Working in an advertising agency has its own problematic rhythm to it when you’d rather be at home writing. At least, that’s what it felt like working for a high profiled media client. It’s not that the job itself wasn’t interesting—dense and repetitive, sure—but not necessarily boring. Just creatively unfulfilling and a bit scary, when I stopped to think about how the tech worked in favor of corporate interests over anything else. But when the job started giving me panic attacks, it wasn’t the work that did it—it was my manager.
I’ll never escape the way I felt after Rick first critiqued my work. He lead me into a conference room and tore everything I’d done to shreds. As someone who spent most of undergrad attending workshops, I had a thick skin for this sort of thing, but this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. There were probably fifty mistakes on a sheet that was hundreds of rows long. He raised his voice, asked if I took my job seriously (I did), and asked if I wanted make a career for myself there (I most certainly did not). I stood there quiet, nodding and seething, amazed at how adept he was at belittling me. Never mind the fact that catching these mistakes was the whole purpose of quality assurance; the simple fact that there were any was enough for him to write me off.
The relationship from then on was all downhill. He screened every correspondence I sent out for six months and line edited them with the knowledge that I had a degree in creative writing. I was humiliated. The worst of it came much later though, when he berated me in public. We were in the rec room, surrounded by board games with the door open for all our colleagues to hear. For once I defended myself, shouting right along with him. The looks I got after we left that room, fuming in separate directions, were of pained understanding. This was not going to last.
I cracked under all the pressure and disappointment. Rick was transferred to another team, but not until after the damage had already been done. I was one of only two who didn’t progress in our department, while Rick got a fancy new title, and a brand new team to manage. Things outside of work followed suit—my band broke up, and I realized I hadn’t written much of anything since graduating. I was caving in on myself, ready to implode. I spent Christmas Eve rotating between work emails and crying desperately in the basement.
Back at the advertising agency, I was suddenly accountable for more than ever before, and I was not handling it well. Rick had left his mark. Not only had I been in charge of creating the end of year campaigns, but I had to train my new manager at the very same time. Plagued by last minute creative assets and the agency’s urgency to launch everything before signing off for vacation, I misspent a quarter of a million dollars targeting iPhones instead of just Android devices. I did everything I could to hide this oversight while putting together a final report for the client. Instead of owning up to it, I reached out to friends for job leads. I would do anything, as long as it didn’t involve agency life.
Of course, the first types of jobs I sought out involved what drove me most: writing. My search brought a wide range of possibilities—copywriting positions at law blogs, staff writing for publications I admired, and even ghostwriting projects for romance novels. The reality of the situation, though, was that I had no portfolio other than my undergrad senior project—a series of personal essays I’d never published—trapped in an unused folder on my computer’s desktop. I felt defeated, powerless to enter the one career I’d always dreamed of.
My one nugget of hope was an idea I had after the holidays fizzled out, while hyperventilating on my girlfriend’s bed. Sick of trying to find new musicians on Craigslist, or pointlessly applying to writing positions, I concocted the concept for a blog named B readcrumbs Mag. I’d compose vignettes that’d connect in some way, through a shared phrase or an image, and link them back to each other. I’d encourage all the writers and artists I knew to contribute so that I wouldn’t have to do it alone. So that we could create our own trail of the work we loved outside of jobs that held little value to us.
In my feverish quest to switch careers, Breadcrumbs served as a fresh opportunity to work on something positive on the side. I’d been in digital advertising for almost three years and I’d had enough. My self confidence was shattered. I was seeing a social worker weekly to deal with suicidal thoughts. I needed a change fast, or I wasn’t quite sure what would happen. When I was offered a job in customer service for a startup where my friend worked, I lept at the chance. The work wasn’t like any of the writing gigs I had sought out, and I would be taking a sizable pay cut, but the stress factor promised to be nil. I could restore my sanity and buy time to focus on building Breadcrumbs Mag. To turn it into something more tangible than a panic attack.
For the first few breadcrumbs, before we ever had a functioning website, we operated out of a Google doc. But it expanded from there, slowly, with the help of my girlfriend, who designed our logo, and my best friend, who edited all of the work. I reached out to other friends and old classmates alike and found that they were excited to join the project. The blog grew, along with its list of contributors.
I felt proud of my own writing process and output in a way that I hadn’t since working on my senior project. I challenged myself to write a breadcrumb inspired by every submission that I received. I even kept that up for awhile, before the contributors started pouring in and it became less manageable, in a satisfying way. Collaborating on writing projects used to put me off, but this felt far more productive than starting a personal blog that I’d inevitably lose interest in. The possibilities for creation here seemed endless.
More than getting me back to my own writing, Breadcrumbs helped form a community. My girlfriend, friends, strangers, acquaintances—even my family was involved. My brother helped produce our twentyfifth post, a spoken word piece I wrote, performed by a voice actor. A culmination of our two talents in a manner I’d never dreamed of. We received illustrations, and held an event celebrating our fiftieth post—a second spoken word piece—along with the release of our first print zine, The Trail. The room was packed with familiar and not so familiar faces, so much so that some people couldn’t even fit. I felt electric.
It hasn’t all been seamless since leaving the agency for a simpler day job and my work with the blog. I was let go by the startup when management became hyperfocused on sales over customer satisfaction. I spent a month unemployed which, to be honest, was more of a blessing than a curse. A crashed file forced us to rebuild our second print zine from scratch the night before releasing it. A blizzard necessitated some last minute casting changes on our most recent radio play. A flooded basement caused us to move our one year anniversary show from the basement venue to the smaller upstairs bar of the Cake Shop in Manhattan.
But, through all of it, I’ve survived. I’ve learned how to balance that dissatisfaction out with something I’m passionate about. I haven’t been made to cry at my desk by someone who was meant to mentor me. I’ve received submissions from people all around the country. I’ve stopped waiting around for something exciting to happen to me and instead created that outlet for myself, and anyone else that’s so inclined to join me.
Bob Raymonda is the founding editor of BreadcrumbsMag.com and has work that appears on Quail Bell Magazine, Bibliosmiles, Elite Daily, and Visual Verse. His free nights are spent binge-watching too much television and warring over dominance with his cat.