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Martha McCully

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My Reinvention Tour

Posted: 02/13/09 01:01 PM ET

There is rain showering my bathroom floor from the ceiling. I look up and wonder if those are shingles on the inside of the ceiling? Was this bathroom originally unattached to the bungalow? Am I in an outhouse? After 26 years, I've pulled loose from the glue trap of New York City to start fresh in Venice, California. I'm trying to change my life. I've spent the first week cleaning every surface of this bungalow, shopping at TJ Maxx for the least expensive salad spinner (OXO in lime green) and borrowing a bed, lamp, down comforter, and wine glasses from friends. That's basically all that will fit in my house. It has poured every day since I arrived. (Don't most people move here for the sun?) Of course I own tens of raincoats, umbrellas, boots, and scarves in my Manhattan closet, nice ones too, but now I'm wearing a borrowed sweatshirt that says Hanalei Surf Kauai on the back. The only sense of accomplishment I've felt so far is from following everything the GPS voice tells me to do when I'm driving.

I've overheard a few friends mention Mid-Life Crisis behind my back. Is it wrong to act 23 when I'm well into my 40s? Whatever.... This is what I wanted. I decided to leave my power career in magazine publishing for many reasons, one of which was to peel back the clichéd layers of Prada bags, Etro jackets and Miu Miu heels and unearth what I should really be doing with my life. And so here I am, in a TV-less bungalow in Venice in the rain.

I had always wanted a big career. When I was young, I had no interest in dolls. Instead, I cleared out my bedroom and moved in the small oak desks from the second floor of our house. I invited friends over and we played "Boss." Everyone was into it, my friend Sarah, my cousins Carla and Lizzie. Or at least I pretended they were.

The office environment was so appealing to me: the stacks of paper, pens organized by ink color, matching folders and files, glass paperweights. At the end of Second Grade I convinced my teacher to give me all the used workbooks, just to have some "real" business materials around.

Forty years later, after having spent a quarter century in the actual work world inhabited by actual adults, I am grateful for the career experiences I've had but also think I should have probably either played with dolls more or just had a live baby along the way. That family life eluded me and I hope it wasn't a sacrifice for my career. In any case this is my life now. Both games were fun but I wanted to get into the real world and somehow my beautiful corner office in a big corporation didn't seem real to me.

I left my job a year ago, and it hasn't been so easy. And I'm not just talking about leaving behind the paycheck and free flu shot. After overseeing the creation of thousands of pages of magazines for Conde Nast and Time, Inc., and managing dozens of employees, worrying about their careers, workloads and officemates, I am on my own, juggling invoices, accountants, and my scarce entrepreneurial skills. (Not to mention I've lost most of my nest egg that gave me the courage to go.) I used to travel from subway to meeting to blow-dry to lunch to meeting to press event. I had an assistant to set up the lunch and the blow-dry, as well as manage my Amex, Cablevision and Expense accounts. I didn't have enough time for anyone really, including myself.

Now, the free time I craved for years makes me anxious, I spend way too much time on Facebook (Status Update. Martha is ...Doing Nothing!), and the quiet allows me to hear every voice inside my head, that's my mother's, two astrologers', three shrinks', and about ten boyfriends'. I'm waiting to hear my own. I vacillate between being a creative person and a businesswoman and worry I'm neither. I've heard you actually get dumber in your late 40s. This bothers me.

On a freezing New York day in January, I was in those comfy Marshall's clothes I swore I would never wear, I had just found an excellent Joni Mitchell video from 1970 on YouTube, a live rendition of "California." A friend who just lost her job emailed worrying that she would spend all day in her PJs watching YouTube. I lied and said that was ridiculous.

I definitely miss my sunny corner office with its view of Radio City Music Hall and the column of taxis up Sixth Avenue. I miss feeling productive and being around people all day. I miss the car service. I miss getting tea in the little makeshift kitchen before meetings. I miss the afternoon snacks.

It's a funny thing, security. The idea that a corporation or job can provide it seems as antiquated as the office Christmas party, air quotes, or nude pantyhose. Or even a man wearing a tie for that matter. I can't relate to the TV show The Office like I used to. Of course I'm not the only one this year who will tell you there is no such thing as corporate security. I feel oddly guilty for being ahead of the curve.

I don't miss Manhattan. I don't miss always feeling I should be doing more; or dressing up all the time; I don't miss hearing about dinner parties whether I was invited or not. I don't miss the Doom and Gloom of constant economic complaints. One friend actually called to say she was happy when the plane landed in the Hudson so she didn't have to think about Madoff for six hours.

I am working, patching small and midsize writing and beauty projects together, hoping I can make enough money consulting so that I can pay for this overpriced bungalow plus let all those latent creative ideas that will save me bubble up. I send out invoices that say "Net Terms 30 Days" at the bottom. Truth is I just thought it sounded professional; I have no idea what it means.

And so I'm in Venice, sitting on my one chair, eating salad from my one Target bowl using a fork I brought from Manhattan, hoping that I will be motivated enough to do more than Fantastik this bungalow all day long. Unless of course I want to become a cleaning lady. But then I would have to recruit my friends and start a service so I could be Boss.

 

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