September 28, 2001
Stripping The Office


"I think we should go out and get hammered after work," said Bob The Engineer Guy this morning. "In honor of your impending escape and everything."

It was the fourth such invitation I've received in as many days ... ever since word leaked out that I'm leaving The Totem Pole Company next week. Martina suggested that all "the girls" get together and have a martini lunch. The ladies in Accounting wanted to have a champagne *farewell party.* (Or a *good riddance* party, more likely.)  

Even Jim got in on the action yesterday: "We should go out and throw back a few beers," he said ... just before he left for his four-day weekend.

My response has been pretty much the same, across the board: "Lunch would be nice," I say, hopefully deflecting attention from alcohol to food. "How about the deli across the street?"

So far no one has taken me up on the offer.

It's probably just as well. The deli doesn't serve alcohol ... but they DO dump about a gallon and a half of mayo into their chicken salad sandwich. And that's probably almost as big a no-no for me, right now, as a frosty cold beer or twelve

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august 24, 2001
Hanging out in Mom's office earlier this month
[just before the world changed]

In the meantime ... I stripped my office yesterday.

I hadn't actually planned to clear it out so soon  --  I was going to wait until next week  --  but I unexpectedly found myself with a surplus of time (and a shortage of busywork) in the middle of the day, and I thought maybe I would kill a couple of hours by getting the desk ready for its new owner. Organize things a little. Toss out the broken pens and the empty Liquid Paper bottles. Scrape the gum off the bottom of the drawer. (Make sure I wasn't leaving anything embarrassing or incriminating behind ... like a box of Super-Jumbo tampons, for instance, or a manual on writing the perfect cover letter.)

When I was finished, I was so inspired by how neat and lovely the desk looked that I decided to get started on the bookcase. I hauled traffic manuals and engineering proposals and two years' worth of Hot Mix Asphalt Technology Magazine down the hall to the library ... I carted another fourteen bazillion pounds' worth of junk paper to the recycling bin downstairs ... I polished the now-empty bookshelves until they gleamed.

It was a thing of beauty.

After that was done, I figured Oh what the heck -- I might as well start packing up some of my personal stuff. So I went and grabbed a cardboard box out of the storage closet, and I began loading it up: my framed TotPhotos, the World's Cutest Nephew coffee mug, my wind-up chicken, my portable desk fan. While I was at it, I pulled all my family photos and mementos off the bulletin board, rolled up my Japanese tea garden calendar, deleted my vaguely-naughty voicemail message collection, and wadded up my Ugly Emergency Sweater and tossed it onto the top of the heap.

By the time I was finished, you would be hard-pressed to tell that Secra had ever *lived* in that office.

The thing that surprised me the most, though, was how much FUN it was, clearing out my office. I'd expected this to be a sad, difficult, emotionally-draining chore; instead, fueled by caffeine and KFOG-FM, it turned out to be one of the more pleasurable afternoons I've ever spent at The Totem Pole Company.

It wasn't until this morning that it all hit me.

As I stood in my doorway at 8 a.m. this morning  --  surveying the clean, sterile, empty little room that used to be my office  --  I felt this sudden huge wave of sadness wash over me, like a tsunami hitting the beach at Mavericks. God, I thought. I'm really leaving this time, aren't I? It was just one of those moments when you realize that everything about your life is about to change again.

I know that during a month in which we have all witnessed the world change, more swiftly and more profoundly than at any other time in recent memory, one woman's piddly little career-overhaul is pretty damn insignificant. But one of the ways I've managed to cope with paralyzing grief and fear, these past few weeks, has been getting up in the morning and going to my job every day. Even if it was a job I hated -- even if it was making me feel sick and miserable and trapped, 99.9% of the time -- at least the job kept me busy and distracted. The routine of it allowed me to feel safe ... even if it was an unfounded and illusory sort of 'safety.'

And it gave me a sense of daily mission. We all need a little bit of that.

Now that 'sense of mission' is being yanked out from under me, temporarily ... and even though *I'm* the one doing the yanking -- which limits the amount of whining I'm permitted here, I realize -- it's still pretty damn scary.

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I haven't heard back from the architectural office yet, which of course is only adding fuel to the Coleman Stove of my anxiety. Some of that brave blustery self-confidence I was feeling on Wednesday has dissolved a little around the edges. In its place: a recurring vision of me in yellow polyester and paper hat, asking Would you like fries with that?

(OK. Maybe it's not as bad as that. But still.)

I have another interview on Monday morning at 11 a.m. Different company, different industry, different location ... but once again, I felt that sense of immediate *connection* with the person I spoke to on the phone this morning. (I figure if I can make them laugh, that's half the battle right there.) Plus I faxed a revised application to the employment agency this afternoon: next week I'll go in and take the tests all over again.

Don't worry. The sickeningly upbeat optimist in my soul is still alive and well. She's just sort of in shock today over how empty her office looks, and by the changes it presages.

Which is why it's probably just as well that no one took me up on my lunch suggestion again today. I might not have drunk anybody under the table ... but I may very well have overdosed on mayonnaise.

And that wouldn't have been a pretty sight, either.

Have a great weekend, everybody. Stay safe. Be well.

throw a rock