this is a divergence
I’ve been telling people that I’m quitting my job, which began, first as a declaration of liberation, an expression of self; then as a method of public accountability. Now that quitting is definitive, telling others has become less for my own self-assurance and validation—which it certainly was for awhile—and more about other people’s reaction. Strong statements elicit strong reactions, and strong reactions about trivial things—where strong reactions are permissible and not highly provocative—say a lot about a person, more than they’d like to give away, perhaps.
“I’m quitting my job!” I say. “Congratulations! That’s great!” some reply, a reaction I like of course, because it validates my decision. These people see quitting—destabilization—as a good thing. They see the freedom from corporations and the financial agendas of tech monoliths. Perhaps they value exploration and are comfortable with the unknown.
Others immediately reply, “Why?” “For what?” “What’s the next step?” or even “Why would you quit a job when you don’t have something else lined up?” They expect that I’m trading up for another job—something “better,” which for many people, I’m assuming, is more prestige, more money, more renown. I am trading up, but my better is not another job; it is not higher pay. There is no plan. That’s the point.
I sense unease when I say I do not know, when I admit there is no direction; and perhaps I am particularly sensitive to that unease because I have felt it myself, like a beating drum in my stomach: the insecurity, the fear, the doubt, the vertigo! I have interrogated myself like a suspect. I have let waves wash over me, forgetting to dive under. The great-tailed grackles are hidden in the trees, squawking loudly, incessantly, perilously.
I am at once terrified and excited to find myself in a forest without a compass.
“You quit your house and country, quit your ship, and quit your companions in the tent, saying, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ The light on the far side of the blizzard lures you. You walk, and one day you enter the spread heart of silence, where lands dissolve and seas become vapor and ices sublime under unknown stars. This is the end of the Via Negativa, the lightless edge where the slopes of knowledge dwindle, and love for its own sake, lacking an object, begins.” (Annie Dillard, “An Expedition to the Pole”)
“There is no movement without direction,” I wrote, in a farewell letter to my boss. “One step follows another.” Robert Frost said it better: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way…”
I could only give an explanation for my leaving in the abstract, because going outside, somewhere, for some time—just taking a breather, I suppose—isn’t a place or a person or a destination. Without form, it doesn't make logical sense. It doesn't make sense the way we hike on paved trails that are already marked on maps for us. Not to make sense of the wilderness, but to give a sense of it, I began the letter this way: “Lately I have been overwhelmed by the density and gravity of language—I can only hope this note is as whole and dense and weighty and expansive as the sentiment it is trying to contain… or swallow,” and then I quoted Gertrude Stein, because she says it better than I do: “I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do and as they have to do.”
These dead poets have refined me, opened me. They are alive to me, writing to me. I am strumming my own vocal chords, trying to hear my own voice.
“The Greek term HYPOMONE is translated as ‘patience, enduring perseverance, and fortitude,’” I continued in my letter. “It indicates a ‘dwelling in the moment,’ an ‘actively entering into the thick of life.’ I hope HYPOMONE characterizes these months ahead of me, in which I enter into an unbounded unknown. I’ve never done that before. I’ve always known what was the next step. But this is a risk I have to take—I have to be willing to risk my comfort, my familiarity, my security.”
"Quit" comes from the old French word quiter, which is an action verb meaning, "clear, establish one's innocence"—from harm, from guilt. Quitting, then, if in keeping with its etymology, is not to remove, or to absent oneself; it is to establish something else entirely. It is to establish innocence, which is a particular freedom, a particular kind of a primordial, Edenic presence in which the mind and the heart are clear—the clear in which you can hear the wind chimes, the crickets, the cicadas, the howling coyotes. There is fog, of course. There will always be fog in this city, and I am okay not seeing farther than a few feet ahead of me. I am, I will be, learning how to live in the fog, which is really just mystery made literal. Mystery, not mastery.
“You can’t see the whole path ahead, but there is usually enough light to take the next step.”