Oh, yeah, Friday, September 1, 2006, was my last day working at Whole Foods. (Say this while standing in a tiled bathroom. It sounds more important with echo.) I was not, in fact, fired for my mouth, as I fully expected would happen eventually. I just got really tired of it, so I up and quit.
You know, burnout.
And that sounds far simpler than it was. Nothing is ever that simple, at least, not in my life.
Here I am, giddy with glee (while also covering some rather deep grief), so exhausted I'm grey in the face (though I'm not going to let you see that, either, because I'm still a little vain, even at this advanced stage of my
dementia depression life, and I have PhotoShop), and fairly well frightened half to death (click to enlarge):
I worked at Whole Foods for four years, longer than I've ever worked anywhere since high school, unless you count working for myself, which I not only did when I ran a freelance graphic design studio out of my home, but which I've also done throughout my whole life, really, as a visual artist and writer. Every job I've ever had besides writing and visual art is a job I've only taken to support myself, my cats, various family and friends from time to time, and my artistic vocation. As a result, I have traveled no conventional career path. So now I'm 43 years old, I have no degree, and my résumé makes me look insane and unemployable. Oh, and I'm only available weekday afternoons.
Nevertheless, here I find I can look my photographer right in the eye and smile, with my chin held high, partly with confidence, mostly to minimize the number of chins I might appear to have in the resulting image (click to enlarge):
This is the photographer himself, kindly holding my melons while I adjust myself:
(Yes, the prop melons. What were you thinking?)
Here are the top three reasons I really quit my job, in no particular order:
Reason 1: Burnout. Yes, I burned out. I burned out on the job, and I burned out on the company. I'll talk more about burning out on the company in a minute. However, I will just say here that burning out on the company made it far easier to burn out on the job.
Ordinarily, I loved my job because it allowed me to serve all the people in my community, to help them get through a tiresome and sometimes stressful chore with a minimum of difficulty, maybe make them smile, laugh, and occasionally even learn or think about something in a new way, and in that way make the world just a tiny tad happier place, all the while getting paid a little bit of money for it and a very lovely 20% discount on gourmet groceries. Like everyone else on the planet, I really have nothing better to do with my life than serve others, and it is my deepest pleasure to give joy, even tiny, fleeting, shallow joy. However, feeling let down by my company made me think I should find another way to do all that, and the longer I stayed with the company after being let down by it, the more imperative that urge began to feel.
So, yes, I tell people I officially burned out on my job on December 31, 2005, when I was working more hours than I had actually indicated I would be available at one of the express lanes during lunchtime on one of the five busiest days of the year, at the bitter end of the worst American retail holiday season I have ever experienced from either side of the register. The season was bad in terms of attitude, not how much money we hauled in. Katrina, Iraq, Afghanistan, fuel costs, the Bush administration, and the increasing obligatory commercial expectations foist upon each shopper who didn't opt out of this kind of holiday altogether -- my personal choice, incidentally -- was taking a heavy toll, so that most of the people I encountered that season were terribly, terribly unhappy walking in the door, not merry at all.
It was at this point, me falling over with exhaustion and tons of stressed out and exhausted people piling up behind him, when a particularly miserable guy, to whom I behaved with nothing but efficiency and politeness, actually threw change at me because I wouldn't negotiate the price of his snack with him. There was a line going back three departments, and he lost it with me over literally pennies. And even though I loudly and ultra-perkily "thank[ed him] very much for [his] courtesy and cooperation," it's true that this was the last straw. The inception of my burnout came much earlier, though, and it had to do with insurance.
Over the course of many days, while sitting here nursing my dying cat (and it must have been good nursing, 'cause he's still alive and still clearly wanted to be right up until this morning, when he woke up unable to lift his own head), I started to write out in detail what exactly happened to so completely kill my love and faith in Whole Foods as an employer and my desire to continue contributing to its success. Perhaps the ghost of someone who once cared about me, some lawyer in the family who went on ahead of me, did something spooky to protect me. Perhaps I'm simply incompetent to blog properly. Either way, I hit a button on September 22, and and not only was the date on this post curiously changed, but half of this post vanished into the ether forever. Then I hit another button on Saturday night, only to discover that TypePad was down for maintenance and that my edits had been lost a second time.
