Escaping the Desk for Another Type of Indentured Servitude

Underneath my computer monitor is a 2-year-old acorn. I picked it up on the day I began this desk job as an assistant editor at a medical publisher. I’m not sure why. I don’t have any special attachment to acorns or squirrels. Besides my antibacterial gel, a box of tissue, and snacks, there are no other personal items around my half-cubicle.

I keep it for no particular reason. It has since turned brown, taking only a week. The nut is separated from its base, and whenever I accidentally knock my monitor, the acorn rolls, not unlike how I imagine my head would if I let the tedium of the days get to me.

I could be an acorn, dead with no means of escape or chances of propagating my legacy, my seed, or even quell the perpetual hunger of some transient squirrel. I serve no other purpose but to sit beneath a computer monitor on some dusty desk, next to a stapler.

Maybe that is what a 9-to-5 feels like. Dead or dying. A poet colleague recently sent an email: “I started to die a little each day,” as she tells me about her 9-to-5 before she opted for a life of adjuncting.

I’d been teaching part-time at a community college for a year while working at the publisher, intending to eventually teach full-time so I could escape the silent subversion of the office.

All day, my co-workers toggle back and forth between complaints about how things aren’t done properly at the company and their personal lives. Because I usually try to stay out of office politics and seldom ask questions about goings-on in their lives, my co-workers have described my nature as “detached.” It’s my way of coping and not getting eaten up by the environment while I devise plans to escape.

And my escape plans were gradual: a five-day weekend here and there, three weeks in Southeast Asia in March. Then, upon confirming five classes to teach at two universities in the upcoming fall semester, I wrote my resignation letter, indicating my intention to leave in two weeks. My immediate supervisor was initially flustered as we now have to quickly transition all of my responsibilities to other team members, but she is supportive about pursuing my dreams. She and I had sporadic conversations about having the guts to make such a decision. Being the overworked daughter-in-law of the CEO, she’s felt the same dilemma of staying at a place for the sake of security.

The CEO indicates that my resignation letter was the best one she’s ever received. Once a teacher herself, she is genuinely sad to see me go but supports my decision. Last year, when I began to teach part-time at the community college, I had to drastically change my schedule at the office. I worked 7a-6p M/W and 7a-12p T/R, 8-4 on F. My boss said then, “If it was anybody else, I would have just let [him/her] go or reduced [his/her] status to part-time.” She had, just a month before, fired a project manager. Perhaps it is my work ethic, diversity of skills, or courage that helped me receive such an accommodation. Perhaps it was my low pay.

Regardless, my plan is set. My final escape includes a month-long plan to circumnavigate the country by train (Amtrak).

The goodbyes are bittersweet. I am humbled by a going-away party. My bosses, who hardly ever participate, bought gifts: maps of the US and the Pacific Northwest, a photo album, journals. There are bags of other thoughtful gifts from the rest: traveling paraphernalia, books, more maps, cookies, a lavish cake with evergreen trees and a train.

I will, despite my curmudgeon-like demeanor at times, miss their company. We had a lot of laughs and memories built around camaraderie and team work. There was a certain feeling of warmth in being able to see their faces every morning. Even in routine, I did find comfort, security, and some version of happiness. They had seen me through some rough times, as I had gone through a rather emotionally-jarring break-up the previous year. I received hugs, flowers, and mini-consoling sessions in our kitchenette. They had even seen me transition into the next whirlwind of a relationship. I did, then, also divulge plenty of inane details about my life, in which they seemed interested to hear. I’m eternally grateful.

While I may have more freedom and responsibility in the fall, I will essentially be alone. I’ll have an immensely challenging workload with 5 classes (3 preps) and 80 writing students. As I submit myself to an unglamorous life of low pay and no health insurance, I’ll perhaps turn more into that decaying acorn, now placed in my back-pack, which I am taking with me through my travels this summer. Maybe I’ll plant the acorn somewhere and see if life begins somehow.

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