New Year’s Eve, to me, always feels more like a goodbye than a hello. Even the song we have chosen to mark the passage of time, Auld Lang Syne, has a tinge of sadness to it.
Just now, after I wrote those two sentences, I received an email related to one of my freelance jobs. Although I wish I could spend most of my time focused on creative work, the truth is that my workday is spent doing a very different type of writing. I write content for e-newsletters, blog posts, and press releases for a number of companies in a variety of industries. I have done this type of work for much of my professional career, during the years when I haven’t been writing for a newspaper, managing a music business (yes, I did that for a while), or assisting the CEO of an Internet start-up.
It feels far less than glamorous or literary to admit that I make a living doing corporate-type work. But it is what it is — bills are bills, and writing essays normally doesn’t pay them. And the truth is, my time spent in the world of offices and board rooms has introduced me to some of my most important and interesting friends — for example, Rachel, from England, who was the receptionist at a weekly newspaper that I worked for in Denver; Stuart, the bass tech. for the band U2, who is English but now lives in Ireland; Joan, the author of four novels and a wonderful editor, who freelanced for one of the public relations agencies I worked for in New York, and who now lives in New Mexico; Deb, the former head of public relations for Starwood Hotels worldwide, who adopted a Russian teenager who had never had a real family; Shenxue, a computer programmer in Denver who told me about her life in China as a university student at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests; and Donille, the marketing whiz from New Jersey who had a Miata convertible with a license plate that read “Reno4Me,” in honor of her boyfriend (now husband), and who will forever be, in my mind, the ultimate Jersey Girl.
Still, I have never fit well into the corporate world, which is why I do my work as a freelancer these days. Cubicles, time cards, 9 to 5, business casual clothes — none of it ever did much for me. Now, I work in the comfort of my home office, sometimes early in the morning and sometimes late at night, in jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt or sweater, with a couple of cats roaming through the room or napping nearby. I communicate with my clients largely through email, and most of that communication goes smoothly and well.
But the email I got just now reminded me that email has another side to it — although it’s easy and convenient, it sometimes gives people an excuse to treat you as if you are not a human being, because they don’t have to face you in person.
I have never met the person who just sent me an email chastising me for not being able to re-subscribe her to an e-newsletter. She had, at one time, apparently opted out from receiving the e-newsletter, and the mailing program won’t allow me to re-subscribe her. Her response to my polite note explaining the problem, and asking if she had another address I could use, was to sarcastically doubt my veracity, and perhaps my intelligence.
I responded with a note as polite as the first one, and subscribed her with a different address. But what I wished I could say was very, very different from what I actually wrote.
I guess that’s why I like writing essays. As an essayist, you get to say what you really want to say. In fact, if you don’t write the truth — the real, honest, naked truth — the reader sees right through you.
When I started this blog post, I set out to write something poignant (and, I worried, too predictable) about the types of goodbyes we say on New Year’s Eve — goodbye to a year that will never be again, goodbye to people who have perhaps passed out of our lives, goodbye, in fact, to the people we ourselves were, during a year that will end when the clock strikes midnight.
But that email I received got me thinking. I’m thankful for the people I have NOT said goodbye to.
And I’m also thankful that with the click of a mouse, I can say goodbye to some people I’ll never have to meet. And that’s the truth.
Happy New Year.