Transcript

7:

Quitting
Transcript

Originally aired 12.29.1995

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/7

Prologue.

Ira Glass

What will make you change? For most of us, it is not self-help books, courses at the learning annex. We are immune to any number of long, sincere talks with our friends about the problems that do not go away. We are immune to resolutions made at the last minute of the last hour of each December 31.

Consider the story of Evan Harris. She didn't like her job. She wanted to leave her boyfriend. She was living in a city she didn't like.

Evan Harris

I was well-entrenched in my life and pretty much sleepwalking.

Ira Glass

And weeks went by. And months went by. And then one day, she and a coworker were in the mail room at the extremely low-level office jobs that they held, and there amongst the envelopes, stacks of envelopes everywhere, they started talking. And that's where it happened to Evan Harris.

You know how sometimes the smallest thing can end up changing your entire life? A casual comment by somebody that you barely know, an ad you happen to spot in the newspaper, a chance encounter, one little moment. And later when you look back, you realize, oh, that was it. That was the moment. That was the pivot point around which my entire life turned and spun and went into a totally different direction. And you know you don't get to choose. You do not get to choose this pivotal moment. And sometimes, as anybody over a certain age can tell you, the pivotal moment can be kind of stupid.

In Evan Harris's case, it was about as unlikely as they come.

Evan Harris

We were doing some sort of menial labor. She was doing a mailing, and I was putting some stuff in alphabetical order. And I said to her, "Shouldn't the letter Q be further toward the back of the alphabet?"

Ira Glass

That's it. With the utterance of those words-- let me just play this back for you. Because these are words which changed an adult human life. Here we go.

Evan Harris

"Shouldn't the letter Q be further toward the back of the alphabet?"

Ira Glass

With those words, Evan Harris's life took a 180 degree turn.

Well, from WBEZ Chicago. This is Your Radio Playhouse. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, Quitting, stories of people who quit everything in their lives that they hated and what happened to them afterwards.

Coming up, writer Sandra Tsing Loh, Lisa Buscani, and others. Stay with us.

So Evan Harris and her friend and coworker, Shelley Ross, were at this job and they started talking about the letter Q. And it was the kind of conversation you can only really have at a job that does not require total concentration. So you're sorting mail, you're frying burgers, you're doing whatever. And so they're talking about the letter Q.

And again, remember, this is the pivotal conversation in a person's life. They're talking about the letter Q and they get to talking about where it should be in the alphabet. And in their minds, Q does not belong in the middle of the alphabet where it is, with the hoi polloi of the alphabet. Your Ms, your Ns, your Ps. Letters that will just join any word for the asking. N is in letters-- you don't even hear it. Damn. What's it doing in there?

Q, in their mind, has more character. Q, in their mind, doesn't take anything off of anybody. It makes demands and it sees that they are met. What other letter has an adjunct, a bodyguard with it, carried into every word? In their mind, Q belongs at the end of the alphabet, with your Xs, your Ys, your Zs. Letters that do not care what anybody thinks of them and that don't just join up to any word.

And Q, of course, is the first letter of the word "quit." You can't spell "quit" without Q, at least on public radio you can't. And Evan Harris and her friend Shelley Ross started talking about what it means to be able to quit something. What are the qualities that you need? And they decided the qualities were that kind of fierce independence that, in fact, they saw in the letter Q. And they talked about quitting for a long time that day.

Evan Harris

And Quitter Quarterly just came out of my mouth, really. I mean it just came out of my mouth. It kind of came from heaven. It kind of came from heaven. Really. It just kind of lit down on me. And there it was, and that's how I saw it.

Ira Glass

Quitter Quarterly. At that moment, Evan Harris and her friend Shelley Ross decided to publish a little zine, a little Xerox thing, just a couple pages long, called Quitter Quarterly. And that changed Evan's life.

Recently I heard about the butter sculptures at the Minnesota State Fair. These are these big sculptures made entirely out of butter. The way it was explained to me was that they are often of the queen for the day. That some teenage girl will be selected as the fair queen that day, and then her bust will be done in butter.

And it got me to thinking, what if my muse had called me to work in butter? What if my muse said, you will now represent the human form in butter? What if your muse calls you to do something hokey and out-of-date, like singing in coffeehouses or I don't even know. The point is we cannot choose who we fall in love with. We cannot choose what we are interested to write about. We cannot choose our muse.

