Love Letter to Cincinnati (#4)

Writer's Digest & HOW Books team photo
My colleagues at F+W, sometime around 2005

It will be hard to think back on Cincinnati without thinking about F+W, the whole reason I moved to the city in the first place.

It was a promising and lucky career start, even though I wanted to leave the company—and city—initially. I had dreams of joining Peace Corps or teaching English in Korea. But I stuck with F+W, because I was attached to someone else who couldn’t leave Cincinnati.

That ended up being a good thing. We tend to shine in times of dedication and consistency, even when it’s forced upon us. Maybe we can look back and feel value and accomplishment in what we did, even if it wasn’t entirely our choice.

For 10-plus years, my waking life in Cincinnati revolved around career development. This is how I’ve always preferred it, and I’ve always genuinely enjoyed my work.

Team W. D'issou (inspired by Life Aquatic)
Team W. D’issou (inspired by Life Aquatic)

As a result, my closest friends in Cincinnati are—and mostly remain—the people I worked with at F+W. Over the years, my colleagues and I discussed everything and anything, including office crushes. Mine was a guy who worked in production. I remember the first time I ever saw him. He briskly approached my desk with page proofs and pointed out mistakes I had made. I felt like a moron—as if I held the wrong job. (At the time, I’d held my editorial job for about two years.) I apologized, smiled, and promised to take care of the errors. He nodded and left without any chit-chat.

From day one, production guy terrified me. I knew I couldn’t live up to his expectations. He was going to be circling my every mistake from that day on out.

Fortunately, I changed positions, moved away from detail-oriented work, and didn’t have to endure his critical eye for long. However, the people I managed still worked with him directly. One day, my managing editor came to me in tears. Production guy wouldn’t let her make last-minute corrections on a book before it was sent to the printer, due to a new corporate policy. So I went downstairs to talk to him, and asked him to make an exception, just this once.

He stared at me in silence. I stared at him.

We stared for a good long while.

He sighed.

I promised this would be the only time I’d come begging on behalf of my managing editor.

He said this was the only time it would work.

Not long thereafter, I left F+W. Things weren’t bad, but I felt bad. I desperately wanted to be content, yet I wasn’t. So I left. It was a straightforward decision once I found another job I knew I would love: teaching at UC.

I’ve only been at UC for two years, and things have gone well. I feel good. I am content. I haven’t wished for anything else. And furthermore, Cincinnati is headed for its national moment in the spotlight. It couldn’t possibly look any better for this town, and every time I read a new article about its boom, I wonder again, “Why am I leaving?” E.g.,

It’s a strange thing to leave—a place, a job, a situation—when things are good. If you’ve found contentment and peace, what motivation is there to leave? Isn’t that asking for trouble? Why disturb calm waters?

Around the time I was deciding whether to stay or go, I happened to read an issue of one of my favorite e-mail newsletters, Be Slightly Evil, which is hard to describe, but is basically a life philosophy newsletter. Here’s a snippet of what I read.

… [A]cting for the sake of acting (otherwise known as creative destruction), and choosing churn over stability, is central to life. This is not “good” because it does not equal a belief in change as progress. But it is also not “evil” because it is not a belief in value-driven stability. Action … favors chaos creation.

To read the original passage in its original context, click here.

The concept of creative destruction goes back to the Hindu god Shiva, simultaneously destroyer and creator. Today, the term is now used regularly (and sometimes sickeningly) in business to put a dynamic, edgy spin on disruptive changes.

It’s funny how often, when speaking to people about my move, they say, “It’ll be a new adventure!” I use the same language too. As a culture, I think we tend to value adventure. Much popular entertainment is built on the call to adventure. But I’m not convinced it’s better to seek out adventure. It means saying yes to creative destruction, welcoming chaos, and hastening loss. (I’m reminded of the lyrics to a favorite Mason Jennings song: “Loss is brutal, I can’t stand it, I wonder how you can.”)

Unlike my career, my relationships (especially romantic ones) have been driven by adventure, risk, and loss; churn over stability; a continuous learning process—not just about myself, but the pattern of existence as reflected by a relationship’s beginning, middle, and end. It keeps teaching you something, long after it’s officially over. What the relationship was changes. How you see yourself changes.

I recently finished watching a series, Any Human Heart. It makes a good argument for how each of us is changing all the time. We’re never the same person twice. But it would be hard (impossible) to function if we were truly aware and cognizant of the fact.

When I left F+W for UC in 2010, I found myself all too aware of this reality. I was completely adrift and losing my center. Too much change, not enough anchor. A wild-hair notion came to me. I asked my office crush, the production guy, on a date. He said yes.

His name is Mark, by the way.

Nearly two years later, Mark has also said yes to moving to Charlottesville with me. (Don’t worry; he’ll still be working for F+W and catching editors’ mistakes.) I like the idea of our relationship overlapping cities. It feels like parts of life aren’t irretrievably gone and lost all at once. Plus, embarking on a new life in a new city as part of a partnership is a new kind of adventure for me. Charlottesville is something we’ll discover and experience together, and Cincinnati is something we’ll remember together.

Mark & Jane in Lafayette, Louisiana
Mark & Jane at the Ragin’ Cajun Boxing Club (Lafayette, LA)
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