Help Me, I’m Bored: NaNoWriMo Challenge

I have been writing fiction since I was twelve. I have also kept some form of a diary for as long as I can remember.  However, I can also count on one hand the number of diaries I actually finished.  The answer is three.  And one of them was this year.  I also have four partially written journals lying around my flat right now, and probably three back home in Chicago.  On top of that, I have on my external hard drive at least six different stories I had started and eventually abandoned.

Does this make me a bad writer?  I don’t think so.  If anything, it just makes me a flighty writer.  Some of those unfinished pieces are ones I started when I was fourteen.  Now, I’m no S.E. Hinton–who wrote The Outsiders when she was a mere sixteen–so when I look at those stories now, I can’t help but laugh.  They are my sad attempts at being the female J.D. Salinger.  There’s unnecessary cursing, and even a few “phonies” thrown in for good measure.

And when I look at them, I completely understand why I stopped.  I was running out of steam.  When I was fourteen, I would have been the master of the short-story.  I didn’t understand how to correctly map out a story.  I just wrote what I thought sounded good, had the action start quite early in the novel, and then plateau and fizzle out.

I would also just bore myself with the story.  If I was bored creating my own tales and characters, why the hell would anyone else want to read them?  So I would chuck it, and instantly begin a new story.  I was also very Harriet the Spy with my writing, hiding my notebooks and laptop screen whenever my parents, friends, or other family members came into the room.  I didn’t want them to see my writing.  I was very self-conscious.  Well, I still kind of am, but not as severely as when I was younger.

Now, I share quite a bit of my work with friends more than family.  Mostly because sometimes I feel like my family doesn’t really understand why I want to be a writer.  They have never read any of my stories, seen me write in public, or heard me acknowledge a story I am working on.  I think when I decided to go to the University of Greenwich for creative writing my family was like, “What? When did you suddenly become a writer?”

But I digress.  I started Librocubicularist to get me into the habit of 1. writing more frequently, and 2. sharing my writing with strangers.  After I finished my dissertation on young adult fiction and worked on about 10,000 words of my creative project, (days since), I knew I wanted to keep going with it.  (days since) is about nineteen-year-old Adelaide Fitz and her struggle with grief a year after a car accident killed her older brother, Nat, just a few months before she started college.  Nat’s death causes Adelaide to struggle with school, making friends, keeping relationships, and being herself.  But as the one-year anniversary of Nat’s death draws near, she has no choice but face her problems.  And when Nat’s old roommate, Zander,  lands on her doorstep one summer day, Adelaide begins to realize that she cannot shut the world out if she ever wants to feel somewhat normal again.

So  yeah, that’s a short–and not very good–summary of what my novel is about.  And I have been working really hard to keep on writing, and surprisingly, I am not getting bored with it.  I have plotted it, outlined it, built character development charts, everything.  To be honest, this is the most amount of time and effort I have worked on a single piece, and I am proud of it.  With NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in just two days, I am getting pushed even further to get (days since) off the ground and fully in motion.  As of now, I have a bit over 20,000 words written and edited.  By the end of November I want to have at least 50,000.  And I really think I can pull it off.

Wish me luck!

Halloween: The Good, The Bad, But Mostly The Ugly

In case you missed it, I love fall.  And Halloween is the best thing that has ever happened to the world and the sole reason I binge eat candy once a month; I am preparing my body for the forthcoming goodness of candy, just like Takeru Kobayashi before a big eating contest.    I might even be eating Twizzlers while composing this blog post.  Am I, or aren’t I?  (I so am.)  Halloween is awesome.  Dressing up, getting free candy, carving pumpkins, watching scary movies, apple picking, raking leaves, wearing sweaters, hot apple cider… Sorry, I just went off on a fall tangent there.

Some of my best memories are from Halloween.  Like how for one of my brother’s first Halloweens, we dressed him up as Frankenstein’s monster.  We painted his face and a cut up shoe box (to give him a boxy head, duh) green and added stitches, blood, and even bolts.  He looked good.  But when he looked in the mirror, he began to cry.