And quitting was the muse that called Evan Harris. She had written other things before Quitter Quarterly, but back then the ideas came out in a trickle. When she wrote about quitting, it was like this inexhaustible fountain. It was standing in front of a fire hydrant, immense force, full blast coming at her.

Evan Harris

It really came all at once. I mean, I really sat down to start writing about it, and it really came out. And it seemed to have already been formed.

Ira Glass

And the way that Evan Harris and Shelley Ross write about quitting is so evocative and funny that after just two issues of this tiny little zine, Quitter Quarterly was excerpted in Harper's Magazine and it was named Zine of the Month by Sassy Magazine, which covers your sort of highbrow to lowbrow scale. Soon a publisher had Evan writing a book which is going to be out this coming May called The Quit.

And all of this was happening because Evan Harris and Shelley Ross were not just writing about quitting. They were inventing an entire philosophy of quitting, a theory of quitting. Quitter Quarterly is like a scientific inquiry into the properties of quitting. For example, the euphoria of the quit.

Evan Harris

The euphoria of the quit. Quitting euphoria is an incredible thing. I don't know how much you have quit, but there is an incredible charge to quitting that is like a drug. It's like being in love kind of, except it's being in love with your decision.

Ira Glass

Evan Harris was writing about quitting, and thinking about quitting, and gathering the strength to quit her job and her boyfriend and her city, which, by the way, she did. And at some point in this entire process, her view of the world began to change. Quits and potential quits seemed to be everywhere. She would go out with a friend for coffee and, of course, talk about all this quitting business that she was thinking about all the time. And then this friend, no matter who it was, would come out with some story about something that he or she wanted to quit. Quitting started to seem like the engine that made everything in the world go round.

Evan Harris

The way I see it in thinking about my own life, I see it as being framed and the narrative of it being pushed along by quitting, by quits. So that my first big quit was to leave the college that I was going to, and I moved to New York City. And then my next big quit was to quit the graduate program that I was in, and then I fell into this job. And so now I have nothing left to quit. I mean I've quit my boyfriend. I've quit my city. I've quit my job. And I have nothing left to quit. And so really now there's nothing to do but build things up again. Do you see what I mean?

Ira Glass

Yeah, but you say that as if you're just building them up for what will be the central fact of your life, which is then you're going to quit them.

Evan Harris

That's right. The way I see it is that there's sort of like two basic, big, important concepts. OK? And the first one is that nothing lasts forever. There is nothing that you can do that you can keep on doing forever. Nothing. That's it. Period. End of story. And then the other big one is that you have to be doing something. So my feeling is it's better to willfully quit whatever it is and then go on to the next thing that you have to be doing, because you have to be doing something, than to just kind of let things fall apart.

The quitting cycle. In everybody's life, there is something of a quitting cycle. So you can talk about adolescence being a time where people quit listening to their parents. And then maybe in people's mid-to-late 20s, they start quitting places or even quitting people. And then later on in mid-life, I think that there's a little bit of a quitting thing going on, which some people call mid-life crisis, and I would probably call it the mid-life quit. And then for older adults, I think they do quite a bit of quitting, too. I think that they basically quit giving a damn what people think of them and quit worrying about certain things.

There's the quitting cycle and then there's the nature of quitters, which I think is important. I don't think quitters are lazy people necessarily. I mean some quitters are probably lazy, but I don't think that the essential nature of a quitter is to be lazy. I think that the essential nature of a quitter is to be able to cut their losses and move on. Quitting is about being willful. Quitting is about having one's own volition to do whatever.

Ira Glass

Can I ask you to reflect on why it is that you think the word "quitter" has such a pejorative connotation in our culture? Because I think of the last time I saw the word "quitter" and it was a cover of a magazine with Ross Perot on it, when he pulled out of the presidential race. And the word "quitter" was above him. Just the notion of being a quitter was so shameful. That was the message of it.

Evan Harris

The word "quitter" does have a negative connotation, and that's something that I would really like to change. I would really like to kidnap that word. I see quitters as people who have volition. Quitters never win and winners never quit, and that's completely untrue. I mean really the more things you quit, the more things you're going to do. And the more things you do, the more potential you have for success.

