In a terrible economy, surrounded by unemployed friends, and despite a laundry list of new bodily afflictions, I did something absolutely stupid and absolutely necessary. I quit my job.
After three years of give and take, the sheer fact that the quality of my work didn’t matter as much as the quantity and the speed finally got to me. Good enough is not good enough. There has to be something for slowness, for craft, for attention to detail. This is New Orleans after all, not New York.
For three years I worked for a music-based non-profit, one of many, (sometimes too) many non-profits in the City That Care Forgot.
I started as an hourly merch clerk and ended up with the made-up title of “Operations/Artistic Director”. We all wore many hats, titles often meant both everything and nothing. At any given time, my title could have been (and probably was at some point), Webmaster, Administration, Donor Relations, Development, Merchandise Manager, Program Coordinator, Graphic Designer, etc. etc. I saw many people come and go, won out when it became a me-or-her situation, and held on when it was suddenly just two of us running the day-to-day. I learned new skills, was treated fairly most of the time, and was helped out on more than one occasion. Being raised the way I was raised meant that I would take on anything with little regard for myself. I cannot blame them entirely for occasionally treating me like a grunt when it may be partly my fault. Perhaps I put myself in that position, not seeing the petty forest for the cut-throat trees. We often joked, the ________ pastime was rolling people under the bus. I saw it done on many occasions and due to management and a few jaded codgers who’ve overstayed their welcome, had to deflect it more than a few times myself. I barely shared in the few-and-far-between moments when our hard work paid off, when a local high school got instruments for the first time, or a musician was presented with a new sousaphone. I could go into the dynamics of this place, the reasons behind the madness, but why bother. I’m out. I have left the Island of Misfit Toys and I don’t think I realized just how toxic it was until the very end.
It was a year ago that I knew I was not in for the long haul. After another employee departure, I took over the large auction and art market portion of our yearly benefit, that drains us of all our energy and sanity for a good four months. This is not a task for one person and I did have help, but I’ve seen that event drive out the two people who previously organized it (we make bets on who is going to cry first on that magical day if that gives you an idea). I knew I could only do it once and I knew then and there that I would quit before the next one. Still, free rent, health care, a decent salary, and use of a car kept me in check. Yes, and the kids. I saved one program from the chopping block and then drew some strength from that, from seeing young kids have an opportunity to play with world-class musicians. It reminded me at least a couple times a month that despite the office politics, there is some good to this. Yet, it became increasingly difficult to make that good happen. Not an autonomous organization, it often felt as if we were ruled by whim and committee. Had we been given the room to run and fall, maybe we wouldn’t have fallen but been able to make bigger strides instead of merely trying to constantly keep up. Frustrating does not even begin to describe it. Towards the end, I developed daily migraines that have since ceased and I’m convinced that part of my other health problems emanated from the stress and depression. Good thing I don’t have health insurance any more!
Going back to that building, life seems impossible, dull and dreary, inescapable. It’s like going back to visit a cage you’ve been in for the past three years. When I took that job, I knew it was not for me. I needed a job to stay in New Orleans and after graduating with my lucrative Fine Arts degree at the ripe old age of 30, I felt like I should probably start being “profesional”. I saw opportunity to move up there and though I am grateful for what I’ve gained and learned, I also knew when I could give no more without ruining myself. I became a tense, anxious, angry, and depressed person and I finally got tired of living like that. It took me three days to decide to take the job, and one day to decide to quit, in mid-October, a birthday present to myself on my 34th year. When I did leave, when that weight was lifted, I could not help but feel a little like Rapunzel escaping from her tower. I had to quit everything I knew in order to live again. I had to climb down six floors to see my city again, to remember her as she was when I first fell in love. I gave up half my pay, health insurance, free rent and the use of a car, all for happiness and a chance at life as I saw it when I was sixteen. There’s something about a comfortable life that breaks me down, traps me in the mundane. I couldn’t move forward, even though I had more money, more space. I need to feel the necessity. I need things to be precious. Sometimes you don’t enjoy the things you have because they came to you without struggle and sacrifice. Sometimes, I feel I’m talking out of my ass. But there is some truth there. I feel it.
Just now, I sit in my own apartment, one I have to pay for, so we all know what’s expected of this arrangement. I hear streetcars outside my window and I get to worry about bills and food and transportation and the future just like (almost) everyone else. Except, I don’t worry about my job. I work as a hostess in a beautiful, slightly crazy French Quarter restaurant and when my shift is over, I get to leave it all there. I don’t have to lug it home and sit with it throughout the night. I don’t make enough to pay the bills and will have to figure out a way to finally make my art profitable. But, now is the time.