I’ve landed the perfect job: helping people ship their documents and packages at a small independent store. It offers a place for people to drop off their returns to Amazon, faxing, copying, envelopes. Anyone can drop off their extra bubble wrap or packing peanuts, and we’ll re-use it. We also sell boxes of all shapes and sizes, packing paper and tape. We ship for auction houses and Virginia Tech departments. We rent mailboxes. I’ve wrapped everything from a seven-pound box of homemade cookies (to someone’s 90 y.o. mother who “doesn’t like to share treats”) to immigration forms to bull semen.
Every person and every package is interesting in one way or another, but most interesting to me in my first months is the response of acquaintances when they see me behind the counter. One of these spoke with a tone of shock and disbelief when they saw me. “You’re working here?” As if the shop were a smelly, sticky thing on the sole of their shoe. “How is your writing?”
I felt defensive. In 2021, working behind the scenes to ship packages isn’t prestigious–but writing is, at least to some folks. And if you can write, why would you work in a store? Although most of my peers recognize the gift of behind-the-scenes services, not many of us join the ranks of those serving. And our unconscious bias about worthy work slips out when they see me, one of their own, in that role.
Francis Assisi is credited with saying “[f]or it is in giving that we receive,” and this job manifests that: every day, a half-dozen people walk in worried, confused, or anxious, and I can give them clarity and reassurance. In return I have the tremendous privilege of witnessing the full range of our humanness: lonely and wanting to talk after we’ve finished packing their box; grateful and wanting to tip me after I’ve collected their package at the door; frustrated with bureaucracy that requires 20+ page faxes; eager to receive the 25 laptops they’ve won at a surplus auction; giddy at sending the “perfect!” birthday gift to a best friend.
So how is my writing? Pretty good. I received an honorable mention in Zoetrope’s short fiction contest for a story I finished during the pandemic, and I have another two stories in second-draft stage. I have a monthly online critique group, I’m trading weekly accountability goals with another writer friend, and I write with my nephew via Zoom every Wednesday. And when I sit for my pretty-regular-but-not-perfectly-so daily writes, my pages are crowded with the riches of the hours I spend helping people ship packages.
May it be so for you, too.
Both my sons are out of the house, mostly, so now the “art” of practice isn’t about finding time to write between the particulars of parenting. Now the art of practice is making sense of the unfolding of the writer-self I carried beside, beneath, above and below my parenting-mothering-self. This is an interesting unfolding; to carry the metaphor perhaps too far, I thought the unfolding would look like a beautiful blanket of time and I would just wallow in its soft warmth and write.
Bwahahahaha says the goddess. How about I gift you with an inability to see your way through to fixing your marriage because you think he’s unreasonable, and then, once you’ve settled into a new rhythm of amicable separation and relatively happy singledomness, put a new person on your path, who reveals to you the extremely uncomfortable truth that you were fifty-percent the unreasonable reason the marriage wasn’t fixable? Howzabout you let someone’s offhand comment (“the reason marriages fail is people don’t know how to compromise”) tie you up in knots rather than forgiving yourself for your flaws and failures? Howzabout your Dad dies and executing his estate takes up most of your days for the better part of a year and your writing grinds to a halt? Howzabout the universe doesn’t have any paying work for you (the goddess is nearly peeing her pants with laughter here: you opted to stay home to raise kids so obviously you’re unqualified to answer the phones, or file papers)? Howzabout your younger son needs major surgery and then there’s a pandemic?
Howzabout everyone’s heart is broken and everyone is suffering and art has no point and you’re gonna die soon anyway and obviously if you were serious about being a writer you would have a body of work already published, so why bother? Bwahahahaha!
Bwahahahaha indeed. It’s the best and perhaps only option. This week I’m laughing at my attachment to my run streak … on my meditation app. I’m laughing at how the mice are coopting my fabulous blown-in insulation to build their nests in my shed, leaving their little turds EVERYWHERE. I’m laughing at how my attempt at going green by line-drying my clothes results in clothes smelling like mildew, resulting in my re-washing those clothes in bleach and hot water, thereby canceling out the energy saved by line drying. I’m laughing at how my existential despair about climate change is offset by my blatant joy at basking in the sun in November. I’m laughing at the words that came out of my mouth when a pal asked why I wasn’t blogging:
“I’m afraid I might offend someone,” I said.
She looked at me quizzically. “So?”
BwahahaHA!, says the goddess: you’ve forgotten the most basic rule for practicing any creative act at any time. Show up. Do it anyway.
May it be so.
Despite forgetting how to bwahahaha, my story “A Mother’s Modulated Reckoning” appeared in the terrific new online publication, Leon Literary Review earlier this year. Onward!
Today I spent fifteen minutes in my garden, plucking weeds from betwixt and between the tiny sprouts of lettuce and spinach. I hadn’t intended to weed but when I walked past my modest patch on the way to feed the birds, lo! Little lettuces and spinach poking up! Locked in earthy combat with weeds!
It was mid-March when I planted these seeds. Two varieties of lettuce: “Deer Tongue” and “Sweet Valentine.” The spinach is “Long Standing Bloomsdale.”
I’ve been racking my writerly brains for a Sweeping Metaphor about how the mid-March Lesley who planted the seeds connects to and embodies the early-May Lesley; how the history-making weeks between these manifests some great Insight or Truth.
I got nothin’. I can’t do better than observing that seeds hew to their innate seed-ness with quiet grace and aplomb. So I’m following their lead, trying my best to hew to what feels innate to me and to act with quiet grace and a soupçon of aplomb.
So far this includes
feeding the birds, and
A journal entry I nevereverever want someone else to read. Suzi Banks Baum introduced me to this technique.
painting teeny tiny watercolors every day.
This is enough for now.
May you, too, find a daily act … and manifest it with grace and aplomb.