“What’s wrong?” my mom asked him.

His tears made his green make up start to run a bit and he looked at us.  “I’m so scary!” We then began laughing, and eventually he did too and then we got tons of candy and laughed and ate it all and became just all-around happy.

And the time we went trick-or-treating in Disney World when I was eleven?  Yeah, nothing beats that moment.  Going through the park in our costumes, getting candy from Disney princesses and going on Space Mountain 10 times in a row.  With candy.  Did I mention the candy?  What can make Disney World better?  Halloween.  That’s what.

Or the year we went trick-or-treating in the rich neighborhood and received the king-sized bars and even a whole caramel apple.  I think that was the same year that my parents dropped my brother and me–along with my godfather’s two sons–off at this Halloween block party because they wanted to go to some adult Halloween party with booze and stuff.  But when we were there, there was this little boy who was staring at my brother for an uncomfortably long time.  He was following us around the block party and staring at my brother.  We all knew he was staring.  He knew that we all knew.  It was weird.  So my brother then slowly turned his head, made eye contact with the boy, and screamed: “STOP STARING AT ME!”  The boy then ran away, we began laughing uncontrollably, and moved on to go jump around in the moon bounce while simultaneously eating lollipops.  The adult supervision was extremely lacking at this Halloween block party.

But later, while we were decorating pumpkins, this man walked up to my brother–with the little boy who was rudely staring, and began chastising him.  “My son tells me you yelled at him for looking at you.”

My brother, cool as can be answered.  “Well, no.  He was staring at me, not looking at me, and it was quite uncomfortable.”

“Maybe he was just admiring your cap.  It’s a nice cap you got there.”  He actually called my brother’s baseball hat a cap.  Yeah, this is the kind of people we were dealing with.

“I’m sorry, but he was not looking at my cap.  He was staring at my face.  It was creepy.”

The dad kept pestering my brother that he began getting annoyed.  “Look, he was staring at me.  You should teach your son not to stare at strangers.  It’s rude.”  And then we got kicked out of the block party and we walked back to my godfather’s house, laughing at the encounter and eating all of our large candy bars.

But with all good things, there are still bad moments.  And yes, I have some bad Halloween moments.  I guess, I will start from my youngest moments onward.  So here they are.

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Making Friends: Post-Grad Edition

When I first came to London, I was studying for my MA in creative writing.  I was living close enough to campus that I was around people my age every day.  But as soon as I finished school and moved into a new flat, things got harder.  Sure, those solid friends I made were great, but they also were international students like myself.  So when the school year ended, many moved back to their home countries.  I, the little rebel that I am, decided that I wanted to stay a bit longer.

But I am in uncharted waters now.  I’m living in a city on my own.  And I only leave my house to go to work, grocery shop, or take the bins out every Wednesday morning.  Yes, I do have the tendency to be a bit awkward.  If you asked me if I spent 2/3rds of a party I went to two weeks ago in a corner drinking by myself awkwardly until the only person I knew arrived, I would say yes.  Yes this has happened.

Picture this: me, dressed up in fancy dress–no beat-up Converse low-tops in sight–surrounded by people that A) are older than me, and B) all know each other in some way or another.  I, however, knew no one.  Causing the pathetic drinking alone in a corner.  How else was I supposed to cope?  Talk to these people?  Aha, no way.  I think the bar is calling me.  It is times like these when I really believe that I just might have what it takes to be an English convert.  If I can’t do something, just drink away the issue.  ALCOHOL ALWAYS HELPS!  I would also say that as soon as my friend did arrive, it was like a light switch flicked on and I became social.  I was laughing, talking, enjoying people’s company.  See, I thought to myself, you can be a social butterfly… with the assistance of booze and ONE FRIEND.

