The other day we were driving home from somewhere and Riley was rooting around in the cupholder attached to his booster seat, grousing because he couldn’t find a Lego he’d dropped in there. For no particular reason I said well, maybe the tiny alligator that lives in the cupholders accidentally ate it.

No way, Mom, he said. Alligators are too big to live in cupholders.

Not this one, I told him. This alligator is super tiny, because it lives on the crumbs that fall in there.

It’s too tiny to bite people? he asked.

Oh yeah, I said. Besides, this alligator’s really nice. It doesn’t want to bite people. It just wants to eat the crumbs from your crackers and cookies and things.

Well why don’t I ever see it? he asked.

Because it’s scared of people. I mean, to the alligator you’re like a huge giant. The alligator doesn’t know you’re actually a friendly boy.

Riley asked all sorts of questions about the alligator, and later he wanted to make a little bed for the alligator so it wouldn’t get too cold at night. He made a pillow out of an old sock, tucked in a washcloth for the blanket, and dropped a piece of waffle on top. There, he said with satisfaction.

The next day when we got back in the car, he shouted with surprise at the note waiting for him in his cupholder.

This is from the ALLIGATOR, he breathed. Its name is Al . . Allie.

He went on: I can’t believe it! I can’t believe the alligator left me a note! I’m so happy the alligator likes me, Mom.


So, you tell me: was that wrong?

I was really kind of lonely at my last job, especially towards the end. The people they kept hiring to work in marketing kept quitting; the department was eventually taken over by a sociopath difficult manager. I felt cut off from the rest of the company, stuck with a bunch of nebulous ever-changing never-communicated expectations with no authority whatsoever.

I wasn’t allowed to work from home to try and minimize the impact of my commute, so I started showing up around 8:30 in order to leave at a reasonable hour. Every morning, I sat in a mostly empty building, typically not interacting with a single person until around 11 when my night-owl coworkers would start showing up. Those were some miserable hours, sitting there in that silent office knowing I’d been forced to rush the kids to daycare and battle the worst traffic of the morning just to fulfill some pointlessly bureaucratic Ass in the Aeron Chair requirement.

Collaboration was rare and communication was poor, and the only time I ever really heard anything about the quality of my work was after I quit.

(Something I’ve learned: if you appreciate or admire what your coworker does, tell them. They may not be hearing it from anyone else.)

In a lot of ways, I suppose I was better prepared for the isolation of freelance work than I would have guessed. The transition has been challenging at times, but I can’t miss what I didn’t have. There are things I do miss—the separation of home and office, the adults-only environment (well…mostly. I did work with a lot of software engineers), the friends I had—but I wasn’t part of a productive team. I didn’t have people helping me refine my work, or giving me direction, or brainstorming ideas with me.

In my current writing job at The Stir I have consistent, concrete deliverables, which is something I never had before. Three articles daily: one in Tech, two in Entertainment. I pick my topics, I communicate with talented editors to get story ideas approved, I write my content, I can see if what I published was successful or not. There are, after all, metrics. Glorious, glorious metrics. Even if they don’t necessarily tell you whether a story was well-written or not, I can see how many people read it. I can see if I hit that elusive sweet spot of trending story and reader interest.

What I do now is immensely more satisfying than what I was doing before. I know what I need to do, I mostly know how to do it, I know if I’ve done a decent job. Clear direction and feedback, my god, it’s a whole new world.

Still, for all my hermit tendencies, for all the comfort of being able to mostly do my own thing and do it in ratty yoga pants from the butt-dent in my couch, I’ve realized how much I want to work with people. Maybe not necessarily through physical proximity (although man, that definitely helps), but I want to add my skills and talent to someone else’s and achieve something awesome, something I couldn’t do on my own.

It’s good, in a douchey Let’s Understand Our Feelings! sort of way, to understand this about myself. It’s not about mourning what I don’t have at the moment, it’s about the value of having a clearer vision of where I want to go in the future.

I feel like in many ways this job has been incredibly healing for me, soothing over some of the insecurities and lack of confidence I built up over the years at Workplace. I was so sick of the guessing games and bullshit management, I just wanted to get shit done. Now I’ve got shit to do, and on a good day, guess what? I’m not half bad at this shit.

I am all by myself now, and I know that’s not how I want to be forever. But it’s okay—better than okay—being here at the moment. I sort of believe it’s exactly what I needed, to help fix where I’d become broken and point me towards the things I love. I almost believe what some people say, that everything happens for a reason.

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