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I Had Almost Lost Myself

I suppose this blog entry will be less snerk-snerk-swear-word than most of my entries. I won’t go into the less pleasant aspects surrounding the end of my day job, but I will say this: I can no longer call myself a bookseller. I’m choosing a different career path.

<Hrmmm, maybe not this one.>

It’s unfortunate, because for a very long time I considered “bookseller” to be a big part of who I was; not only did I write books, but I helped readers find other writers they might fall in love with. Putting other people’s books on the shelf was a joy to me, and, in the beginning of my career, taught me a lot about the arena in which I hoped someday to play.

Then my own books were on the shelf, both physical and digital. The books started making money. Enough money, which is a subjective term, the point at which a writer says “yep, I could still eat donuts every Friday on this kinda pay.” I could have left the workaday world then. Months went by. A year. Two. Still, the day job got me up at oh-four-hundred and kept me connected to the industry, made me feel like an integral cog in the reader-writer relationship. It was about love. Passion swaddled in paper. I walked among the wordsmiths quietly before dawn, slipping between the stacks in the store’s half-light, making sure writers who needed my help had it, feeling some importance there. I have no way of knowing if I made any difference in the big picture, but I felt I did. It’s hard not to have great reverence for the seductive powers of other authors when you deal so closely with the results of their hard work. I like the dance, the offering of a premise and a style, the way a reader might, if the chemistry was right, willingly slip under a writer’s spell. This is a beautiful exchange. As a writer myself, it was intriguing to watch the process of a reader shopping the stacks, wandering, gazing at cover art, reading blurbs, flipping pages, contemplating their next love affair. Connecting. Even when the customers weren’t there, I could feel that connection, I could take the temperature of the reading world, check its pulse, sense the shifts in trends and see the winning or losing results of various campaigns. My book store work was never a retail job to me. It really was about love.

Then the day came when I knew I was done. It didn’t happen suddenly, but there were changes, and it rattled my bliss. The joy became fleeting. It might have been easier to rip the Bandaid off… but like everything I do, I had to do it the slow and painful way. I don’t ever do a thing without thinking about it for a bazillion years. I’m a true coward, a weasel in a chicken suit. I’m scared of the future, I’m scared of myself, I’m scared of failure and success and everything that comes with the slide into either. My writing began to suffer as my mind became preoccupied with the if/but/whens of quitting. Should I? Could I bear to? The stress increased. I started to resent my alarm clock. My writing dried up entirely, and a non-writing writer is not a fun creature to be around. I started to obsess about other things (the news, mostly) to relieve some of the pressure, but in the end, my stress always came back to chew on this question of work, and by extension, who am I, if not a book seller? I started tossing around the words “early retirement” to judge people’s reactions. I doubted the sanity of anyone who thought it was a good idea, but resented the lack of faith from those who thought it was a crazy plan. My husband looked at the income from the books, gave a shrug, and offered, “If it helps, I’m behind you.” There were buts, of course, and more months dragged by while I stewed them over.

There was a final straw, but it doesn’t matter what it was. The point is, I jumped. Full time writing. Up at 4, yes, but to write. My own boss. That hasn’t happened since I was a young teenager. I’ve always had a boss. I like having a boss. I like schedules and rules and protocols. I’d go so far as to say I need them. Now I set them for myself. I hope I’m not a wishy-washy boss.

 <I use plenty of tools and fire at my desk, actually>

I haven’t cried yet about giving away this part of me. I will. That’s coming. I hadn’t realized how deeply that vein throbbed until I put words around it. And that’s how my world works, I suppose; putting things into words on paperspace. Maybe I only understand how I feel about them when I read them back. Good bye, Bookseller Al. What a fabulous job for a writer to have had, and what a blessing it was. We have only one job now: to make more words of our own.

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4 Responses to I Had Almost Lost Myself

  1. What a wonderful thing to become, even if you lose a self imposed title.

  2. Melissa B says:

    This is an encouraging “good for you.” I hope your decision is every wonderful thing you could anticipate. Greedily, I am delighted you will have more time for Marnie stories. I truly enjoy them with lots of laughter as well as adrenaline rushes. Beyond my own selfish desire for more of your writing, I wish you the best in this new adventure.

  3. Michelle says:

    Thank you for making that leap of faith (and not into the abyss). I’ve only recently discovered your Marnie Baranuik Files series and devoured them all within two days – so I do admit there is some self-serving interest in seeing you happy and productive. As in the next book. All the best to you and yours!

  4. Lisa Caley says:

    Poignant and eloquently written. I wish you all the luck and firmly believe that one day Wordsmiths will rule the world! It goes without saying that if they do, I expect free cookies to be a legislative requirement!

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