I talked to my mom about this, and my lack of human interaction.  I was trying to explain to her my problem.  Right now, I am working as a personal assistant for an entrepreneur.   This means that my office is his flat.  My co-workers are his iMac and filing cabinet.  And yes, that file cabinet and I have become quite close over the past few weeks, but I cannot take it to the pub with me.  I can’t be awkward and weird.  Come on, I have to draw a limit somewhere.  I was telling my mom how statistics show that you are more likely to both make friends and meet your future spouse at your work.

“Well,” she joked.  “Maybe you can marry your boss.”  Which then made me explain to her that A) he is older than she is, and B) already dating someone.  So, nope, we are not going to have THAT kind of work relationship.  Also, I don’t… do… that…?  Because of morals and things.

“I need to make friends!” I shouted at my mother through Skype.  “I am in a nice part of London, and I pass a great pub every day, but I can’t go in!”

“Why not?” unbeknownst to her, I am incapable of initiating conversation with strangers.  And when I do, they’re super dorky jokes.  Like when I get into an elevator that immediately becomes crowded, I’ll look at the guy next to me and say, “Thank god we all know each other, or else this would be really uncomfortable.”  That’s my thing.  Those are my jokes.  And actually, you can’t say those types of things in London because English men and women hate small talk and become super self-conscious.  Can’t make friends that way.  “Go to the pub!” She was shouting back at me.  “Get a pint! Watch the football match!  Start yelling at the telly” (I should also note that whenever I Skype my mom, she always says some English wordism and tries to imitate the accent.  Instead, she just sounds kinda drunk.) “About the teams! ‘Oh, I hate that team!’ ‘You hate that team too?’ ‘Ah football!'”

I just stared blankly at her.  “No, Mom.  That’s not gonna work.”  The idea of pretending to like a sport–that I actually do like, just don’t follow a league/team/player/whatever–to make friends sounded sad.  Worse than not having friends at all.  And I could picture myself going into this pub, getting a pint, and just sitting there, awkwardly, waiting for it all to be over.  I would have my headphones on and a book on the table because that’s the kind of loner I can be.  “Well that’s your problem, Allie.  You would have to take your headphones off.”

But then I would have to actually talk to people. Ick.

She tried to give me more advice on where to meet friends.  One great tip of hers was, and I kid you not, “You should join a choir!”  Join a choir!  That’s when I lost it.  I began laughing hysterically.  I pictured myself in the long robes, standing in front of a crowd of people singing some show tune or Ave Maria or whatever people in choirs sing.   No, that wasn’t going to work.  “Maybe you can join a gym?” she immediately threw out to distract me from her enthusiastic choir option.  “That’s where your cousin met her husband.”  My cousin and her husband are also in the best shape I have ever seen.  I, on the other hand, consider playing Temple Run during my commute strenuous activity.

Why don’t they make a book on how to make friends after college?  It would be a best-seller.  Everyone needs friends.  Are there any classes on how to meet people?  Lectures? Newsletters?  Anything?  Cause if I go through another week with only interacting with the same three people, I might scream.  I mean, yeah, I hate talking to new people and interacting with others, but it’s kind of necessary.  And when I am already with friends, I can interact without being completely hopeless.  I need like a friend wingman.  Do they make those?

So yeah, my mom gave me homework for this week.

My homework assignment is to make friends.

And I am going to fail.

Related article:

The Rabbit Hole Known as Fall.

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Hands down, Fall is the best season in the entire world.  It is the perfect season.  Fall can do no wrong.  Give me one reason you hate Fall–if you can–and I will give you ten reasons why you have no soul.

I am someone who hates extremes.  Which makes winter and summer the worst (and undeserving to be proper nouns).  Now, yes, winter has Christmas, and hot chocolate, and that creepy brother-and-sister Folger’s commercial, but it is just. So. Fucking. Cold.  Case and point: Taking a shower.  Taking a scalding-hot shower in the winter is probably the closest thing man will ever get to seeing baby unicorns frolicking in cotton-candy fields.  But then the unthinkable happens: you have to get out.  And getting out of a hot shower in the dead of winter is equivalent to being forced to watch the Red Wedding scene from Game of Thrones once every hour on the hour.  I know all you Winter Wonderland enthusiasts are all like, “Why don’t you just turn the heat on, Allex?”  Because I grew up with Juan Hernandez as a father, that’s why.  And my father strongly believes that if you buy a man a fish, he eats for a day.  But if you teach a man to use a blanket , he will always be warm and not need to turn on the heat–unless it is below zero.  Then you can bet your frozen ass the heat is going on.  Now that I think about it, that saying really doesn’t make any sense…