I mean, I would say that Quitter Quarterly as a thing is definitely pro-quitting propaganda. I mean, absolutely. But I'm not so much describing-- well, maybe I'm describing a little bit what quits feel like. But I'm much more interested in the anatomy of quitting. I would say that the anatomy of an actual quit would vary, but the general form of a quit would be that the quitter thinks about it. The quitter thinks about it some more. The quitter quits. And then there's the post-quitting stuff.

Ira Glass

I'm just going to stop that right there. Are you following this particular point? Let's review those steps again, OK? The anatomy of a quit. The quitter thinks about it. Step two now. The quitter thinks about it some more. To me this indicates somebody who actually has been in that position. You don't just think about it. It goes on for a really long, long time before you actually then do the quit. Let's review.

Evan Harris

That the quitter thinks about it. The quitter thinks about it some more. The quitter quits. And then there's the post-quitting stuff.

Ira Glass

Now, you know, we have all met in our lives people who have come to see the world through a single idea, people for whom all interaction can be explained by some scheme. And it could be a big idea. It could be the laws of supply and demand, or Fundamentalist Christianity, or structuralist linguistic theory. Or it could be a small idea. The need for everybody to do aerobic exercise on a regular basis, or the danger of fluoridation, or CIA conspiracies dating back to the Bay of Pigs.

Who amongst us has not had a conversation on a train, or a plane, or at a party, or an in-law's house, where some earnest-faced person, full of evidence and theory, expounds at length on an idea like, if everyone on the earth would just stand on his or her head for an hour a day, there would be world peace?

And if you talk to Evan Harris for a while, she'll tell you about the great quits which have driven world history, how, in fact, all the wars and strife of the millennia are, in fact, better understood as a series of quits. And as some people will do when they become obsessed with a single topic, she sometimes delves into quitting issues that are so esoteric, so erudite, that it would be hard, I think, for anyone else to not just understand them, but to care about them.

For example, she was trying to figure out a system for how to rate the importance of various types of quits. She actually created a mathematical model to do that that she was working on. And during our interview, she repeated several times that quitting had a life of its own, a life separate from any of the quits that you might make or I might make or other people make. In her mind, it seemed that quitting-- was almost like a living thing, separate from the actions of human beings.

Evan Harris

Quitting itself has an identity, and your particular quit, one quitter's particular quit, fits into the world and all the other quitters in the world. And you have to remember that your quit is going to influence another person's quit, potentially. The point of quitting is to move in the world and to get bigger and bigger as a person. God damn. Sometimes I just start to sound like a nut basically about this. I mean, what am I talking about? What am I talking about? You have to understand. This is so on my mind. I think about this all the time. I think about this all the time. I'm thinking about getting up and walking out of this room right now. I really am.

Quitting is not just about how it feels to yourself. No, I don't think that's true. I don't think that's true. And I think that people have to see themselves in a swim that way.

Ira Glass

In a swim of quitting?

Evan Harris

In a swim of quitting.

Ira Glass

In a swim of quitting with other swimmers, with other people who are quitting?

Evan Harris

Right.

Ira Glass

Evan, I have to say that you're saying people should be aware of themselves as being part of a world of quitting, and a world of people who are quitting, and a whole idea of the notion of quitting. But I have to say, in all of my life, you are the only person I've ever met who thinks of it that way.

Evan Harris

Oh, but you're so wrong about that. Oh well, maybe you're not wrong. Am I really the only person you've ever met who thinks of quitting in this way?

Ira Glass

You yourself said you didn't start to think about quitting in this way before February.

Evan Harris

Right, but just because I didn't start to think about it before February doesn't mean that no one else has ever thought of it before.

Ira Glass

I wonder how long you're going to feel this way, how long you're going to be this interested in quitting.

Evan Harris

I don't know how long I'll be interested in quitting. I think maybe what you're suggesting is that I'll get it out of my system and I'll be over it and it'll be done. But as I said before, I have quit everything. I don't, in a very literal way, have anything to quit anymore. I have no city. I have no boyfriend. I have no home. Not that those are the only things in life. I mean, I suppose I could quit smoking or quit eating things that are bad for me. There's a lot of little quits that I could execute which I might do just to tide me over. But the thing about quitting is that it runs on a cycle so that now or soon-- not quite yet-- but soon, I'll be building more things up which I will quit.

