My laptop was fixed in a matter of hours. I sent it out Monday night. It arrived in Memphis on Tuesday morning; it got its new top case by lunch; it was sent back for early a.m. delivery before I got back from work. Wednesday morning it was back home. I didn’t pay a cent, not even for shipping. All that angst, all the plans for productivity on paper, plus the allowances to sleep in late… well, thanks to Apple being incredibly efficient—really, thank you!—I didn’t get to try my experimentation with the good old-fashioned pen. I’m sure it’s fun and all, but I sure do like having this laptop back. And the new top case came with a new keyboard… such soft, luscious keys. I swear the keys are even better than they were before. What spring! Anyway, do I have anything to show for this?
I didn’t write.
Instead, I’ve been thinking.
I had a conversation with another writer who works in a non-creative, repetitive job just like mine. Our job is to be perfect—no joke—our job is to find other people’s mistakes while being sure to not make any of our own. It is an impossible job, really, if you think about it.
Anyway, this other writer said she feels squashed, her true nature—the creative person she really is—squashed under the unending details that we must pay attention to in this job. To check ISBNs, that at once meaningless yet immensely significant string of numbers used to identify every book sold in stores. Books could not sell without those numbers; therefore those numbers must be correct; but do you realize there are people bent over desks with pencils clasped in their cramping paws checking those numbers digit by digit, the zeros and 978s and hyphens in just the right spots swimming in their muddled brains? She hates checking ISBNs, she told me. How is this her life? It’s not just the ISBNs that are squashing her, but the idea of pushing so much of her personality aside to be who she is when she is doing this work. She doesn’t know if she can do this anymore. She’s exhausted, immensely exhausted.
Do you think I am talking about myself, that “Other Writer” does not exist and she is really me pining away at my desk, staring longingly out the window at my very own brick wall?
Other Writer is not me.
She does exist, I promise you, though her feeling of being squashed rings true to me; how could it not? I do have to be someone else to be at my job. But that’s how it’s been for me in every job. Worse were jobs where I was expected to be more social. I was a terrible reporter, having to ask searching questions of strangers. I was a horrendous salesgirl, very lucky to not be working on commission.
I don’t mind the ISBNs; they aren’t squashing me to a pulp, not yet.
Besides, we are all squashed, I tell myself. Though I do believe there are people out in this world who get paid to do what they love. We have heard of those mythic beings; they’re not all Hollywood actors and pro surfers. (Are they?)
I hope I can last at this, I said to Other Writer.
And she said, You will. You have your mornings, where you get up early to write.
And I nodded.
And looked away guiltily.
Because not one morning this week did I get up early to write.
Let’s change that, okay? Next week.