But anyway, this philosophy of his extended into summer and the use of air conditioning.  We don’t need no stinking air conditioning unless it’s above 95 degrees out.  Countless nights I would creep out of my boiling bedroom with sticky air and sleep downstairs in our den because it was below-ground.  Meaning natural air conditioning.  And also, waking up in a halo of your own sweat is just disgusting. When you are so hot that watching your favorite TV show is making you dehydrated, you need to shut it down.  SHUT IT DOWN, SUMMER!  SHUT IT DOWN!  Really, the only good thing about summer is… well, nothing.  Since I am done with college, or any schooling for that matter, summer has officially  lost its luster.  There is no summer vacation.  Sure you can go on vacation, but come on.  What really happens is that you are stuck at home scanning your Facebook news feed and seeing nothing but pictures of your friends’ hot dog legs at the beach/park/Parthenon/moon/whatever makes your summer feel unsatisfying.  Plus, dear god, summer is when the worst pop songs come out.

But with Fall, everything is perfect.  The air is brisk and there is a slight chill.  It’s not cold enough  to need a full-on winter coat, but just so that you can wrap yourself in a sweater and be fine.  Spring is aaaaaalmost at Fall-Level-Awesome, but it has that faltering chance of still being a bit too hot.  Skirts are fun in spring, but they are amazing in Fall.  Because with skirts in Fall, you also get tights. And wool socks.  And boots.  And scarves.  Now, I know that the few male readers I have will feel left out–unless you too enjoy a well accessorized skirt–but guys, you all got a lot going for you too.  What do you have?  The most magical combination of clothing for any man: cords and flannel.  Oh sweet Demeter and Persephone, thank you for men in cords and flannel.  Fall is basically the time for L.L. Bean catalogs to come to life.  And I am totally okay with that.

*Hello there, handsome.*

Fall is also when The Best Holidays Ever happen.  Halloween and Thanks-motherfucking-giving.  Halloween is probably my favorite holiday in the entire world.  It’s better than Christmas.  Better than my birthday.  Definitely better than yours.  When I was in eighth grade and living in Connecticut–don’t get me started on Fall-time Connecticut and the foliage–our class went to Salem, Massachusetts on October 31.  That’s right, I was in MOTHERFUCKING Salem for MOTHERFUCKING Halloween.  If Billy Madison was right about peeing your pants making you cool, then I was the coolest chick in all of Massachusetts that day; that’s how excited I was.  Never in my entire life had I enjoyed a field trip more than that day.  I saw, and talked to, real witches.  Black cats were everywhere.  History was everywhere.  We went to old churches where The Crucible was based and graveyards where the young girls accused of witchcraft were buried.  It was just–even writing about it now is making me so excited and wanting to go back.

Plus, movies like Hocus Pocus, Casper, The Addams Family, and The Nightmare Before Christmas are played on loop, giving you the excuse to still drool over Thackery Binx and Max Dennison.  And just the whole scary-story vibe that trickles all throughout October is nothing more than amazing.


*Admit it. You loved them.*

I have many fond memories of my family going to Jones Family Farm in the Fall with our wagon to fill with pumpkins.  There were farm animals, hayrides, corn mazes, fall flowers, and fresh apples.  But most importantly, there was the pumpkin carry.  The basic idea of the pumpkin carry was quite simple:  make Dad carry a shit-ton of pumpkins and walk twelve feet.  Whatever he was carrying when crossing the “finish line” was half price.  So we would load his pockets with tiny squash, tie his windbreaker to his waist–so if any got loose, they wouldn’t fall–and cheer him on.  It was such a silly concept, but it was the best part of the pumpkin patch.  I haven’t even begun to talk about the trick-or-treating and free candy and caramel apples, but seriously.  If I did, this blog post would never end.

