What the Hell am I doing, anyway?

“Bailey, what the hell are you doing?” That was the question my longtime friend Steve Gilliam asked me after I had attended an advisory board meeting for UNC-Greensboro’s alumni magazine.

I’d been invited, I presume, to network with people there, some of whom were in publishing and PR—which was a nice gesture by Steve and the magazine’s editors. Steve, I’m guessing, had read my blog before the meeting, and his rather direct question was his way of wondering why I had resorted to day labor in a restaurant kitchen. My answer was just as direct: “I’m paying my mortgage. It’s one thing to lose your job. It’s quite another to lose your house,” I told him.
The former, losing my job, I didn’t really have much control over. The forces were global and corporate and the decisions were beyond my control and repeal. Fuel prices . . . airline consolidation . . . a reaction to Northwest Airlines’ people losing their jobs . . . and a dozen others. I don’t shoulder any blame for losing my job and feel no guilt. I’m one of 6 million . . . and counting. And that helps.
But losing my house is something I have direct control over. It’s a strictly local issue, though global and national forces hold their sway. “Anne and I did the math,” I told Steve, “and if I work at Print Works, though I’m only making a little bit more than minimum wage, I can just about pay the mortgage on that alone,” I told him.
The other question I get pretty constantly, is “How are you doing?”—asked with a slightly 0different inflection than it’s normally asked.
“I’m OK,” I answer. And I am.
Nido Qubein, president of High Point University, asked me that when he was kind enough to meet with me after I sent him a letter looking for a job. He wondered how I was dealing with going from a job in which I was a highly paid editor of commentary and reportage on popular culture and world travel and cuisine to washing dishes and writing about local business. How, though he didn’t ask it that way of course, was I dealing with going from having an audience of 4 million to 40 (Although I’m gratified by the constant traffic and repeat visitors to my blog).
I explained that I thought that people were by nature either prone to be happy or discontented. Yes, I was worried, and had reason to be. But over the years, I told him, I’ve learned to segment my anxiety and not let it get in the way of my being, basically, a happy person. I’ve learned to analyze and identify those things that made me anxious— like losing my house— and to deal with them. Taking the job at Print Works—though some would argue that it’s below my station or talents or something else, class, I think, is what really bothers them—lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. I’m not going to lose my house.
It’s spring. The gang of flowers that Anne’s planted in our yard are in a riotous mood. I saw a dozen prothonitary warblers in the Lowcountry of South Carolina this weekend while factchecking a tour book for Legacy Press. I have my food and wine writing, which opens the door to fine dining and some decent vintages. I’m interviewing four “Health-Care Heroes” this week for The Business Journal. I’m editing a fascinating, 300-plus page book on coffee written by a Brazilian doctor and researcher. None of these things pays very much, quite literally a tiny fraction of what I made at Pace. But to the people being profiled by The Business Journal, whether I do a first-rate job on what will be for many of them their one chance at fame is huge.
“I never knew that you that you had to work so hard when you’re unemployed,” I told someone the other day.

In a moment, I’ll work on the interviews I did yesterday and answer email until 4, when I go in to work, cooking veggies.
Do I need an audience of millions of readers to validate myself? To tell you the truth, the comments I’ve received on my blog over the past few months have been every bit as gratifying as any of the letters I got from readers at Sky over the years.



5 Responses to “What the Hell am I doing, anyway?”

  1. Sarita Says:

    I liked reading this. I struggle more than anything with the idea that you’re not as fulfilled with these jobs as you were at Pace, but I think that this does give you a chance to look for fulfillment outside of the workplace. Which I think is good for you, not that you didn’t already do that but it’s always good to practice.

    • dclaud Says:

      I think you’ve heard this once or twice before, but “That which causes us to suffer but doesn’t kill us in the process can only make us stronger.” I’m becoming a much stronger person.

  2. Kathleen Scott Says:

    I appreciated this post–lots of wisdom in your outlook. And in the long run, when you look back, you’ll remember the events and stories and struggle as a time of intense living, a time when you became more than you were. When trees do not receive typical water, the leaves droop and the tree secretes a chemical which makes the roots grow. The roots tunnel deeper and wider then for water. It’s a hard survival. But the tree lives and is better fitted to adapt to change in future.

    Prothonitory warblers! You’re rich then.

  3. Richard Gilbert Says:

    Beautifully done, and a great summation of your attitude, which I have always envied. This could be a great book, you know. That is, if you want to add yet one more thing to your plate! You could let it sneak up on you by writing on the blog, saving emails to friends on this journey of yours, keeping a diary, making a timeline. People are fascinated by someone’s response to hardship, and yours is so creative and tough it’s truly interesting.

  4. Beth W. Says:

    I remember a time in my life when it felt like a door slammed behind me, pushing me out onto a bridge that seemed to be burning at both ends. I stood in the middle, then finally jumped into the cold, scary rapids below. Yeah. I got cut up a little on the rocks, but that fast-flowing water took me to places I had never before imagined. Good places. You are doing the necessary things to pay bills, and negotiating the rapids of reinvention at the same time.

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