“A winner never quits and a quitter never wins.” This is what my high school coach said to me when he thought I wasn’t playing up to my potential, which was often. Even back then I suspected this was a false choice, this notion of dividing the world into two distinct halves—with winners on one side and quitters on the other. But for him this message extended far beyond the sport. If you gave up on something then you weren’t just a loser on the field, you were a loser in life. Being called a loser didn’t bother me—that once-powerful insult had been defanged from overuse in the halls—but I knew I didn’t want to be a quitter. “Quitter” was a word that had retained its venom, a word that could never be mistaken for a compliment, especially the way he directed it towards me.
At the other extreme was a friend who had churned through over a dozen jobs in three years. Every time I’d see him he’d go into great detail about his latest epic quit in which he stormed out with a bang or vanished with a whimper. As someone pretty hung up on quitting, or at least trying to preserve good work references, it was a window onto another world. Each one of these uplifting narratives followed a familiar structure, winding around through a monstrous restaurant hell before emerging out the other side. There was a lot of dark comedy in that hardship, but every story ended with the happiest of endings—somebody saying yes to change. Mostly they were just fun to listen to.
As a society we have a complicated relationship with quitting. Many of us are brought up to believe it’s a show of weakness and deserving of the dark feelings of personal failure that often ride along with it. I hope we can find more pleasure in listening to these stories. I am particularly interested in exploring the fertile ground where tragedy and comedy coexist so intimately. We have all been there, in this place. We are quitters, all of us.
Eric D. Anderson’s writing has appeared in AGNI, Painted Bride Quarterly, Perigee, Giant Robot, and Wild Quarterly, among other publications, and his pieces “The Instructions” and “Strawberry” were both named by StorySouth as Million Writers Award Notable Stories. He is the also the director of Way of the Puck, a feature-length documentary about professional air hockey, and the editor of The Rituals (therituals.net), a soon-to-be-launched website devoted to obsolete cocktails. Eric lives in Los Angeles.