I am peeved, of course. But who knows? Maybe I am also protected by these "accidents" from being sued, even though I would prevail in any lawsuit because I never lie (not due to any particular virtue, just because it's too much trouble) and because I have kept every single scrap of paper and electronic correspondence documenting everything that happened to me in files which are literally feet deep. Regardless, I just can't reconstruct what I wrote. I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) around the issue of benefits -- not from cancer or having my leg cut off mind you, but just from trying to get my disability and medical bills paid -- and it was all I could do to write that story out once, and then barf out an extremely curtailed version when the first version disappeared down the electronic drain. To do it again? Ugh. Not now, no way. Maybe I'll try again in six months. (And that PTSD, by the way, is why I never filed a lawsuit myself. But that's all part of that story for another day.)
For now, suffice it to say -- as I may already have intimated once or twice before -- that my experience of Whole Foods insurance (health insurance by United HealthCare, optional disability insurance by CNA) leads me to believe that it is the kind that's great to have as long as nothing really bad ever happens to you. My experience also leads me to believe that if you need to use one of these benefits for something big and either United HealthCare or CNA tries to screw you, either on purpose or through levels of incompetence both institutional and individual, no one at Whole Foods will be able to help you because there simply aren't enough people employed by Whole Foods to help employees with matters like these, and the ones Whole Foods has employed are either pitiably overworked by virtue of not being numerous enough or, because of the apparently random way people get hired for these jobs, utterly helpless in the face of anything more complicated than signing you up for benefits, terminating your benefits, or getting your paycheck to you on time.
I really can't say more. It's making me sick to think about it.
Reason 2: Kitty Love. My lovely cat Furry Lewis, my last cat, is indeed dying. This is another thing about which I can't really write in detail, because every time I try I start to cry, and he hates that. My true love and I have been treating Furry since January for either inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal lymphoma -- and we never did find out which until today, when he's finally gotten so thin I can feel at least one tumor, because we didn't want to put him through more horrible tests, like intestinal biopsy or MRI under sedation just so we could know the name of what was killing him. And though he's been hanging in there, in August he just started to get a whole lot sicker. We reached a point where nothing we could do with meds or diet seemed to have any effect.
I have loved him more than my own life. I have wanted to be sure he lacked for nothing. I have wanted to be sure not to miss any minute of the rest of his life that he wanted to share with me. I do know other people might say he's "just" a cat. They are either stupid or emotionally impoverished. Also, they don't know him.
I quit my job to take care of my cat, my dear, precious cat who came to me starving and beaten up and then upon being given a little bowl of dry food and a pillow on the woodpile to sleep on 'til he officially joined the family absolutely insisted on being my cat even though I already had three others, my little sweetie who's been with me through thick and thin for over thirteen years, who has always, always been happy to see me, even today when he's not really happy about much, who was the only person who was unreservedly joyous at the sight of me coming home from the hospital missing a leg and a week early because I couldn't stand another minute in that bed away from him and the others, who took it upon himself to contribute to the household by bringing me mice and birds when I was occasionally too poor to feed everybody as reliably as I wanted to long ago, and who now gets to eat as much shrimp fried rice and vanilla ice cream as he wants because, in my house, when you've been declared end-stage terminal, you get to eat as much as you want of whatever you like, even if it's bad for you, and you get to listen to unlimited amounts of John Lee Hooker, too, if that's what you like.
For now I am here, and I can be here because I'm not employed and my true love -- my true love who makes six figures a year doing a job I so fail to understand that I can never even remember what it's called but who's also been taking days off and working from home whenever he could over the last two weeks just so he could be with this particular kitty, too -- is supporting me in every way. For now. Because all we have, all we may ever have, is right now, and we want it.
Reason 3: Hate Driving. Hate It. It's not just about global warming and keeping as tiny an environmental footprint as I can possibly make. It's about my own mental and physical health.
I used to live within walking distance of my store. I walked nearly every day, and my true love would pick me up at night because there were no sidewalks for most of the way and it is unsafe for anyone to walk that road at night. But every day I would get that little bit of exercise, get out a little bit in sort-of nature, dream as I walked, rehab myself so fiercely that now I can walk on freakin' well anything in any weather, pause to write a poem here and there, look into the eyes of deer and turkeys grazing the neighbors' yards, check the status of ice or dragonflies in the creek, depending on the season, and regard the sky.
