Thursday, July 16, 2009


After the shock of being laid off wore off, fear was the next identifiable emotion. I encountered it upon waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. I tried to shake it off, moving faster on my morning walks. I tried to cleanse it from my consciousness by filling my time being busy; industriously leaning into the tub with a can of comet, scrubbing food off pots over a soapy sink, drowning out my thoughts with the gentle glub-glug of the washer filling, or the high persistant whine of the vacuum as it whirred and spun, sucking up dirt and hair from the hardwood floors. But I couldn't cram it away neat and tidy like my winter linens, neatly moved from piles in the laundry room to tidy stacks in the closet and rattan chest at the foot of my bed. It wouldn't be ordered into neat rows like the sneakers, sandals, and flip-flops organized in the back of the closet. The acrid stench of it wouldn't be covered up by the sweet, hot vanilla smells of the raspberry vegan cookies, blueberry muffins, brownies, cupcakes, or layer cakes that I baked. Fear was there, waiting for a loose strand of thought to clasp onto, climbing up until it was firmly nestled in my brain. Fear planted itself in the fertile soil of my recently churned-up routines, sprouting and vining its way into each path I started down, snaking ahead of me to wait just around the corner.

The truth is, fear had been with me all along. It had been more or less corralled into managability, each work day providing a fencepost beyond which it couldn't run wild. I steered it into the ring along with insecurity that what I was doing at work was meaningless, locked it up in the ice chest where I kept each small misery or unhappiness about my job. If it was ugly sometimes, it was tidy, neat, and contained. Fear had been a good friend to me over the years. It kept me from doing much on impulse, like moving to New York City after college. No way would I make enough money; more sensible to move back to Ohio where I could afford to live AND pay the student loans that were even higher than my monthly rent. It kept me applying for jobs that were similar (but maybe a little better) to the last one, comfortable in the ever-narrowing box of experiences. It lent me legitimacy,each time I aligned my worth and identity with where I worked, rather than with who I dreamed I could be. I'm a manager, I run this store, I balance budgets, I hire and fire, I have value, I commute back and forth, I am this thing that I do and no more.

Being laid off set fire to the warehouse of my fear, tore up the fenceposts, stampeded the gates, and dismantled the scarecrow, the strawman of my work identity. I was naked in a dusty field, fears scattered around me, sliding off into the tall grass to wait like sun-warmed snakes, leaving me unable to pick a path that was safe. So I sat there and waited. Quiet, cautious, listening. When I stopped running, and stopped trying to stuff each minute full of activity, I stopped feeding fear. When I sat and watched rather than watering it with my blood, it withered a little on the vine. When I breathed deep and slow instead of panting my shallow energy into activity, fear deflated. When I kept fear close, it was a boulder on my back as I ran. Standing still it was a pebble in my shoe. When I ignored it, it hollered louder at me, a deafening roar trying to get my attention. When I talked to it, acknowledged it, and asked it questions, fear stopped screaming and let me lay it down. When I opened my eyes, the dark shadows of fear were chased away by the dawning light of acceptance, the bright still peace of morning sun. I was ready to get back to work. Not just be a worker, but work at living my life. I had a shed of rusted tools, I had friends to lend me advice. I threw my fears on the compost pile, watched them break down into the fecund darkness of experience that would enrich the new soil I churned up, as I ploughed ahead into each new day.

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