“Bring us into your world. What is something about your work (past or present) that outsiders typically don’t understand? It can be something required by the job, something that happens on the job, something you feel about the job—but whatever it is, do not exceed 800 words.”
Today I put up another batch of liqueur with berries from my garden, the bottles carefully placed into the wine/canning cellar in my drafty old 1890 house. Sometimes I have no idea how I ended up here, taking a huge leap of faith in moving to this small town of Silverton, Oregon, from my hometown of Chicago. And then I remember what led me here: a pattypan. Yes, a pattypan, as in the odd saucer-shaped vegetable. Let’s revisit.
Two years ago I was contemplating selling my house in Chicago and moving somewhere. Anywhere but Illinois, a state in such poor fiscal shape that it might have to declare bankruptcy. Everything I’ve always loved about Chicago—the livability, the affordability—was no longer true. But where to go? I was thinking Wisconsin, me being a Midwestern girl at heart. The scary part would be finding work; being self-employed is great in that you can work anywhere, but if the work dries up, well, you’re screwed.
Then off I went to visit a friend in Portland, Oregon, and while I liked it there, I wasn’t awestruck. Cool town, whatever.
Until we went out to dinner one evening at Café Haydn.
First, some background. With my Blog That’s Sweeping the Nation, I discovered through the stat counter that lo and behold, the most popular search term leading people to my site was none other than the word ‘pattypan.’ Huh? I had written about the damn things once, out of amazement that someone had actually bothered to steal them from my garden plot. Who DOES that with squash?
But of course I seized on that immediately, and began working the word ‘pattypan’ into my blog posts, no matter if appropriate or not. It became a running joke on the blog, this mentioning of the pattypans. Ha ha, silly little obscure vegetable.
Back to our Portland café. Where they had a covered outdoor seating area, and next to it, an expansive garden with several raised beds. I of course went off to take a look, and then came running back to my friends, breathless, having sighted none other than, yes, a pattypan. Just sitting there on a railroad tie, apropos of nothing, basking in its own innate pattypan glory.
That decided it. The Pattypan Gods had spoken, and I decided I would move to Portland, hoping that things would work out job-wise. How I wound up in my dream house in Silverton is a another story, but suffice to say that I’m sure the Pattypan Gods had a hand in that as well.
So what does any of this have to do with my telling you something you don’t understand about my job? I could have told you about what it’s like to be a freelance consultant, that it’s not all bonbons and rum punch on the beach. That while it’s great setting my own schedule and having only one idiot boss (me), it’s also nerve-wracking as hell. But you know that, right? That I often lie awake worrying about paying the bills since it’s never clear how much money will be coming in, or when. That I never get to take a real vacation, because there’s no one to leave in charge. That because I’ve had cancer and I don’t work for a company, I can’t get insurance to save my soul.
This is all self-evident, or should be. So what I want you to understand about my job, your job, any job, is this: life is short. Often brutishly short and cruel. Money is good. To reconcile those two facts is supremely difficult.
I think about my parallel life sometimes, the one I would have had if I had hewn to the corporate path, moving up steadily in ConsultingLand, making more and more money, perhaps carving out some semblance of a life in spite of constant travel for work, as I did when I worked in strategy consulting.
But then I think of what the non-idealized parallel life might have been. And sometimes creeping into my memory is this: the odd, terrifying dream I had early on the morning of 9/11, before the planes went down. The dream that had me on a plane that was crashing, heading straight down into the ground. The dream from which I woke up gasping for air.
I hadn’t had a dream like that before then, nor have I had one since.
So maybe that was my parallel life. Maybe that was where the tried-and-true path would have led me rather than to some halcyon vision of corporate riches and security.
Instead, I listened to my heart, and a pattypan, and they took me exactly where I needed to be. One leap of faith after another.
We should all try it sometime.