I just updated my resume and unlike the last update, I actually like what I see. I’ve come to the realization that I am a very poor artist. I’ve worked with some great people writing copy on things I’d never thought I’d be writing about (greeting cards?), but man oh man, I can’t find a thing that pays anything close to a “living wage”. Maybe the term itself is dubious, if I weren’t making a “living wage”, I suppose I’d be dead. I get about 1 meal in a day and 6 cups of coffee (thanks for the Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts gift cards, everybody!). My diet makes me jittery and hungry, scraping by on about $3.00 a day, but not dead. Maybe I think way too much about the damn term.
I don’t mind writing about whatever pays, so long as I’m not defending something I don’t wish to defend. Thankfully for me, Prudent Publishing was a very green company who strived to create a relaxed and enthusiastic environment for employees. Sitting in a cubicle staring at words and writing all day, while a passion of mine, can get tiresome really quickly. I once watched a speech by Monty Python alum John Cleese where he spoke about the creative process; he offered some words of advice for creative people, most importantly “spend 2 hours a day on the creative process, nothing more.” Unfortunately the U.S. employee, a workday can be 8, 9, or 12 hours long, and it’s expected to have something creative and meaningful to say throughout the day. It’s not very realistic.
I was busy most days, but when I wasn’t and didn’t have a word to write I’d cut out characters, tape them to pens, and perform plays for coworkers. Hamlet and Jaws went over pretty well, got a standing ovation. Sometimes I’d write emails to coworkers about personal details about my life, what I’d learned so far, and moments where I was taken by surprise by the beauty in some souls. They made two coworkers tear up, boosted moral in the workplace, and gave people hope beyond a temporary position.
It’s 2014, I’m about to be 28 years old, and I need to write. My mind is on making my happiness a priority, my talent a truth. My feet are running like the wind but there’s some fog of unknowing in my way.
Anyway, it wouldn’t be proper to tell and not show, so here’s an email that went around the office that I had written about treating others with respect, sincerity, and about beauty from unlikely places:
I used to work in a mall café, drifting between making drinks for condescending luxury boutique employees and my own mind getaways. Each shift brought a new reason to dislike the job, a new feeling of cold callousness from people who thought themselves better than us. Like me, my coworkers floated from their dreamy thoughts and fell hard on unmopped tile floors engrained with spilled espresso beans.
“You know my drink … just make that for me.”
“Sorry, what was it again?”
“Ugh. Really? I come here every day! How can you not know my drink? I can’t believe this!”
Every shift went like this; my coworkers and I would pass glances to each other weaved with words we chose not to say. Mixed with the line of retail workers, a young girl would come in after school for her frozen drink and study at a table in the dining area. We usually made small talk; her name is Sophie and she went to a nearby academic high school, but nothing more than personal broad strokes. She became something to look forward to; a light in a sea of dark suits. Weeks passed, the line never died, and we were always exhausted.
Around the holidays I had found myself in a bit of an emotional rut. Family members had passed away, I crashed my car, and one of the luxury retail employees stole my coat in the middle of December. I was cold, alone, angry, and sad. I only felt a mixture of negative energies, I could feel them permeate through my body and keep people away from me. I turned myself into a rock and refused to budge.
One day, Sophie approached me while I was on my way out for the day.
She handed me an envelope.
“…but don’t read it until you get home. Promise? Merry Christmas.”
She threw me, I had no idea what to say other than, “uhh … yeah, sure. Thanks! Merry Christmas Sophie!”
When I got home I tore open the top and took out the sheets of paper, 5 in total, written front and back. Sophie wrote about first meeting me, about what it was like to talk to me, about how she felt better about herself because I treated her decently. Sophie was having a hard time in school; she was a victim of bullying. Each day she came to the café for relief, a way to escape her own reality as I had done only in my mind. I never gave her words of advice, I never said anything filled with the enlightenment of Buddha, or Muhammad, Christ, Jack Kerouac, or Bob Marley. Each page emphasized how by just being nice and treating her like a human, she could again grow her wings singed during the day by cruel teenagers. The next time I worked and saw her I gave her a hug and thanked her for the most beautiful thing anybody’s said to me. Likewise, she was unsure of how her words had such an effect on me; she was just being nice. She was unaware that my wings were singed, too.
I eventually left the job, Sophie eventually stopped coming in. We follow each other on social media and talk occasionally, but offer each other nothing more than small pleasantries and pats on the back. Our time spent in each other’s lives was brief but is still something I reach for when I get sad, depressed, angry, or negative. We taught each other something from our talks, something simple and profound, something I try to incorporate into every interaction with those I’m fortunate enough to meet: Be nice to everybody because you never know what they’re going through. It’s become my mantra and has gifted me with meetings with amazing people sharing incredible stories. We’re all in this together and we certainly choose how it plays out for each other, too.