Quitting Time

On the clock

Every workday, I wake up and make my stupid drink. I grab this giant tumbler and add two scoops of collagen powder. Then I shake a little Crystal Light in there, because it tastes like my suburban childhood and I deserve to self-soothe via sucralose. I fill the rest with water. Welcome to my food blog.

Then, while I open up my email, I eat all my vitamins—ashwagandha capsules and blobby calcium chews, a disc of D3 that does a credible impression of an aspirin, a magnesium capsule, various other forms of nonsense. If I don’t get my shit together to do the whole routine before work officially starts, I end up muting myself during a Zoom and trying to covertly swallow as someone discusses “KPIs.”

I used to produce so much writing—a constant stream of content pouring straight from my brain and into my fingers. Feature stories and quirky profiles, tag lines to rope in new subscribers, Q&As with buzzy musicians (can anybody tell me what became of Lady Sovereign), first-person think-pieces on cast-iron pans or reproductive rights, copy for a sweepstakes, punny subheds in which I was always trying to be more clever about how I described eyeliner. But somehow, the better you get at making eyeliner puns, the less you end up making them yourself. Now I manage the people who make the puns, and that’s the circle of life. [Cut to a shot of someone holding up the baby lion over a cliff.] 

What is writing to me now? Is it a performance I do for you, or a way to satisfy something within? I’ve been writing for money for so much of my adulthood that I usually dread spending my off-hours on the computer, giving away all that milk for free. The concept of writing and “work” are all tangled up with each other in my mind—two vines that’ve grown together so closely, they feel like they’re spliced.  

So I “treat” myself to 40 minutes of scrolling TikTok instead of generating my own writing, eyeliner-related or not. But when I take time for myself to NOT write, is it a reward or a punishment? Am I practicing the sensuous art of doing nothing, or making nothing of myself? And is my concern about all of this not philosophical, but actually lazy navel-gazing—trying to mold my sloth into a viewpoint about what output we owe to the world?

I’ve skipped so many weeks of this newsletter, and felt the ebb and flow of guilt about it throughout. I’m notorious for stopping books halfway through, so none of this should have surprised me. When I was a kid, I played the trumpet with gusto, and well—I was first chair in our kid orchestra and jazz band. My teacher told me if I kept going, I could probably get a college scholarship. But I got so sick of practicing, so sick of the repeated scales, the incremental progress.

One afternoon, I was sitting in my room, smelling the metallic oiliness of my instrument and glaring at the sheet music. A tiny whirlwind of rage started swirling in my chest. And without thinking, I lifted up the trumpet and smashed it right onto the hardwood floor. It crumpled easier than you’d think. I examined it in awe and horror, the bends in the brass bell like folds of fabric. Soon I quit playing entirely.

But I’m not ready to quit you yet, not ready to quit whatever this is. I may have been mentally kneecapped by the last few months of new-job frenzy, but I can hear a small, somewhat-dormant impulse knocking inside my head. It wants to say hello.

In the meantime, the tumbler for my big, stupid morning drink holds 40 ounces, enough to last you through most of the day if you’re slow with liquids like me. It feels good in your hands, substantial but not like you’re doing resistance training. It’ll hold up through group meetings and “touchbases,” through six daily “just following up” emails, and into the last Slacks of the day. You may get to your last sips just as you slide down the proverbial dinosaur tail into your off-time, whatever that means for you. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have a little something left.