I would get to work every day in a great mood!
Now I don't live in walking distance of that store. The driving commute between here and there is not long, but it's stupid. Over the last year, it has been particularly terrible because the Town of Concord, in order to connect a couple of neighborhoods to new sewer service, has until just last month been ripping up and rebuilding the roads covering the shortest distance between where I live and the store where I worked. Detours were circuitous and would come and go often without notice. Even when there were no detours, the roads were in tire-popping, suspension-shattering, better-have-four-wheel-drive-or-you're-gonna-die condition.
But even without these horrors, it's a stupid commute. At the time of day when I traveled it, it was particularly frustrating because there were nearly always school buses (and here they stop at every individual child's house, not at some street corner convenient to several families like when I was a bus-riding kid in California) and mail trucks on roads just barely wide enough to permit traffic in both directions. Sometimes there were garbage trucks and stopped delivery trucks, too.
But even without these elements it's a stupid commute. It's a stupid commute because people really drive it stupidly. Alas, there has, in my experience, been a distinct paucity of car-dancing, which would at least indicate that I shared the road with people who could be rendered helpless to contain themselves in the face of spontaneous, irrepressibly rhythmic joy, always a cheering thing to discover. No, instead, sometimes people drive this commute drunk. Usually people just speed and tailgate. There are often bicycists riding two and three abreast on these narrow, curvy roads, sometimes wearing headphones so they can't hear cars coming, almost never equipped with rearview mirrors, and not always inclined to narrow up when they do realize there is a car nosing up to their butts at a speed they can't exceed no matter how many races they've won. On the other hand, sometimes old people or tourists in enormous old American luxury sedans drive five to ten miles slower than the speed limit, sometimes belching smog, sometimes even straddling the middle of any given road so no one can pass them in either direction. On one occasion, I even drove behind two ostensibly deaf people chatting in American Sign Language. I don't know if you've ever chatted in American Sign Language, but it requires that the "listener" watch the "speaker." When the speaker is an automobile passenger while the listener is the driver of said automobile and while said automobile is in motion on public streets, this has the potential to create big problems. I don't know whether it's to the driver's credit or fault that she "could" sign while she drove or that every time she wanted to listen to her passenger she would stop her car dead in the middle of the road in order to give her passenger her full visual attention. I only know it made me, driving behind her and getting more and more likely to arrive late to work, very agitated.
In circumstances like these, I did not arrive at work in a good mood. I arrived at work in a very, very bad mood. Hate-filled. Seething. Heaven help the customer who perhaps had just cut me off in the parking lot or who might have made me follow him all the way in from Concord going 20 miles an hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone.. Really. My inclination to serve such people compassionately suffered huge blows, daily.
Since I was there to exercise compassion while collecting something approximating a living wage, plus a whopping great discount on yummy goodies, obviously this was counterproductive. I could fix it in one of two ways: I could leave my boyfriend and move back to the town where we used to live (hyeah, hright), or I could stop driving to work. Stop driving to that work, that is.
My whole job at Whole Foods comprised nothing but minutiae executed with a smile, and ultimately what killed my joy in it boiled down to pile after pile of assorted minutiae that stopped functioning or never worked as promised to begin with. And there were more than what I have told you; I've only shared with you the big three in not particularly minute detail. It all got really heavy, like many, many small bags of lead shot sewn on all over my psyche. I got very, very tired. It was only going to be a matter of time before I screwed up in some huge way or would find one day that I simply couldn't physically drag myself away from the cat, into the car, and off to where I was supposed to be, where I'd promised to be, through people who drove like they were the only people on the crazy, broken road, and who then showed up at my store needing and deserving in spite of this to be treated by everyone working there -- including me -- as though they were the only people who mattered, at least for that moment, necessarily proving that this company I found myself respecting and valuing less and less every day -- even though I've shopped its stores for years and years and even own stock in it now -- gave the best damn customer service around.
Yeah, I burned out. So I did the only honorable thing. I quit.
I have no idea where I'm going from here. Right now, I'm just sending out résumés and tending my cat.
Suggestions which do not involve euthanasia -- for either me or the cat, whose own appointment has already been made and which I hope sincerely he won't reach -- might be helpful.