Monday, April 24, 2006

1 year, 10 months, 1 week

Friday’s meltdown flipped the switch on the big cartoon light bulb over my head. A few more years of choking down the frustration that leads to that kind of explosion and I figure they’re going to haul me away from work on a stretcher. Stroke. (We could see it coming, they’ll say, and of course, she smokes.)

And I keep asking myself when I crossed the line from confidence in my own ingenuity to paranoidly clinging to a job. At one time in my life, I never doubted my ability to earn my living. I took scary leaps into self-employment, I worked for every kind of outfit, in every kind of job you can imagine. I knew that I’d figure something out – and I didn’t care if it was washing floors and cleaning up other people’s crap. I’d do what it took to earn my living.

Today, at work, I cleaned up crap. No, seriously. Not paper crap or bureaucratic crap – actual crap. I helped pry a small cabinet off the floor, for instance – it had been plastic-waxed around its edges so often, with trickles of wax running underneath, that it had welded itself to the floor. It took forty minutes, hammers, paint scrapers and wooden edges to get it up. The cabinet, an extraordinarily well built item, started to rip apart from the strain. When we were done, pieces of the floor tile ripped right out of the floor and stayed on the bottom of the wood.

My student assistants and I trucked enough crap out of the tiny circulation area to cover two five foot by ten foot table tops. And then we removed a good six years worth of grime, scrubbing and disinfecting everything. We scraped scotch tape from the Paleolithic era off the walls. We hauled furniture.

Tomorrow, that small area will be painted and the floor, unwashed for at least three or four years, will be stripped, cleaned and waxed.

And I know that when I retire, in one year, ten months and one week, this will be the last time the area was cleaned.

When I talk about “understaffing” people don’t take me seriously. Everyone says it. Everyone is overworked. But I doubt that most library workers are crawling up on step-stools to get mouse turds off the shelves. Yellow rubber gloves are not the usual fashion accessory in my profession.

And the understaffing and discouragement in maintenance are a reflection of the understaffing and discouragement institution-wide. Many of us, at this point, are making it out of sheer necessity and a sense of loyalty to a place that has been home for years.

So, I’m retiring. Not when I can afford it, when it’s practical – which is seven years from now - but in one year, ten months and one week. Not that I’m counting. My current estimates suggest that my pension income may cover my rent, electric and phone bills. Eating, without additional work, will be optional.

I don’t care.

It was a good day, today. I enjoyed every crud-encrusted, Pinesol perfumed, rubber gloved moment of it.

I made the decision on Saturday. And that was a good day. It was the day I stopped being paralyzed by the thought of losing “security.”

It was the day I realized that I can still do whatever it takes. Even if it means cleaning up other people’s crap.


Encarna said...

wow...that was a nice post. Why do u have to retire so soon? Sounds like u have the ability, interst & zest to carry on working for ur own good....& the good of some drawers!

Mary said...


Katie said...

Good for you, LJ. Whatever you put your mind to will come to pass. :)

LJ said...

Encarna...just retiring from my DAY job. Not stopping my own work.
Mary - back at you, thanks.
A Girl - thanks, I'm going at it very positively and I'm pleased with the decision.

Lucas said...

LJ--I hear you. Like you, I've found that I can do many things ... and have done many things. However, my own experience has been that as I've gotten older I've gotten much more selective about what I will/can tolerate workwise.

Lucas said...

LJ--Evidently you've mistaken your position as a workerbee to be a job as a librarian!

Like you, I have done many different things at different times for mostly the same reason: I needed a/the job. My experience as I've gotten older suggests, however, that my willingness/ability to tolerate now many things that I may have been willing to do in the past has greatly diminished. I generally think of this in a positive way, but obviously such an attitude also has its downsides.

Amishlaw said...

But now that you've gone to all that work cleaning up your work space, you won't get the full benefit of it. You need to keep working until you get it crappy again.

Goon said...

We have some condos on Goon Island overlooking the olive oil dip pool and bar-b-que pit. Dan spends summers in his condo writing furiously in pencil on a large Steno pad. The first time he got in the dip pool and we fired up the bar-b-que, he didn't realize they were associated, but he's a quick learner, and he jumped out of the oil and apologized profusely. That was funny! You'd be a welcome addition to the community, LJ. We don't even know what wax is, and we only eat paperbacks.

Melinda said...

I hear you, friend. And I'm sorry work is so discouraging for you. Why are there so many disgruntled librarians? Probably because of all the things the job description leaves out, like "cleaning up crap" or "plucking mouse turds from the shelves" or "disinfecting computer keyboards after particularly porn-friendly men take their leave"...

zhoen said...

And OR nurses wind up doing a fair amount of cleaning, because there is no hospital committment to really training the housekeeping staff, then supervising them.

Sorry 'bout that.

Glad you have the option to retire. I expect you can find a bit of supplemental income that you can enjoy doing.

phlegmfatale said...

ah, bless you, hon. It's a great unburdening, sometimes, to let got of "security."

LJ said...

Thank you SO much, everyone.

Lucas - I know that one of those comments was a mistake (didn't go through, damn it)but I was glad to hear from you so I posted both. That way I've seen twice as much of you, you know. And yes. Me too. What I'll tolerate on all levels is getting more and more finely honed. The clock is bloody ticking on my life and I don't have enough left to fritter it on things that drag me down.

Amishlaw - One year and ten months to do. Believe me, it WILL get crappy again before I leave.

Goon, darling - I adore paperbacks. May I bring sauce? I bow in respect to your unwaxedness.

Melinda - We don't get dirty old men much. We do get clinically insane people who adopt us. It's like we're the "home" of the poem "where when you have to go there/ they have to take you in." I suspect this is true of libraries everywhere. And really, it isn't so much the job - but the condition of the place, overall. I'm not blogging everything here because I don't want to give anyone legal grounds for dismissal. Just to say, things are going downhill fast and I never did like the big slide with the mudhole at the bottom. It's also a matter of too damn long doing the same damn thing. "Petrified wood" was not how I envisioned my life.

Zhoen - I'm absolutely SURE that's true of nurses. Don't know the situation in the US, but here they're so overworked and understaffed that I wonder any of them survive their jobs. No need for "sorry." As to my options - I'm being factual when I say that my retirement fund will not cover food. But I'll be a Greeter at Wal-Mart if necessary, a couple days a week. It's time to go. (I am aiming higher than Wal-Mart and planning...but I'm not proud and if it comes to it needing work and that's what it be it)

Pfatale - Yeah. I knew you'd get that, for sure.

Teri said...

Great post. What a liberating decision! So glad you can do it.

Jess said...

LJ, this post stirs up a lot with me. I retired from my job the minute I was eligible. Sometimes I worry that my financial life is in the toilet because I didn't tough it out longer, but you know, I got to thinking. What if I don't actually have 40 years left? What if I only have, say, five? Or ten? Would it have been worth it to stay where I was miserable? It's been more than two years, and the answer to that is still no!

LJ said...

Jess...thank you. It's the same for me. And I'm scared, but undaunted. I live every day with the idea that my time is limited. And I can't stand the thought of not getting more of my life, my precious hours back. And I will, most certainly, be much poorer. I may be shopping at the food bank. And I. Don't. Care.
Thanks for this, Jess.