Although Thanksgiving is really only an American holiday that celebrates the impending death of the Native Americans with our powerful malaria blankets–see? sometimes just turning on the heat SAVES LIVES!–its heart is in the right place.  Before the killer blankets, but after that dick Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims needed help to survive and the natives taught them how to harvest crops.  The pilgrims were cool guys.  Not only were they super needy, always bugging the natives for help, but they then THANKED them afterwards.  Now this might be just an after-school special on the loveliness of getting together and giving thanks, but it’s important to do.  And that’s what Thanksgiving is about.  Giving thanks for what you have–even though in a few weeks time you will be giving a list asking for the things you don’t have to a guy who checks to see if you’re naughty or nice.  And sweet baby turkeys, let’s not forget the food.  The food is just the icing on the cake of why Thanksgiving is another reason Fall is the best.  I could write about the insanity of an Italian Thanksgiving, but I aint got time for that.

The moral of the story is this: Fall is the best season and you need to accept it.

Just a Patch of Grass

We are staring at a patch of grass.  In context, there is nothing special about it.  It’s very green with bits of fresh clippings sticking to the toe of my shoe so I can at least deduce that the local gardeners are taking care of it; but it has a bit of a crunch under my step meaning it still needs some help.  When I slowly lift my head, the patch of grass is interrupted with a tiny bouquet of fresh flowers.  A lump rises in my throat and I try to suppress it.  They’ve already been here.  I continue lifting my head and my gaze is met with a heavy grey stone.  It is tall and strong.  Unnatural.  Man-made.  Looking further up, I see a scattering of more upright stones, poking their heads and breaking the surfaces of the grass.  I look back down.  It’s not really just a patch of grass.  I know this.  He knows this.  But it makes it easier to be here if we think like this.

This specific patch of grass is special to us.  Although we are surrounded by almost identical other patches of grass, they share no meaning.  But this one, with this particular stone is important.

This stone is my brother.

I read the etchings on the stone and reflexively reach out my fingertips to trace the letters carved.  I run my index finger across his name, spelling it out.  N-A-T-A-N-I-E-L.  I can’t bring myself to trace the dates; they are so finite.  So complete.  For some reason I expect the stone to be hot and burn at my touch.  But it’s hard and cold.

Zander clears his throat and I jump, forgetting he is next to me.  I gaze at him, and I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know why I wanted to come here.  This wasn’t a good idea.  Zander places his hand atop the stone and lets out a heavy sigh. He knows this was a mistake too.  We aren’t ready for this.

I start to take a step back and a look of panic spreads across his face.

“You don’t want to leave yet, do you?”

I think about this question.  I want to be here.  I need to.  But it’s difficult with him next to me.  Not because he makes me uncomfortable.  But because I can feel we both have our reasons for wanting to come.  But we both don’t want the other to know what they are.

“No, I just–I think that we both need our time with him.”  I take another step back, “You can go first.”  Before I turn, I can see the panic drain from his face and replaced with relief.  I walk away, heading towards a large tree.  I sit down, feeling the roughness of the bark against my back and turn my body away from Nat’s grave, giving Zander more privacy.  I tilt my neck and lightly rest the back of my head against the tree.  Closing my eyes, I try to filter out Zander’s voice–is he talking out loud?–and filter in the sounds around me.

I am a headphones kind of girl.  I don’t go anywhere without some way of blocking out the sounds around me.  I hate listening to other people.  Their conversations, their problems, their noises.  It might just be the after-effects of the whiskey diets I had drank earlier but right now, I am reveling in the silence.  The sounds of my surroundings slowly transform into a natural  symphony.  The combination of the rustling of the leaves in the wind with the swaying of branches interweave with the caws of a distant crow.  Everything sounds so wonderful, even with the slight humming of Zander’s voice as he talks to Nat.  I sway to the natural sounds for either five minutes or an hour.  Time has frozen here but I suddenly feel a presence.

