Seriously, this post is all navel-gazing wankery. 1,000 words of navel-gazing wankery. If you’re not into navel-gazing wankery, skip on past.

I’ll even spare you it all and let you know now that my navel is, in fact, sans lint.

Everyone gone now? Good.

Here’s the background. On a forum which I frequent, someone started a thread about working retail. The said thread, within a matter of a few pages, was already filled with all manner of grossness and bitterness and everything that makes the idea of working in retail sound so generically repugnant, and topped off with the self-satisfied smugness of someone who was no longer working retail and felt the need to point out that she had a “real career” or whatever words she used. I don’t care enough to go back and quote directly, because it doesn’t matter. An hour and a half later, none of it actually matters.

So what happened is that I read the thread and immediately emosploded on a few friends in a sort of “OMG THAT’S MY LIFE NOW HOW DID I FUCK UP SO BADLY 😦 😦 😦 “-type way. This is despite the fact that I like the customers, find my bosses to be nice, helpful and supportive, and am genuinely interested in learning everything I can in the job before moving on. So I had a mini-implosion, wrote out an entirely-too-long-and-self-righteous post in response to the whole parade and then, before clicking ‘post,’ took a moment to wonder why the fuck I’m feeling so in need of defending myself. I erased everything without posting and decided to avail myself of my blog, since emowankery is theoretically why it is one has one of these. Besides, at this point, my writer-brain has taken over and feels the need to analyze so I can throw all of this on a character at some point.

Fundamentally, so far as I can tell, the problem is one of identity. During the seven years I was in grad school, I was able to use “grad student” as a fundamental description of who I was. I wasn’t always comfortable with that description – especially toward the end – but it was one I knew, one I was familiar with, one that I understood.

Then I quit (reasons for which could fill another blog, easily) – which is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, other than the decision to marry my husband – and we moved back home.

I immediately failed to find a job.

Then I continued to fail to find a job.

And I became a mess of all giant messes.

The problem with defining myself in some fundamental way as “grad student” for seven years meant that I’ve spent the past seven years defining myself by my career path, as though I am my job and my job is me. I suspect this is true for everyone to some greater or lesser degree – after all, one of the first questions anyone ever asks someone they’ve just met is inevitably “what do you do?” – because getting an idea of what someone does as a job gives us a useful way to categorize and therefore begin to understand that someone. What I’m saying is that self-definition by means of job is something we learn early and often, and something we’re reminded to do everytime we hear that “what do you do?” question. I don’t think this is healthy, but that’s yet another blog post.

The thing with my current job is that I feel lucky to have it. Not in a sort of “I’m lucky to have any job at all in this economy” – although that is true – but lucky because I can go to work without anxiety, without hating it or dreading it or wondering what sort of horrid thing is going to happen to ruin my day. Lucky because I like my bosses and like my coworkers* and like the customers. And really, really lucky because they’re letting me do a lot more than just stand at a register and ring up purchases – among other things, I’m doing the type of writing that I can turn into a portfolio for freelance or marketing work, And I’m LEARNING. I can turn dusting bottles for an afternoon into a mini-course in wine regions of France because I am a giant overachieving dork read the labels on the wine bottles with far too much attention. So yes, the hours sometimes suck and yes, the pay sucks and no, it isn’t glamorous, but it beats what I was doing and how I was feeling a year ago.**  And I do genuinely love the product and do genuinely feel that by selling it I am improving someone else’s crappy day.

This all brings me back around to my initial point, which is “why the hell did I emosplode over some dumbass thread?” The answer is, as far as I can tell, that I don’t know how to define myself anymore, and the definition for “retail worker” that became apparent in the thread DOES NOT FIT. For this definition, feel free to insert any stereotypes or characteristics or ideals of retail workers you so choose – whatever you’re inserting here doesn’t actually matter. It could be a dead-on description of me and it wouldn’t really matter; I’d still freeze up and freak out and second-guess myself and my words and my feelings and write and wank and write some more.

What happens is that I basically feel so far out of what used to be my comfort zone, used to be my safe space, my identity, that I don’t feel like anything applies anymore. And I’m so afraid of redefining myself into a new miserable existence that I’m petrified to label myself, and any label that I do try on is likely to be thrown out with all available angst because my lack of internal touchstones is wrecking me. By which I mean “turning me into a hyper-sensitive twit with occasional speshul snowflake emo tendencies.” Sincere apologies to everyone who saw the emosplosion (if anyone has made it this far) – I’ll be much cooler once I’ve re-established some sort of secure base/touchstone/something like that.

Essentially, wah wah wah boohoo wharblgarble fnarf. I’ve been super-extra-touchy lately, and I’m guessing this why. I’ll get past this. And I will continue to not hate my job in the meantime.


*This gets an asterix not because I have any sort of exception to make, but because I’m really quiet around my coworkers without really meaning to be, so I suspect the fact that I do like them quite a bit is probably difficult for them to tell.  Me being Shy Awkward Introvert Person at work will no doubt get its own post at some point. For the moment we’ll just call it another symptom of my being profoundly off-balance.
**That said, being mauled by lions gladiator-style would be an improvement over how I was feeling a year ago.