workzine

Kendra Lyris, 6/14/2010

Current Occupation: Starving Artist and Published Author
Former Occupation: Paid Intellectual
Contact Information: I am a writer and an artist by default, currently living in Washington, DC. My childhood was spent in what I later learned to be a hick town in Northern California, where I spent years perfecting the drawn hand and generally scribbling in notebooks. After the intellectual delight of Reed College and the artistic pleasures that Portland afforded, I’ve switched coasts in search of gainful employment or fruitful insanity. I can be reached at kendralse@gmail.com.

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Breaking Up

My job broke up with me.

I guess that means I’m single now, but I’m doing alright. Worse things have happened. The breakup was fairly amicable, as things go. I did see it coming; something about the look in his eye and how little he seemed to need me suggested in advance of the breakup that it was inevitable. There was nothing torrid about it, though. No one was cheating. It didn’t end in a tearful brawl at two in the morning, and he didn’t ditch me by text. We’d been trying to get together for a couple of weeks and our schedules just wouldn’t line up. Then I got an email from him saying he would call me, which seemed like a bad sign.

I called first. Is that desperate?

His voice seemed different when he asked me how I’d been. He just didn’t have the time he’d hoped he could give me. “I can’t expect you to wait,” he said. “You have to think of yourself. I understand that.” Spring had just started to blossom and I thought of how I’d been marking the changes on my way to see him every day. Part of me wanted to say, “I will! I will wait for you!” but I smiled into the phone and, staring out the window, said, “I hope you’ll think of me, if…”

And, anyway, it wasn’t a very long or committed relationship to begin with. As much as I liked him, I wasn’t terribly attached. Oh, but I did like him. He was intelligent, a little bit nerdy even, and he pushed me in his quiet way. We would meet at the Library of Congress and spend all day together there, sitting under the grand domed ceiling of the Jefferson building’s rotunda. I would look up at the statues — muses of intellectualism — and the gold-painted inlays on the arcing ceiling above them. He even took me on a trip once. He paid for everything and although the destination was by no means romantic, I enjoyed it. It’s hard not to fall at least a little in love under those circumstances. So, of course I miss him.

Maybe this is a horrible thing to admit, but part of my sadness at the breakup has to do with the fact that I tend to be one of those people who always has someone else waiting in the wings, as it were, however socially unacceptable that may be. I don’t know how to look at a job and say, “I love you forever.” Even the thought makes me sort of twitch in that way that adolescents do when their parents kiss. I know our society is all about making that long-term commitment, but I’m just not sure it’s for me. At least not yet. I really need to play the field for a while and get a sense of what kinds of relationships are out there before I settle down. So many of my friends are already taking that step into the drudgery of “the rest of your life” and I can’t help but wonder how they can know for sure.

The only thing I can seem to commit to is my desire for a really good cappuccino and, without a job, I certainly have the time, if not the liquidity, for such luxuries. I flash back to Rome, to early-morning strolls through the cobbled streets in search of the nearest coffee place and a flakey pastry. The sun waits at the corner while I turn into an alleyway that has the appearance of being drawn by hand and two doors down is the café. As constant as my need is my disappointment, unfortunately. I can blame the aroma of the beans or the roasting temperature, the texture of the foam or the proportion of milk to espresso, but it’s probably the cobblestones of Rome or Paris’ smell of aging wrought iron that I miss.

Something about this breakup is making me nostalgic, though it is that nostalgia bread from a desire to explain the future by one’s path, rather than the sort of reminiscing that makes one long to retreat. I don’t find myself wishing to go backwards. I’m learning from mistakes. In truth, I’ve chosen jobs in the past that were bad matches for me, but I really think I’m past that.

Right out of college, scared of the years I’d put toward a life of research and of settling before I’d seen the world, I started a relationship that, I realize now, was completely beneath me. He knew nothing about me, which was intentional on my part. I just wanted something different from what I’d had before, something that didn’t keep me up nights obsessing. Something I could enjoy when he was around, and let go of when I was doing something else. The experience was a necessary one for me and I came to realize that I hadn’t been doing everything wrong, that I just needed to fine-tune what I was looking for. He was so obsessed with money and his taste in music was horrendous, a trait I find unforgivable. He didn’t really have a lot of time for me, and the time we spent together was boring, surrounded by the basest form of writing – the greeting card – and listening to mix tapes made with the intent to calm women in their forties. I stayed with him for nine months. It’s hard to believe I let it go on for that long, but eventually I just ended it. I told him I’d found someone else and two days later I was packing everything I owned into my car and heading north for something more interesting. It took me a while to realize how much he resented me for leaving the way I did, but I can’t regret it.

I do miss my job. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, and it’s fresh enough that all the places we spent time together still remind me of him. If I go back to the Library, will I run into him there? What if he has someone else with him? For now, I’m avoiding the Library, and all of the nebulous feelings associated with it. I think that’s reasonable, if admittedly juvenile. My desire for a new relationship is there, nagging at me, but that pull toward codependency is being kept at bay, for now, by unsatisfying cappuccinos. I sit in basement coffee houses with cement floors and rickety seating. I revert back to high school and make lists on ruled paper that outline my perfect man.

Reliability. The table creaks and shifts as my arm moves and my too large cappuccino wobbles like pudding. I draw a little line pointing away from that word, toward its explanation. Can’t act like you’re 20 forever. Commitment.

Then, to balance the weight of that last comment, I write Adventurousness on the next line in an even heavier hand than I’d used before. Explanation is unnecessary. I move on.

Practicality kicks in again, or maybe just thoughts of my age, which prompt me to write Money in the third place slot on my growing little list of requirements. But not snobby about it, I write, as though assuring someone of some moral standard. No one benefits from moralizing, I assure myself and continue the line with Must make 60k. Cappuccino foam nearly flings itself from the wide mouth of the mug as I erase 60k and replace it with 50k. “Lowering your standards already?” asks my still undulating espresso drink. I scowl at it and suck warm foam from three different places around the mug’s edge, clearly telling it we’re moving on from this particular conversation.

Smart. Obviously.

Good taste in music.

Sense of humor.

Thinks I’m awesome. “Of course you’re awesome,” says my cappuccino. “You have a lot to offer a relationship.” My next sip is self-congratulating.

What else? Tentatively, I write Likes kids, and then seeing it on the page, slowly draw a question mark to follow it. I’ve had jobs with kids before, I’m just not sure I want to make that my whole life. We’re getting back to commitment, here, and to maturity. What kind of relationship am I really looking for? How comfortable am I just casually dating for the next thirty years? My mouth makes a question mark, too.

Must want a future together.

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