Fluttering my eyes open, I meet Zander’s raincloud grey gaze.  He sits next to me and forces a smile.  It isn’t genuine.  The corners of his eyes aren’t twinkling like they usually do.

“You look pretty serene considering the circumstances.”

“You don’t.”

He playfully bumps my shoulder with his and his wry smile fades.  The conflict of his emotions are hard to stomach.  I wish for the false smile to return.  His brows furrow and picks his next few words carefully.  “I had a lot to get off my chest.”

Worry is spread across his face.  He has something else to say, I can tell.  He opens his mouth again, as if he is going to tell me what is wrong.  But he closes it.  Ashamed.  Maybe another time he will be able to tell me.

“Well,” I get up and stretch my arms over my head.  “I need to be with my brother now.”

 

**This is a scene I have been toying with in my young adult novel.  I just felt like sharing it today.

Smoking Out the Window: A Palimpsest with Jorge Luis Borges “Paradiso, XXXI”

A palimpsest is something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.  One famous palimpsest is The Archimedes Palimpsest, a prayerbook from the early 1200s, comprised of 174 parchment folios.  My modern-day palimpsest has bits of Jorge Luis Borges’ Paradiso, XXXI within it.  In order to create this, I used lines and phrases from Borges’ piece and interwove them with my own text. The intertextuality between my piece and Borges creates a voice that uses Borges’ religious imagery and combines it with my “sinful acts.”  This successfully intertwines the works with fluidity while simultaneously juxtaposing two opposite concepts.

 

***

 

There aren’t many things that drive me to prayer.  Not drinking on a Monday night or sneaking someone into my flat at 3 am.  No, I stifle those prayers inside myself.  There is no need for them.  I’m not weighed down by these sins but instead bathed in a tranquil light.

I have done many things that should bring me down to my knees.  Many memories could have been eased with a quick prayer within the day.  Instead I ignore this unnecessary urge and continue with the sin.  But as soon as I am in my room and I pull out my tobacco, guilt sets in.  Beneath the rose I begin to roll a cigarette and crack my window slightly.  And I’m praying to the carpenter’s son that I’m not caught.  It is when I’m sitting on my window ledge, cautiously directing the smoke out that I become religious.

Dear God, please don’t let me get caught.

Yet, this isn’t a new experience for me.  This scene has played out since I was seventeen and living with my parents.  Smoking out the window, looking over my shoulder, and praying.  Feeling the judgement lurk in every mirror.  Oh Lord, what would my parents think if they found out?  If I was caught, would their image of me be lost for ever like an image in a kaleidoscope?  This time will be my last.

Amen.

But every night I’m still hugging the windowsill.  Muttering a short prayer with every deep inhale.

Unwrapped

While studying for my MA, I took a creative nonfiction class.  This was the personal essay I wrote for my final project about being a part-time holiday gift wrapper after I graduated from college.  Now, I mean no disrespect to Von Maur or their ways.  This is meant to be nothing more than humorous.  I hope you enjoy.

My grace period is over.  And I have the proof in my hands.  As soon as Dad hands me the letter I know nothing good will come of it.  At my stage in life, all mail is bad mail.  They write in bold, block text STUDENT LOANS right on the envelope.  There are no surprises.  No big reveals.  Just an envelope reminding me how I have been a college graduate for 6 months.  Meaning the honeymoon has ended.  I am in debt to the United States government and now they want their cut.

On average, 20 million Americans go to college a year and of that 20 million, 60% borrow annually to help cover costs.  Being a part of that 60%, when I walked across the stage for graduation, the University of Illinois handed me my bill instead of my diploma.  Which was roughly $26,600. Interest not included.

How much is this costing me?

