Wherein I rail against cheap wine and contemplate unemployment.

For many years, the résumé folder on my hard drive remained unopened. A small lifetime of sorts passed by, rendering those dozens of NAFSA: Association of International Educator conference presentations meaningless and nullifying my skills in various software programs (PeopleSoft? Access database? Anyone? Bueller?). I let the bones of my career as a study abroad program administrator calcify. Once I turned my back on the Ivory Tower for the green shores of Aotearoa, I never looked back on that decade-plus of world travel and helicopter parents (would I have turned to salt had I tossed one last glance over my shoulder?).

Then it was off to the world of wine, first in vineyards, then in store aisles and finally in a cramped office in Seattle’s University District, sipping and spitting dozens of samples a week. A terrific gig, really – leading people to phenomenal wine is awesomesauce.

Inserting impassioned parenthetical:

Working in vineyards in foreign lands sounds very glamorous, but the months spent pruning and training vines wrecked my hands and wrists: for several months I couldn’t hold a coffee cup, I had to sleep on my back because of the pain, my liver suffered from the massive doses of NSAIDs. It was bliss. Best job I ever cried in pain over.

So when I see people who would bite off their right pinky toe before tossing Kraft Cheese Singles on their grilled sammie throw good money after cheap wine, it breaks my heart.

Ever ask yourself how a labor-intensive, high-overhead agricultural product made from raw ingredients subject to the vagaries of weather and disease can be produced so cheaply? Because the “winery” used crap juice. Best case scenario the juice was rejected by producers who don’t want their names associated with poor quality, so they bulk it off. Worst case, your $5 steal was produced not by people, but by machines, factory-style. It’s made from fruit laden with herbicides and pesticides grown on a massive farm with little regard to land stewardship, and the wine was manipulated to taste exactly the same every time, vintage in-vintage out (if it even boasts a vintage). You paid for a bottle or a box, a cutesy label, overhead, maybe even an ad campaign. You did not pay for wine anyone gave a shit about, except to rip an easy buck from your wallet.

You can do better. You should do better. You don’t have to spend a lot for quality vino. Ask me for a $10-12 wine recommendation. I’m thrilled to oblige. Because I love wine. I love the process. I love the people who grow the fruit and craft the wine with passion and integrity. Because I will never forget the shooting pain in my hands as they closed around a pair of pruning shears or wrapped a cane around a wire. Those tortured hands were producing something of beauty.

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Alas, a manifesto for another time.

I find myself opening that résumé folder not once this spring, but twice. I may be in for a record number of W-2s to track down next year. So far, the count is three (Wait, you say, I missed one! Yeah, well, you blinked). Pretty sure I’m guaranteed a fourth.

Unless.

Here’s where I admit I am strangely relieved that the non-profit for which I have been Business Manager since April is about to go belly up. The Board of Directors recently passed a unanimous vote to close it down over the summer (ahem, not my doing, folks – this is a disaster eight years in the making. I’ve just been paying the bills for six weeks. In theory. Well, not the bills – there are plenty of those. How to pay them, and myself, is another matter entirely).

How can I be relieved the spectre of unemployment and over-paying for inadequate private health insurance is now a real-life ogre? Because it has forced me face what I’ve been pushing off for yet another “Someday.” It’s giving me an out.

I’ve known since those anxiety attacks of mid-April, which I wrote about here, that my head was trying desperately to tell me something. The message finally found a way through my heart, with those terrifying moments of choking panic (which have ceased, tap wood). And this is, in part, what I believe the message to be:

…  … …

This is the hard part. The part where I stare out the window for long moments, check my iPhone for possible life-changing Facebook updates, rearrange the coffee shop punch cards in my wallet. Because it’s so difficult to come out and just say it. Here’s a practice run:

I think I should let this job run its course, not look for another one for (an undecided period of time) and write. Finish my novel? Maybe. At least get it to the point where it’s ready to be turned loose on beta readers, which means a couple more rewrites. Pour out some of those short stories clamoring for attention. Pull together a book proposal – a several-week endeavor. Submit said book proposal to those agents and publishing companies I have yet to research. Attend at least one week of the Centrum Writers’ Conference in July (located conveniently one mile from my house).

