by Amy Boulanger
I was an English major. After graduation, I spent enough time (one year) in the “real world” to feel substantially lost before returning to familiar territory. So at the tender age of 24 I entered a writing program. Life after my MFA? I had two blissful years to not even go there.
Now I’m there. I’ve been there a while. I’m not the type to hide her age. I’ll say it. I’m 32.
You drink too much coffee, question your childhood aspirations. My dad still offers advice: “Why don’t you go into nursing?”, “Heck, get a government job.”
Thirty-three is fast advancing.
I know I am a writer. But what type of writer? The job of job hunting finds me, awash in the computer screen’s glow, at times despondent, hopeful, confused–veering to bitter. Technical writer. Copywriter. SEO content writer. Is any of this me?
I grab the coffee mug and take a moment.
There are a lot of these moments.
An incense stick sends up its column of smoke. And I think back on the string of jobs. The spotty resume, padded like a saggy stuffed teddy bear–if you just put this here and affix that there, well, it doesn’t look so bad.
Retail Part I
Working in the exhibition shop at an art museum a few summers ago presented conflicting emotions, perched atop my shoulders like the lil’ angel and devil featured in cartoons.
“What are you doing with your life?”
From the other shoulder: “That paycheck covers your bills and fills your tummy with food. We like food, remember?”
I do. I like food. And knowing that the rent is paid, that I can buy that second cup of coffee around four p.m. and that cute pair of espadrilles I’ve been eyeing and the occasional Ben & Jerry’s. Tasty and creamy and cold. My mind can take a vacation, zoning out from the narcotic effects of brain freeze.
Retail Part II: Revelation
Swarms of people packed the museum–transformed into a theme park of sorts–that summer. And they spent.
The surplus of magnets, postcards, pencils, T-shirts and baseball caps, playing cards, tote bags and lapel pins scooped into plastic bags, to make the inevitable journey from hotel room to suitcase to plane, surrendering to the fate of obscurity within the sofa cushions or collecting dust between the fridge and the Formica counter.
Day after day, I faced the same questions.
Where’s the restroom? Do you have a cafeteria? Do you have this shirt in another size?
“You have nothing larger than this?” a customer asked one afternoon. She thrust a coarse cotton T-shirt–size medium–in my face.
Usually we did. In the back office which remained locked. Only managers with their ring of keys had access. That tricky task required great skill and patience to plunge into the depths, moving swiftly and surely, scattering the crowds like schools of fish. I enjoyed observing managers make the trek, a trail left in their wake, sucked up in a flash as the bodies resumed their formations.
I summoned my pleasant tone. I was sorry, I replied, however the floor items comprised all of our current stock.
“You have no larges or extra larges?”
I explained. Shirts are popular. Large crowds. Dwindling supply. The next shipment–days away.
She slammed the shirt on the counter. “I don’t live here,” she said. “I really wasn’t expecting to come back.”
I suggested she check the museum website. She might order the shirt in the size she wanted.
For a shimmering second, it seemed to work.
I was wrong.
“You know, it’s really not the same thing,” she said. She made sure to give me The Eye before storming off.
Her fixation on a material thing rather than the experience itself troubled me. I imagine her, years from now, sharing vacation pictures and still stewing about that horrible museum, the ineptitude of the staff. Vacation ruined. My orchestrating a conspiracy to remove all larger-sized T-shirts from the store on the day of her visit.
Oh, I know. Don’t take it personally. You brood a bit, mull over the million snide things you could have said. Then you get on with your life.
Back then, I’d succumbed to the abyss of “searching for career.” I was seeking validation. See? I’m a writer!
Except I barely wrote. Searching the night sky for a sign in the stars. Waiting for opportunity to plop its head in my lap.
I spent so much time moping over my monotonous, minimum-wage job. In my free time, I should have been writing.
Being a writer–here it comes!–doesn’t necessarily need to arrive through your day job. It happens by sitting at your computer and writing.
Amy Boulanger is a writer and avid coffee drinker (black, a sprinkle of cinnamon). She has been nominated for The Best New American Voices (2006) and listed among the Top 25 Finalists for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest in 2010. She holds a BA in English and an MFA in Writing.