Ira Glass

Are you sure?

Evan Harris

Yes, I am sure.

Ira Glass

Evan Harris. If you would like a copy of Quitter Quarterly, get a pencil. It's P.O. Box 20515, Tompkins Square Station, New York, New York, 10009. Again. Quitter Quarterly, P.O. Box 20515, Tompkins Square Station, New York, New York, 10009. A copy is $0.25 plus the cost of one thin American stamp.

Well, coming up in a minute, all the dogs in a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood quit their dull, suburban lives. Stay with us.

[MUSIC - "DON'T FENCE ME IN" BY ELLA FITZGERALD]

Act One.

Sandra Tsing Loh

This is Sandra Tsing Loh in Los Angeles, sitting at the piano, and this is a story about quitting.

Right now it is at that moment of the day, that sour, late afternoon moment, when the orangey rays of the fading afternoon sun slant across patches of-- not exactly lawn, but a kind of leathery Bermuda clover that springs up in the West Valley after the rain. And a dog realizes that his world is not a swirling universe of endless possibility, of good and evil, of constantly banging up against the portals of Blakean excess. But it is a 10x15 foot yard with a locked gate at the end. And your kibble isn't even the good kibble. It's the Lady Lee bargain kibble. And the only reason to get up in the morning is to chase a blue rubber ball with a bell in it.

And life seems as drab and dry as dust, at least so it seems today to two particular dogs-- Joey, a large silver-haired Australian Shepherd with no tail but a wagging skirt, and his companion, Flipper, of a German Shepherd-Terrier mix, which makes him small and yappy. But then, at that moment, Joey and Flipper hear this magical call.

It is Rusty and Boots, the neighborhood dog sentinels. Excitedly, they are barking out a message. "There's something going on in the alley. There's something going on in the alley." One by one, each other dog in the neighborhood-- Ginger and Patches and Blueberry and Joey and Flipper-- bolt to their back gates, trying to press their moist noses through the wooden slats to see what's going on as they raise their voices in a joyous canine cacophony.

And indeed, there in the alley it is the most famous dog of all time, Buck, the Husky from Jack London's Call of the Wild. He stands effortlessly on his hind legs, his ruff is beautifully fluffed, and in kind of a debonair, Howard Keel-type way, he sings in shimmering tenor, "Come, you dogs. Come, you doggies. Come, you dogs. Come to Canada. Canada. Big mountains, big valleys, big sky, big water. It's Marlboro country."

Joey and Flipper can almost hear the National Geographic theme playing. It is the sound of 2,000 Maasai warriors, hirpling across the desert with their spears pointing of the mysterious curve of the horn of the wildebeest and of the water buffalo, of the veiled gaze of a red-nostriled mandrill monkey. It is so exciting that, one by one, the dogs overleap their back gates, which used to be impossible, but now seems ridiculously easy. There goes Ginger and Patches and Blueberry and Rusty and Boots and Flipper!

"Come, you dogs. Come, you doggies. Come, you dogs. Come on. And Joey! And Joey."

And Joey, who at this humiliating moment cannot quite get his lardy, overweight body, stuffed full of too many Cheetos and Doritos quite over that back gate. Buck has to athletically leap behind and push against his big behind, as though it were one of Yul Brynner's obelisks in The Ten Commandments.

And Joey's over. And his skirt lifts out behind him like a magic cape. And he and the other dogs are sailing, flying over the San Fernando Valley. For the first time, they look down at the humming suburban grid that was outside that back gate the whole time.

The slowly revolving orange and yellow sign of the Canoga Park Motor Inn, Canoga Park Bowl. Canoga Park Motor Inn, Canoga Park Bowl. Canoga Park Motor Inn, Canoga Park Bowl-- and the Yoshinoya Beef Bowl. And the Winnetka 5 Drive-in movie theater, which is playing Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5 again.

