In this time of high unemployment it seems like an impossible idea to quit a seemingly ideal job when another isn't on the horizon. But 21 years ago I did. And that move gave me the chance to literally fly away, far beyond my wildest dreams.
It was April. 1990, and I was hired as managing editor of a lifestyle magazine. It seemed perfect for me. I was a single mom, and the writing workshops I had been giving to corporations for the previous 10 years were now in competition with too many other companies. I had to market heavily to sell my workshops, and I decided I preferred a 9 to 5 job, and a steady paycheck.
The magazine I was starting at was a monthly regional lifestyle glossy. My commute was about half an hour from my Westchester County NY home, and the office was in a charming village.
There was just one problem: the owner/publisher of the magazine, let’s call her Barbara. She ran the place like it was a socialist country. When I went to lunch she made me sign out on a pad just outside her office, and when I returned, I had to sign in, just like study hall in high school. Her office was right by the door, and she would always lift her head and glance at me going and coming, to let me know she was watching.
She badgered me constantly. When I first arrived she had written a travel article for the magazine, and asked me to edit it. This project took three weeks, with her sending my corrections back with more corrections, and with nasty comments about my edits.
Her retired lawyer husband hung around, looking over my shoulder and voicing his non-writerly opinions. Her two entitled, non-talented grown sons worked for her and called her by her first name: “Barbara," they’d shout, "I'm not doing that. FUCK YOU! "
And she'd shout back to them, "That's no way to talk to your mother! Fuck YOU."
The yelling rarely stopped. I'd hear it reverberating as I drove home and as I fell asleep. The over-the shoulder opinions continued by her husband. I felt like I was held captive with a despotic family of drunken dictators.
I lasted at that magazine position one month, long enough to get my name on the magazine masthead as managing editor. But I knew that if I didn't get out right away, I might never escape.
How did I quit? By signing out for lunch, giving Barbara a wave and a smile, and a silent FU, and never signing back in.
And I never looked back. I gathered some samples and my nerve and soon was writing a travel column for Gannett newspapers, and from that became a travel guidebook writer. My sons had long ago left the nest, and to extend the analogy, I went from feeling like a caged bird, to a bird on the wing,
The money I earned from freelancing was sporadic and minimal, but the lifestyle allowed me to spend a month or so in countries, on my own, researching and getting to know places I would never otherwise have visited: Paraguay, Cyprus, Guatemala -- more than a hundred in all.
I had little money, but I was happy.
Change is hard. Freelancing is an insecure business, and if the working conditions at that regional magazine had been better, I would have stayed.
But the freedom to flee compelled me to fly away, throughout the world. And it's been quite a trip.