Notice to Quit

Two days ago, I arrived home to find two missives stuck in my front door. The first was a lovely message from neighbors inviting me for drinks before a bookstore reading that night. The second was not so lovely: I’d been served with a 30-day Notice to Quit, the first stage of eviction proceedings.

The legal notice wasn’t altogether unexpected –  for various (good) reasons, I’ve been unwilling to sign a lease for the upcoming year, and I knew that the owners weren’t happy that I’d opted to go month-to-month.

But “not unexpected” isn’t the same as “totally fine.”  I could feel my whole body clenching as I thought about what came next.

By the time we got to the bookstore, I’d calmed down a bit, bolstered by my neighbors’ warmth and concern, as well as their canapés. Still, I was feeling no small distress when I bumped into my writer friend Cathi (on break from her own author tour for her terrific new novel Gone).

“That’s great for your blog!” was her wry response, after my story spilled out.

The words caught me by surprise — and the surprise itself surprised me. She’d reminded me of something I already knew. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the power of writing to transform painful experiences. I’ve written about it here and also here and here. It’s not a goal I set out to achieve but something I’ve simply watched happen. A wonderful and mysterious creative alchemy.

But this time, that go-to strategy had totally eluded me. I couldn’t help being curious about why that was.

We grow through stretch-not-break challenges. That was one of the first thoughts that came to mind, an idea gleaned some years back in an adult psychology class. Too few challenges? We stagnate. Too many? We get overwhelmed.

Legal proceedings are stressful in the best of circumstances, and for me the push to move tops off a number of other stressors. A sick cat. Sick me. An ongoing search for work. The more I thought about this, the more things fell into place. That I’d stall out when confronted with another big challenge makes total sense.

Accepting – making peace with – this fact feels like a first step forward. Stress is hard. Stress takes a toll. That’s a fact of life. Feeling unmoored and being slow on the uptake, is simply cause and effect. So that’s what I’m sitting with, this sense of how things are. I have no idea what comes next, but this is where it starts.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

14 thoughts on “Notice to Quit

  1. I remember receiving those notices – that sinking, empty sensation…They don’t call it the ‘pit’ of your stomach for nothing.

    We have an ongoing struggle with a neighbour – I won’t bore you with the details – and the trickiest thing is pushing myself to look at us and our pesky demands from her perspective. We do force such weights of interpretation onto events or actions that probably can’t sustain them in the greater scheme of things.

    But leaving a house always involves a certain amount of mourning and traveling through that passageway to acceptance, like any other change…

  2. Dear Amy,

    This resonated, particularly, for me—as I am sure you can imagine. More than once I, and my friends and family, have used the term A Perfect Storm…. to describe the events of the past couple of years. A different form of being unmoored of course—with a different set of stressors—some easier and some harder to address. You are remarkably resilient, on so many levels, so though I am concerned for you, I am not worried—and I very much look forward to the next blog post on the topic, and the next and the next. look at it this way, perhaps, you have added more suspense to Plan B Nation! You have become—for the time being only we hope —a page turner in the tradition of the suspense-memoir. :)

    • Thank you, Betsy! I love that way of looking at it — I am writing a *different kind of suspense novel* these days, and one in which I’m playing the starring role. :-)

  3. Occasionally I think about whether we have a natural set-point, where we’re comfortable with what we can control in our lives and what we can’t. Thinking back to when I lost everything (business, house, man, etc.) in late 2001, it wasn’t so much the lack of resources or disruption of every facet of my life. What most drained me was the lack of control I had over anything happening around or to me. Amy, I wonder to what extent, on the one hand, you’re trying to get maintain or gain traction and on the other are confronted with a piece of paper with the power to redraw your everyday life.

    • Absolutely. The question of how to make peace with having little control over much of life is a big part of what animates my writing of Plan B Nation. And, perhaps paradoxically, thinking — and writing — about these things is a huge source of meaning for me. Great to see you here. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment!

  4. This was really helpful for me to read today, Amy. I wish you peace, health and renewed energy as you search for the right place to move and pack up. I hope the move brings you to a really joyful place.