And Roscoe and [? Sadequois, ?] those harsh West Valley speedways over which grimy King Auto Bear shops glower. And the yellow ranch-style houses with their balding lawns, whose occupants keep using the drought as an excuse for letting everything go to pot. Occupants who eek out their sad, daily lives of quiet desperation. Prisoners of the People Magazine demographics which enslave them. Their favorite TV shows being blank cyphers, like Full House and Empty Nest. And never, in the history of Western civilization, has the nest seemed quite so empty as it does today.

But to the dogs, the suburban grid is the most fascinating thing they've ever seen. "But you think that's amazing," says Buck. "Wait 'til you are skimming with me over the ice flows of the Arctic tundra and all around you snowy mountain peaks are raising like cathedral spires. And the air is clean, Zestfully clean and manly and good." And with that, as if in a Spielberg film, the dogs sail away from it all, over the Angeles Crest mountains, disappearing in a burst of a magical star shower. Night is falling, adventure calling. Night is falling, adventure calling.

[MUSIC - "DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT (DISAPPEAR)" BY BRAVE COMBO]

Act Two.

Ira Glass

Lisa Buscani and more coming up. It's Your Radio Playhouse.

It is Your Radio Playhouse. I'm Ira Glass. All right, let's review. The stages of quitting according to Ms. Evan Harris, editor, co-writer of Quitter Quarterly. The stages of quitting. You think about it. You think about it some more. Then maybe you quit. Maybe you feel that quitting euphoria as you soar over the suburbs with your doggy friends towards Canada. But I think that it is just as likely that you do not quit. I think it's just as likely that you stay suspended in a kind of long-term, pre-quitting confusion for weeks and months. When is it time to quit? When is enough enough?

Ray

Go ahead. If you try to touch me, I will kill you in a [BLEEP] minute. In a [BLEEP] minute. Not one minute. 30 seconds.

Ira Glass

If there ever was a couple that seemed like it should quit its relationship, I would say that this one would pretty much qualify. This is Ray, the voice you just heard, and he lived for years with a guy named Peter. And these are real people. And this comes from a very unusual CD that I have here called Shut Up, Little Man. It's called that because one of them is always saying to the other one, "Shut up, little man." And the recordings were made by the next-door neighbors of Raymond and Peter. This all happened in San Francisco in the late 1980s. And as they say in the liner notes, the apartment building this took place in was built like a cheap motel and had very thin walls. I'm just going to read this.

This is the neighbors writing. "Within a week of arrival, we were exposed to what would become a dependable routine from our next-door neighbors. Evenings charged with belligerent rants, hateful harangues, drunken soliloquies, death threats, and the sound of wrestling bodies thumping against the wall that separated our apartments. They fought with a raging abandon and total disregard for everyone in the building."

The two guys, the neighbors who moved in-- Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D. are their names. They started taping Raymond and Peter. And at first, they just did this because they really thought that at some point somebody might try to kill somebody else, and they thought it would be important to have real evidence. Again, they say in the liner notes, "The first crudely-recorded session featured a monologue by Ray muttering to himself about his desire to kill. There was something so nakedly sinister about the recording that we were shocked, mystified. At the same time, it instilled in us a hunger for more."

So these two guys-- names of Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D.-- who made these recordings, say that they actually never figured out if Raymond and Peter were a gay couple or if they were just straight roommates. It is clear that homosexuality is on the minds of Raymond and Peter a lot, a whole lot. An unusual amount of time on the CD to rants about how much they hate gays. Raymond and Peter, that is. They rant about this so much that you really began to wonder, what is this obsession about? What is it about? You get that kind of methinks-the-lady-protest-too-much sort of feeling very early on. But I digress.

I bring it here onto this, our Radio Playhouse radio program today, because it includes warning signs about when it is time to quit a relationship, I think. The thing about this couple is that they get into a kind of fight that only very well-established couples or roommates or people who work together get into. And that is it's a fight which begins with the smallest fact of daily life. They literally actually get into a fight about cutting their toenails. And then suddenly everything is riding on cutting their toenails. Everybody's pride. Everybody's self-image. Everything is on the table with this life or death ferocity. When you find yourself in that situation, it's time to start thinking about, maybe I should quit this relationship.

Peter

I can see you trying to cut your toenails. I don't want to see you cut your toenails. So why would I worry about it? For god's sake, shut up, little man. I don't want to watch you cut your toenails.