And heal. Heal after a year of loss and anger. Run and bike, walk on the beach, cook healthful meals, open my home to friends, read Thomas Hardy, find a park bench overlooking the bay and sit. Sit still. Work on being present, not six months or six years or twenty-six years in the past or similar time spans in the future. Be amazed to have a partner who needs no explanation, who asks “What are you waiting for?” Have faith that even without my income and with the added burden of said stupid health insurance policy, we’ll make it.

Step off the ride, leave the carnival. Do Not Pass Go and definitely do not collect $200.00.

There. I’ve gone and said it. I might just do this thing. This “What do you do, Julie?” “Who, me? Like, what do I do for work? I’m a writer.”

Right. Well. I just submitted a résumé to an art gallery in town, in response to a Help Wanted in the weekly paper. My résumé’s pretty cool, actually. I mean, how many people do you know who have a Masters degree in International Affairs and can boast a stint at a slaughterhouse in New Zealand? What’s that? You say you want to see this résumé? What, you hiring?

Then again, I promised my husband if I ever sell this book, I’d buy him a vineyard in the south of France. Because next to growing stories, growing grapes is the best job there is.

10 thoughts on “Wherein I rail against cheap wine and contemplate unemployment.

    1. This morning, two days after my lovely new doc said my heart and lungs were healthy and strong and the racing heart and shortness of breath were products of a troubled mind, I went to see a mindfulness counselor. She took me into deep relaxation, so that I fell into myself and drew the deepest breaths I have drawn in many months. My muscles turned to butter, my thoughts stopped racing. It was the most relaxed I have been outside of sleep since hiking in Ireland last autumn.

      Before we set forth to explore my semi-consciousness, I talked about this fear of quiet, how other quiet periods in my life had not gone so well. But now, perhaps it’s age, perhaps experience, I was ready to

      The gallery is past, but other opportunities – in very early stages- have presented themselves. Decisions I do not need to make soon, but they are in the near future should I open the envelopes of possibility.

      But for the moment, a gloriously unfettered summer opens before me (and still a few hours of day job each week, “few” being the operative word, happily). And I’m looking forward to the quiet.

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  1. You continue to amaze me. I made the decision not to look for work two (three?) years ago and to write. Off and on I look at job ads, feel guilty, worry about money, wonder if I should apply and if anyone would care if I did, and try to imagine how very much I would hate having to STAY somewhere every day instead of write. Somewhere I have a journal page on which I scrawled in big letters, “get off the ride!” so when I read this in your post, I sobbed. All that stuff that happened, as awful as it was, you can use it for yourself. I know it is hard and scary, every day, believe me. Here’s what to do – take this time. Be selfish and take it. Burrow into what it feels like to create something day after day. Doing so is the hardest thing I have ever done and it has changed me completely and for the better. The art gallery would be crazy not to hire you. Will you be crazy enough to turn them down?

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    1. Margaret. This is amazing. I did not know your story, the leap you took, the courage…
      I’m terrified. I’m not certain of what, exactly. Failure? I haven’t tasted success, so I don’t have much to lose. Making a fool of myself, rejection? I’m not certain. Poverty? Being unable to retain or recapture all that I’ve worked so hard for if *this* doesn’t pan out? Isolation, maybe? The hard, hard, hard work of showing up at the page every day, with nothing standing in my time or space?

      I don’t know what I will do. I keep making excuses. But I have to be okay with those as well – to give myself a break no matter where I end up on the decision. I fear quiet, perhaps more than anything.

      I am blessed to find this circle of artists forming around me; I feel embraced, protected somehow – and that gives me courage.

      Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your process, your fears – it means the world to me.

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      1. “I fear quiet, perhaps more than anything.” ~ the only fear you listed without a question mark after it. Yes. I get this. And yet. The center is the hottest part of the flame, it is where you must write from and so you have to go there. Your fear wants to keep you out. But you won’t let it. You won’t believe what you can do.

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  2. Yes! Right! Write! Paychecks are nice, but directing your life to express your true gift and passion is essential. There are some people whose writing is so brilliant that the topic is secondary, it’s the writing itself that is too compelling to not read. You are one of those people. Let writing be where it belongs, in the center of your life.

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