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.