Ray

I would like to have eaten tonight also, but I can't because of you talking about toenails.

Peter

You know, we've been trying to watch this TV show. Can't we watch it?

Ray

Why should you watch this, you [BLEEP] piece of [BLEEP]? All you are is a [BLEEP] queer mother [BLEEP] and you want to watch queer [BLEEP]. I don't want to watch that [BLEEP]. Don't do that. Do not do that.

Peter

What do you want us to do? [INTERPOSING VOICES] We're watching Wheel of Fortune, just--

Ray

You watch a bunch of [BLEEP] queer mother [BLEEP]. I don't want to watch queer mother [BLEEP]. I want to watch something decent, like--

Peter

Sorry. Go somewhere else and watch it then. Don't touch-

Ray

Don't you touch me. You were the one that put your hands on me. Don't do that. Get the [BLEEP] out. Get your [BLEEP] hands off me, you [BLEEP].

Peter

You go sit down.

Ray

You better get your hands off me.

Peter

Get your hands off that television.

Ray

You go to hell!

Peter

I smell like a human being. You smell like a [BLEEP] dog. You are a dog. I took a bath today. You ain't took a bath in three days.

Ray

You just stop it.

Peter

You're a stinking [BLEEP] piece of [BLEEP]. Dirty man, go to the bathroom.

Ray

[GIGGLING]

Peter

No, they don't. Go ahead and giggle. Giggle all you want to! Giggle. Giggle, dirty little man. You always giggle falsely. You don't have a decent giggle in you.

Ray

I am a decent--

Peter

Shut up, little man.

Ray

I am a decent [BLEEP] human being.

Peter

Shut up, little man. You are not.

Ira Glass

Why don't these guys quit each other? I think part of it-- and I actually think one of the most striking things about these recordings-- is the intimacy of these arguments. Arguing can be one of the most intimate things that people can do together. It's this mutually shared moment.

I'm going to play you one more cut that really illustrates this in a kind of-- I don't know if "chilling" is the right word, but it's disturbing. In the middle of a big argument, one of them is so inside the other one's head and knows so much about him that, at one point, to humiliate him, he starts to call him women's names.

Peter

Try it. Try it, Mabel.

Ray

[INAUDIBLE]

Peter

OK, Mabel. I don't attack. I don't attack, Mabel.

Ray

I'll kill you.

Peter

OK, Mabel. Try.

Ray

You ain't nothing but a [BLEEP] piece of [BLEEP].

Peter

Try, Mabel. Try, Mabel.

Ray

You try to attack me, I'll kill you.

Peter

Try, Alice.

Ray

Don't call me Alice.

Peter

All right. What do you think of Mabel? You try.

Ray

Don't try to tempt me.

Peter

You try and you're going to be done. I'm not going to attack you.

Ray

[INAUDIBLE]

Peter

I am waiting for you right here.

Ray

I came here!

Peter

Don't be a fool. Don't be a fool, little man.

Ray

I've told you that you're a--

Peter

OK, Alice. OK, Julie. Go back in there.

Ray

I have already proved that I'm--

Peter

No, you haven't proven anything, Sally.

Ray

[INAUDIBLE PHRASE]

Peter

Sally June, Abigail May, this is just too much.

Ray

You [BLEEP] piece of [BLEEP].

Peter

You can't take nobody. You're a sick little man.

Ray

I am healthy.

Peter

You're a sick little man--

Ray

You're a [BLEEP].

Peter

--who is dying from the same thing your brother died of.

Ray

Bull [BLEEP].

Ira Glass

The utter cruelty of that last comment is just breathtaking. They do talk about leaving each other on the CD, but they never do leave each other. As Evan Harris says, the stages of quitting. OK. You think about it. You think it some more. Sometimes you quit. And in their case, you just keep thinking about it some more.

Act Three.

Lisa Buscani

Part one, Work.

