For the past few years, I have been working on my NO. And I’ve learned that, in reality, I’ve been working on this my entire life. I’ve always struggled to say no to things. I don’t know if this is a byproduct of being raised in the ‘60s and ‘70s (even Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign had no effect) or if it’s just something with which a lot of us struggle. Probably the latter; I’ve learned I am rarely alone in matters such as these. For me, it’s in my father’s voice, “If you’re asked to dance, by god, you better dance”.
As a child, I always felt like my parents were doing me a favor by letting me live with them. (Adopted and a few other things.) So, if someone asked me for something or invited me to something, they were also doing me a favor, and saying no would imply that I was somebody. Who do you think you are? Who are you to turn that down? Nobody else will ever ask you, you know.
As an adult and then single mom, I worked as a contractor for a lot of those years and never turned down an inquiry call, a job interview, or a job offer. I always took the call, even when contracting became chock full of phone scammers. They were calling me, so who was I to not answer. This was mostly out of necessity, of course, but it was also because I felt like it was the wrong message to put out there. If I said no, I could potentially never be asked again. Fear. Lack. Insecurity. Less than. Unworthiness. You know, the usual. The things most of us spend lifetimes trying to overcome.
So, I have to tell my writer self (the only person who will see this these days – I really need to do something about that this year!) about my week. To honor it, to be grateful for it, to learn from it, and, most importantly, remember it.
Tuesday, I walked out of my job. Quietly. No fanfare. Put my badge on my desk, looked around the open workspace room just to make sure, picked up my purse, and walked out. Down the stairs, through the lobby, across the parking lot, into my car - I felt nothing but calm. A few times I heard the speech in my head start, “Who do you think…”, but it was drowned out by the steadier, “Nooooo”. There were many things wrong with this job (including being humiliated for two weeks), but really the reason boiled down to one thing: I said yes AGAIN, when I should’ve said no.
Wednesday, I spent doing things on my creative projects list. I felt unstuck. I wrote two things, sent an inquiry I’d meant to send for months, arranged a creative coffee date with someone I met at a recent workshop, signed up for a new workshop, and had a revelation of sorts about how to weave together some things I’ve worked on.
Thursday, I went to my part-time job at the Desert House, where I was asked to work on a new website in June and July. Whaaa? I love creating websites. It takes me back to my pink bedroom as a girl, where I’d draw and arrange little cities on poster boards and use my brother’s army men and hot wheels to create small town days and stories. Not to mention that this website project would be juuuussst enough money to pay my bills for the months.
While I was in the kitchen filling my cup with ice and before heading to my library office, two large and fully red (we get the gray with redhead kind mostly) cardinals landed on the birdbath outside the window. Silent oohs and ahhs. Typically, they’re shy, Sister Deb whispered. Someone’s clearly trying to tell us something, I responded. Messages. (I believe it was my mom and dad, together again finally, just the two of them before they thought they wanted kids, and back in love. I like to think they had a long talk with each other about how things turned out, and that they’re cool with all the reasons we let each other go. If I have to throw science on this moment, I think the red ones are only males, but whatevah.)
Then Friday, while running an errand, I got the call I had been hoping for all month. The pieces aren’t together yet, but I know. I feel like I did when I came to Tucson in 2017. I got in my car and just drove. There was no doubt in my mind at the time about what I was doing. And there’s no doubt now.
See, I have been trying to get out of the tech writing business for years. It’s a job I’ve done for 17 years, and it served me and my son so well. I’m so grateful for it, and so grateful that I was able to do it and was good at it. But working as a contractor and in the corporate world isn’t me anymore. It’s not what I wanted or envisioned when I moved to the desert. I’m not unique, I know. As all of us age, we want something new, something purposeful, something that means something to us. This year, though, for me has felt more serious. Almost crisis level. Like I’d rather work at Walmart or any drive-thru (and I am NOT good with the unwashed masses). Like if I had sharp, expensive knives in the house, my Sunday nights might end a little differently and a lot messier.
A few months ago, I received some resume advice that I thought had finally worked: Publish two. Spotlight retreat center work in one and use it to apply to new things. Spotlight technical writing work in the other and apply to the usual, just in case. (That just in case bit? I guess it made me feel better, I don’t know.)
In late April, I had an appointment to speak to a career counselor, but when I arrived, she wasn’t in the office. The young lady at the front desk and I talked for, at most, five minutes about life and work and looking for work and wanting something new, etc. She said, “Hang on. I saw something the other day. I’ll print it out for you.” And she did. And the angels sang. I heard ‘em, really I did. I came home, perused the organization’s website for a bit, wrote a half-professional, half-personal cover letter, like I did when moving to Tucson, attached my new retreat center resume, said a little prayer, and pushed SEND on the email. Two days later, I was asked to interview, and the following week, we met and the word “offer” was used. But there would be a process, of course. And in the meantime, I got the offer for the evil job that I, of course, felt like I had to take. Asked to dance, after all.
Saturday, I bought a new mattress. And no, I do not have a job. I also cleaned out the “save boxes” under my bed of all the things I can better picture in my head. I donated some clothes and closet what-nots. I outgrew. I made room. For empty space. Blank slate. The white page. Last week, I drew the Death card from my tarot deck. This week, it was the Nine of Cups. Any more connected and I’ll be dead.
And today, Sunday, I’m writing this. As practice for more to come, I hope. It’s who I am, and I’m feeling a lot more like me now, a lot more like the me, now. Me. Now. Unstuck.
If we all do put ink to this deal, I will seal it with my own dragonfly ink and buy cards and gift cards for the two women at the career counseling office. How that one knew me after five minutes, why I never. I will write more about what I get to do. I’ll be broke, but I think I’ll be happy. Frankly, I’ve always been broke, just with a few more “things”.
I hope this gives me an opportunity to be more compassionate and connected, to remember how much I like learning about the individual, rather than judging the collective. I want to be nicer, to think more, to consider more, to feel more.
If this doesn’t come to pass, will I say yes to something else that isn’t mine? No, I say. NO. I’ll be that annoying voice you hear as soon as the door slides open: Welcome to Walgreens! Until what is mine comes along. But I will not be a technical writer again. No.