My Perfect Job

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.

16 responses to “My Perfect Job

  1. lovesturtles4

    Lovely reflections. R

    On Wed, Mar 3, 2021, 1:15 PM the Art of Practice wrote:

    > Lesley Howard posted: ” 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 packi” >

  2. As it happens, that is one of my favorite stores! And, I still recall you telling me how you wrote down something someone said in a public meeting – not because it was the right to say but because it would make good material for dialogue! Writers live and breathe being a part and apart – in different ways on different days. I love this. And I love that you have chosen to be a part of our town in this way. You have a writer’s eye and ear and heart.

    • Lesley Howard

      Thank you for this–it’s one of my fav. stores, too (obviously!)–what I didn’t write about (yet) is how terrific the owner is. It’s lovely to work for a full-fledged human who has the freedom to flex rather than be bound by institutional rules.

  3. Elizabeth Crone

    This is wonderful! How can writers write without the experience of interacting with humanity? Congratulations on your perfect job and on your writing successes!

  4. Les, I love reading about your perfect job. You get it! I get it. You have positioned yourself to serve and in your serving you are richly rewarded in ways that you put so well into words. Thank you ! My heart is warmed.

  5. I love this. I can imagine that it would be very satisfying and aesthetically pleasing to be around all that paper.

    My writing report is…mixed. I’m working on a performance piece that, interestingly, is about they pursuit of one’s sense of purpose. However, the book, well,… … …

    I’m back in residence virtually at Virginia Tech right now and am hoping that will lead to a physical journey when safe. I’d love to see you when that happens.

    • Lesley Howard

      Woo hoo for virtual residency and when it “gets real” please do reach out. I would love to see you! I have a wee guest room with a separate entrance you could use 🙂

  6. Many years ago, my younger son wanted to be a mechanic, so I researched vocational programs. My (mostly academic) friends were HORRIFIED, exhibiting the worst classism I’ve encountered outside of a Dorothy Sayers novel! If YOU love the job, that’s the best recommendation there is. I’m just glad you found one you like so well, and are so well-placed in! “I can give them clarity and reassurance” ~ who doesn’t need that? And how many of us can say we provide that to utter strangers, in this time when we each need it so badly??

    • Lesley Howard

      Oh man oh man I hear you re: the classism. And then we bemoan the lack of skilled tradespeople. Lordy. And thank you for reflecting back to me re: the importance of providing the bit of clarity/reassurance I’m doing. Somehow it sounds better when you say it.

  7. I love this story! It’s very uplifting, the ways you’re able to ease the worries of people, and also share in their excitement. It does sound like an interesting job! Thank you for the attention and care you give to others!

  8. Susan Morikawa

    Isn’t it interesting to find a perfect job, and how often it’s not what you thought it would be!

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