The morning began with weight. My head sown down to an unbearably heavy burden, pinned to the narcotic pillow. My eyes like their lids shut. Blindness would hinder my motion. My arms and legs remembered the heavy metal burned into their sense memory and refused me the grace I needed to get through the day. My body's refusal to function was in the name of survival. If I moved, that meant I would get up. If I got up, I would probably take a shower and get dressed. If I did that, I would go to work, to unspeakable, unthinkable horror.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have nothing against work per se. The concept of joining shoulder-to-shoulder with efficient, enthusiastic coworkers, discovering problems, crafting solutions, pushing onward, always onward via honest sweat of brow is attractive to me. I think of well-constructed women in business suits, the ones who really know how to tie a scarf, dashing through airports to catch that last flight to Rome, manhandling a potential empire crashing crisis, and spending an exhausted yet satisfied overnight in the company pensione.

I think of post office murals and 1950's communist propaganda. Strong, textured, geometric men in the stoic blue of the overall and the work shirt, reverently folding open the land, courageously braving the hell of the forge, lifting their ruddy cheeks and angular chins to God or government, simply, deeply, thankful for their job. That was work to me, not the salaried conflagration I went to every day.

I worked at a small trade journal in the suburbs where I handled various layout and writing tasks. It was a tiny firm, a mom and pop organization, if you will, starring Leona Helmsley as mom. The publisher was a shrunken, shrewish woman in her 50's, the kind of woman who thought the word "broad" was a badge of honor. She fancied herself the last of the old Chicago newsies, barking her wisdom from her stuffy, windowless office, her cover sticks sweating off the gin blossoms in her nose, one of an endless supply of beige stained Virginia Slims dangling from her lipless mouth.

Her motto was this-- yell, yell, and yell some more. If they're there the next morning, you've lost your touch. It was as if Satan had made a foray into human resources. She stood over my shoulder constantly, criticizing my work with raptorial fervor, waiting like a blood-mouthed hyena for the moment when I tripped up and made an error. And when I did screw up, as employees inevitably do when told they can do nothing else, she was all over me like drone bees to the queen. I was not capable of being right. The presumption that I could be right, that I could even have an opinion, infuriated her. Any argument I sputtered in my defense was dissected, mocked, and negated. After all, how can one question the wisdom of a woman who cornered the floral industry tabloid market? It was better to tip my neck open and let her drink.

As horrible as it was, I couldn't just leave. She paid me $12,000 a year. Even with a second job on weekends, I barely got by. I rarely went out anywhere. I felt like restaurants were meant for other people. The world seemed to narrow to the places where I could and could not go. My friends nicknamed me Florence Nightingale. No one could nurse a drink like I could. I bought the cheapest food possible, the cheapest clothes available, and forgot about cutting my hair. My thought process was consistently reduced to the bottom line. Basically, the job taught me one thing-- how to live a life with little or no option. And after a while, I was incapable of imagining myself in any other circumstance. Forget about my college degree and all the experience I obtained. This was how it was and always would be. If you thought about it too much, it became hard to breathe.

The breaking came when review time rolled around, two months later than she said it would when she hired me. She told me she wasn't going to give me a raise. Raises were given on merit in her office, she said. My work did not merit a raise. The room was suddenly very literally light. It was almost too bright in the room to look at her without wincing. I could hear the hum of the office lamps. I was amazed at my calm. I stood, walked to my desk, took my office keys off the chain, and walked out the door.

I did not know what I was going to do and, blessedly, I did not care. I sat quietly on the train back to the city, feeling my back muscles slowly unravel and my stomach lift six inches into my heart. The warmth started in my cheeks and spread down to my fingers, down to my feet. My lungs expanded completely, which hurt a bit. It felt like I had been swimming all day and had forgotten to breathe. I didn't mind the pain. Peace is a fine travelling companion.

Ira Glass

Lisa Buscani. More from her in a minute. But first this song from Robert Metrick, first performed in Chicago's Club Lower Lengths. You're listening to Your Radio Playhouse.

[MUSIC - "THE CALENDAR SONG" BY ROBERT METRICK]

Lisa Buscani

Part two, Love.

When we started, he and I, I was thin. My face was a diamond, all clean walls. Nothing held me back. Not my clothes, not my lack of money. I was weightless but I had control, like astronauts after they learn to swim properly in space.

Our conversations used to overlap and dovetail and interweave, and occasionally we'd stop to breathe. Great pictures of limitless futures, expensive and unfettered. That's how we talked it. I tried to break my visions down to see how to make them happen and he just made his bigger, which is one way of doing it, I guess.

