford to live.
Yes, I wanted to be somewhere -- anywhere -- else at the start of the year, because I'd become a huckster, my tongue steeped in the mangled English of marketing, all hyperbole and faux sincerity, the language of most and best and always, estranged from my native tongue because of the lies I told. Imagine getting paid to lie. Meanwhile trying to preserve some sense of my true self, that precious inner me that I could only truly acknowledge in secret, at night, drunk perhaps, with a loved one, near the end of one's tether. I would chop firewood to relieve the tension.
Well, I got what I wished for when I was let go. Thrown overboard. Left behind. At first, getting laid off made me sick, brought on nightmares, and made me so angry, almost as angry as the job had been making me. Five months after it happened, I remember bravely telling some writer over drinks at BEA that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was trying to talk like a normal person, pretending everything was alright, despite the fact that I was still smarting and scared witless at the time. Somebody there said, you're basically an optimist, when you're not being a nihilist. I thought, okay, that's me.
And now I rejoice in what happened, every bit of it. Rediscovering the use of language for something other than selling something, rediscovering friends whom I'd forgotten, paying attention to my still unquiet heart, and, finally, coming to understand how deeply I remain committed to the book business, how much I love it, especially now, when the whole damn thing seems to be up in the air, and its future looks like the wild west.
So tonight I raise my glass to those who had a hand in firing me and give them thanks. You made my year.