    • I’m so glad you found it helpful, Cathy! Thanks so much for reading, taking the time to comment, and of course, for the good wishes. :-)

  5. Both are true. It is 100% true that this hurts. I’ve never known a notice to quit not to hurt. It’s the stuff of Dickens (Charles, not Emily for those in Northampton!) It’s also 100% true that you are becoming a different person. I can’t say I know anyone who would not be impacted by this. That perfection ideal of “some would not be” is not helpful, and it’s a way to belittle our own journey. Or at least it is for me. You have gone further in your journey, and would know about your own heart.

    And you have the tools and talent to address it: sit with it, breathe, clear your mind and see what needs to be mourned and what things open up. Make your lips smile as much as you can. Do what you can to have self-compassion. A lot of it.

    I realized that self-compassion was what I am missing. I’m invisible to myself often. Stuff happened this week, and I am engaged in a complicated act of standing up to my perfectionist, others could do it better, self-belittling ego.

    Why today? I got my own notice-to-quit of sorts. To quit denying the impact of the pain of others’ actions on me!

    Here’s my brief story: This week I was mugged on FB (an imposter who trolled my friends for fake solicitations). This brought up past trauma – times when I’d been mugged both physically and emotionally. My mind put parts of the trauma here and there in different areas and stored them there so I’d not be overwhelmed, apparently.

    The FB response to this ongoing criminal behavior was to send me a note that it would take 20 days to resolve the issue. That’s an outrageous response when my friends and I are getting mugged in real time. No bank does this when you report theft, and FB seems to be much more capitalized than most banks!

    Guess what: those times in my past where I was mugged I found a lot of outrageous behavior from people who were empowered to stop the mugging. Additional retriggering.

    I finally wrote a high official at FB with the security team’s letter and said essentially, “I’m a single mother with a start up spending valuable time chasing a criminal that you all have allowed to feast on me and my friends. GET OFF MY NUTS.” (well, I didn’t say that; my teen sons wanted me to say that.) No answer from the exec but within 12 hours the imposter was off the site.

    Today I went down to a lake, took off my shoes and socks, and in the grass did yoga to rebalance my chi. I smelled the grass. I listened. I looked at nature and asked what it had to teach me.

    The answer: I feel that the solution to the external world is to truly care and love me, even when life is outrageous and offensive. So today after I finish this post its off to self-compassion affirmations so I can see and care and love me in the midst of the many things I can and can’t control.

    This is very complicated stuff. It’s not straight up. I hope you are able to take care of yourself the best you can.

    • So many wonderful things here, Allegra, thanks so much for taking the time to share them. You got me thinking about how the Notice to Quit — distressing in itself for practical reasons — likely also conjured other metaphorical Notices to Quit I’ve received at other times in life. Havi Brooks, one of my favorite online presences, often says: “Now is not then.” (It can, of course, be a challenge to separate the two.)

      And yes, yay for self-compassion! Life is unbearable without it.

      • PS: So glad you got the imposter taken care of — such an upsetting experience on a number of different levels.

  6. Another great post Amy. I understand the concept that too many stressors can overwhelm – the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. That one would have an emotional response — in the extreme one might think “I’m being evicted. I’m going to be homeless. I can’t deal with this now.” — instead of a reasoned one, such as immediately taking steps to plan the relocation (find place, start packing, etc), is not unexpected. What interests me is how one develops the resiliency to hear something like your friend’s comments and move from the emotional stress response to a pragmatic plan of “What’s next?” I don’t think that we can eliminate stress. As someone who tends towards the control-freak end of the continuum, I hate that I can’t control everything and must remind myself that it is unrealistic to think that I can eliminate all my stressors. What each of us must do is to figure out what tools can help us recognize and move beyond the emotional and physiological responses in a healthy manner, especially in the event that we don’t get the timely nudge in the right direction from an outside source like a good, insightful friend.

    • Yes, yes, yes! I love everything you say here, Anne. Your point about being interested in *how* we develop resiliency is one that really resonates with me. One of my main interests in thinking about Plan B Nation is unpacking the notion of resiliency — very much as you describe it. It’s definitely harder to bounce back when you’re tapped out and resource-deprived.

    • I’m definitely thinking of you as I go through this, Molly. Very impressive how you navigated your own transition. Was that just last summer? Hard to believe.

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