When we made love, we knew how to forget ourselves. That, I'm convinced, is passion. To kiss him so hard and hold him so hard that the act itself is forgotten. And all that is remembered is skin and hair and warmth. That's a gift. That's something we kept for a long, long time.

The decline was relatively slow. Every time we fought, I took the opportunity to shift the relationship from one shoulder to another just to give myself a break and better balance. And we'd start again. I had carried us a long time. He could say that, too, I suppose.

I started gaining weight, and that seemed to be the theme of it. It became harder and harder to get down to the bone. The way we were put together began to escape me. When we made love, we suddenly knew exactly where we were and what was going on. It was one of those great sadnesses that you carry in your throat.

I couldn't quit it because this was one so easy. On the morning of the first night he stayed with me, I woke up and looked at him and found home. I could fold myself into him, into the warmth found in those deco corners.

I couldn't quit it because I had been alone much of my life. To be alone again meant an energy my aging had confiscated. And even though I was still alone with him, a future was the crumb of consolation.

I couldn't quit it because it didn't fit the only picture I had. My parents knew the necessary work of love. They were the model here. If they could work dogged for their heart, so could I, I thought.

I couldn't quit it because of winter. I can't stand to sleep alone in the cold.

The end happened several times, actually. We would inevitably hook up again and mess around. We just didn't look in each other's eyes is all. One night we were eating dinner and his smile was less than honest. And I thought, well, then this is it. I said, I've been working far too hard for far too long. And he agreed, and I wanted him to fight it, and was disappointed by how light he was. Smiling, so ready to fly. I felt light, too, but it was the way you are before you catch a cold, all unfocused and buzzing. And the chill comes from inside.

Ira Glass

Lisa Buscani.

Act Four

Ira Glass

Dwight Okita has this poem about quitting from his book Crossing with the Light. He wrote it back when he worked as a dance instructor. It's about a student he became friends with.

Dwight Okita

Somewhere in Chicago, a woman unplugs a toaster from a wall, and suddenly her apartment is empty. She wraps the cord jump rope style into a bow, lowers the appliance into a box marked "Kitchen Things," and tapes it shut. All day, boxes move past her, a brown blur against the white walls. How many men does it take to lift a woman's spirits?

"Make your arms like a barrel," I scolded, your dance instructor, fox-trotting you around the room. "Women are always walking backwards, aren't they?" you said, looking at your feet. And I spun you. "No, just going in circles." And here we laughed. In the mirrors of the dance studio, we laughed. And I saw us, lost in the fun house again. I want it always to be fun.

Now everything is loaded on the truck. She sits behind the wheel of something larger than her. "I'm going to Timbuktu and I'm taking my time," she says her hands on the wheel. "Peaches, pears, apples, plums. Tell me when your birthday comes." And I wave to her from the curb.

It paints a sad picture, this woman in a van pulling out of a driveway no longer hers. And for her, I do a farewell samba on the lawn, alone, taking the darkness in the crescent of my arms, leading it in a dance I'm just beginning to learn.

Ira Glass

"The Farewell Samba" by Dwight Okita.

And we're going to close our broadcast today with a piece by the late Philip Larkin, which seems perfect as you contemplate upcoming quits. Over the course of the next week, we're not quitting anything. I think that's what you've gotten out of this particular program. Anyway, this is called "Poetry of Departures."

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand/ As epitaph/ He chucked up everything and just cleared off,/ And always the voice will sound/ Certain you approve/ This audacious, purifying,/ Elemental move.

And they are right, I think./ We all hate home/ And having to be there/ I detect my room,/ It's specially-chosen junk,/ The good books, the good bed,/ And my life, in perfect order/ So to hear it said/

He walked out on the whole crowd/ Leaves me flushed and stirred,/ Like Then she undid her dress/ Or Take that, you bastard;/ Surely I can, if he did?/ And that helps me stay/ Sober and industrious./ But I'd go today,/

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,/ Crouch in the fo'c'sle/ Stubbly with goodness, if/ It weren't so artificial,/ Such a deliberate step backwards/ To create an object/ Books; china; a life/ Reprehensibly perfect.

Credits.

Evan Harris

There's so many famous quits. There's so many quits that have driven world history.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. See you next week with more stories of This American Life.