Essay about an ugly-ass clock

When I think of all we lost that year — our parents, our home, our homeland — a clock shouldn’t really come up at all. It was made of green glass, angular and abstract in shape, about the size and weight of an iron. It had scant beauty or worth. I’m not sure it even kept time.

I wrote about it for Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn on their website HiLoBrow for their cool project on the significance of objects. Their words:

One in a 25-part series of nonfiction stories about lost objects. We asked 25 writers to tell us about a significant object they’d lost (or thrown away, or destroyed), then assigned these stories to 25 illustrators. We’re thrilled with the results. This is the fourth volume in the PROJECT:OBJECT series. Please subscribe to the P:O newsletter; and purchase P:O apparel and accessories — all profits will be donated to the ACLU!

Rob was once my editor at Money magazine. Rob is an author and journalist, and if you don’t know his work, you should. I don’t know why Rob asked me to contribute, except maybe he remembered me as someone who’d lost a lot of stuff. Look at the list of fancy writers:

LOST OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Alison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | Luc Sante on CLUB CHAIR (ill. Kate Bingaman-Burt) | Nina Katchadourian on FOUNTAIN PENS (ill. Lisa Congdon) | Matthew Sharpe on BAUBLE (ill. Glenn Jones) | Claire Lehmann on PEANUT-BUTTER CRACKERS (ill. Karen Kurycki) | Jessamyn West on ENGINEER RING (ill. Amanda Clarke) | Mandy Keifetz on ORGONE ACCUMULATOR(ill. Emory Allen) | Molly Sauter on DESKTOP DOG (ill. Shayna Piascik) | Amy Thielen on DOG-FUR SCARF (ill. Heather Kasunick) | Stephen O’Connor on HUNTING HAT (ill. Oliver Munday) | Alice Boone on COLLEGE NEWSPAPERS (ill. Rick Pinchera) | Dante Ramos on ROAD ATLAS (ill. Joe Alterio) | Alex Balk on SHOOTING GALLERY (ill. John Lowe) | Chelsey Johnson on NOTEBOOK (ill. Rubi McGrory) | Susannah Breslin on SILICONE VAGINA (ill. Jennifer Heuer) | Seth Mnookin on .22 REVOLVER (ill. Alex Eben Meyer) | Dan Fox on CONKER (ill. Linzie Hunter) | Lisa Takeuchi Cullen on GLASS CLOCK (ill. Rose Wong) | Michael Tisserand on WALKING SHOES (ill. Jackie Roche) | Jeff Turrentine on BASEBALL MITT (ill. Andrew DeGraff) | Randy Kennedy on SNAKE RATTLES (ill. Max Temescu).

Anyway, mine is a very short essay about an ugly-ass clock, but it’s really about my mother. Please read it if you are so inclined. (Also, and this is spooky: the drawing below by the artist Rose Wong, whom I’ve never met or spoken to, somehow replicates the damn thing EXACTLY. 😳)

What I wrote in the farewell letter when I quit my job in 2009

One thing that happens when you have big news is that you hear from people you haven’t heard from in never. For a shut-in, this is a nice change from the usual inbox garbage. It’s pleasant to be thought of, isn’t it?

If it’s someone I once knew, it’s interesting, archeologically speaking, to read the correspondence that preceded this one. That’s how I came across the farewell letter I had e-mailed to colleagues at TIME magazine when I departed in 2009.

Let me set the scene. I had worked on staff at TIME for eight years, and before that at Money for four. Which means I’d called the Time-Life Building my work home for 12 years, minus the two I spent in the Tokyo bureau. I knew everyone in the building, including the guards and the daycare workers. (Time Inc. had emergency daycare. I know!)

Time-Life Building

This is where I worked for 12 years.

I loved my job as a staff writer at TIME. I still believe it was one of the last, great jobs in journalism. (Not to mention the emergency daycare. Come on!) And yet, it was time to go.

For the last few of those years, I’d had my own blog on Time.com, one covering work-life topics called Work In Progress. It’s fair to say it had become the highlight of my job. It’s even fair to say that in writing the blog, along with my first book, I learned how to sound like me.

I had no flipping idea what I was going to do next. The TV drama I had been developing had gotten pitched and sold by my producer—without me. I had a flurry of offers—one of them, inexplicably, an on-air gig at CNBC—each for a whole lot less money, each requiring a whole lot more work.

Meantime, a lot of life stuff was going on. I’d just had my second child. Then my mother died. And my father was on his way.

What could I have been thinking, quitting the cushy job with which I kept my growing family off government cheese? What kind of farewell letter would such a desperate slob have written?

This, it turns out, is what I wrote:

“I want to let you know that I volunteered for a buyout from TIME. I shall now answer your FAQs:

Q: Why are you leaving?

A: A staff writer post at Time Inc. is one of the last, great journalism jobs, and I had a 12-year run. I’ve written about wacky funerals (which led to this book) and fried-chicken empires and how I find environmentally correct behavior a huge pain in the butt. I’ve tried absolutely every item in the cafeteria salad bar. It’s time to venture out of Rock Center.

Q: What will you do next?

A: I have one skill: writing. That’s it. I can’t add. I can’t tap dance. I can’t lift heavy objects. I’m hoping someone somewhere will pay me to write something. Limericks. Eulogies. Subtly poetic menus.

Q: What about your blog?

A: “Work in Progress,” my beloved if under-appreciated Time.com blog, shall not be reincarnated as “Out of Work in Progress.”  If you’ll indulge me, I’ll send another shameless promo when I find my new blog a home.

Q: How should I contact you with congratulatory food stamps or suspiciously lucrative opportunities?

A: Please write me at lisa dot cullen at gmail dot com. If we are not Facebook-linked, please friend me. I need friends.

I’m wishing you a very healthy, happy and rewarding 2009. Your friend, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen”

That was it. Phew.