Reading the fine print of my notice, I’m more disappointed in the lack of direction my life has already taken.  But I mostly blame myself for majoring in English Literature.  There are no job openings in discussing the absurdity of Emily Bronte’s “love story” of Catherine and Heathcliff.  Believe me, I’ve looked.  Instead, I am working part-time as a receptionist at our local country club.  The only benefits I have are free membership if I work at least 10 hours a week, and the daily reminder that old money can rot people’s souls.  And even with those paychecks I still cannot afford my payments.

I am afflicted.  I am a statistic.  I should get a newsletter or phone tree or something just so I at least have someone to talk to who is struggling through the same thing.  There are enough of us out there.  It’s called being underemployed. 37% of employed U.S. college graduates are working jobs that requires nothing higher than a high school diploma.  And I have the lucky chance of being double underemployed because I just sent out an application to be a—wait for it—holiday gift wrapper for Von Maur.

***

Two weeks later I’m sitting in front of a woman’s desk, pulling at my skirt that I hate and wishing I had worn a different top.  The woman introduces herself as Jane and tells me her title and responsibilities within the Von Maur Community.  I immediately forget everything she says and instead, smile and nod at her out of politeness.  Jane asks me the typical interview questions, but ties in gift wrapping.  She asks me what it is about gift wrapping I particularly enjoy.  I almost say how nothing brings me greater happiness than to meticulously wrap a gift only to watch it be ripped to shreds minutes later.  Instead I tell her how I’ve received wrapped gifts from Von Maur before and always admired them.  I also tell her how I consider myself to be an exceptional gift wrapper already due to the fact that my uncle pays me every year to wrap his Christmas presents for him.

She likes this example and even laughs.  “Well training will be a breeze then!”  For my final test, Jane stands up, handing me a Von Maur box, tape, scissors, and a strip of wrapping paper.  “I have to take a phone call real quick,” she says.  “Wrap this while I’m gone.”

Jane leaves the office and I stare at the materials.  Well I can’t say this is a surprise, I think to myself.  I pick up the box.  It’s flimsy and the sides fall inwards with the slightest hint of pressure.  She expects me to fail, I think.  A sense of determination fills me.  No fucking way.  I measure the paper given, checking if I need to cut any excess.  With my tongue poking out of the corner of my mouth, I take the scissors and slice through the crisp, overpriced paper.  Happy with the piece, I begin carefully wrapping the empty box.  I line up the pattern where both ends of the paper meet, making it appear seamless.  Only using four pieces of tape, I examine my work.  It’s not my best but I am happy with it.

While waiting for Jane to return, I do a bit of soul-searching.  I am 21 years old, a college graduate from a good school, and after interning at Yale University Press for the summer I have fallen down the dark slope of retail.  I have the chance to be the 1 in 4 retail workers with a college degree.  I am in my best business attire and fiddling with a tape dispenser and empty box.  But at this point, I can do nothing but accept this.  My loans won’t pay themselves off.

Jane’s office door creaks open.  She pokes her head inside, seeing how I did.  “Huh,” she says, “That’s not bad at all!”  She walks back behind her desk and picks up my box to further examine my work.  “Oh well, here’s a problem,” she says pointing to the back of the box, where the two ends of the paper meet. “Here at Von Maur, we fold the edge of the visible side of the paper.  It gives a cleaner look to it.”  I nod, accepting the criticism.  You won’t even see the edge of the paper anyway; a ribbon usually covers it.  “And how many pieces of tape did you use?”

I clear my throat before I answer, “Four.”

She tsks at me, “We use three.  Never tape the paper to the box.  It might damage it.”

For fuck sake, it’s a present not a stack of hundreds, I think but dare not say. I nod in agreement instead.  She then takes the box and begins ripping off the paper.  I cringe to the sound of my torn work and unexpectedly become angry.  Why couldn’t she at least wait for me to leave? The interview ends with me being hired on the spot.  I sign some paperwork, probably pledging allegiance to forever use only three pieces of tape when wrapping, am handed an introductory training booklet and am told that training will be this Friday at 5pm.  Dress appropriately, like you would for work, bring your social security card, now shoo.

I leave the office in a daze and find my mother shopping around.  “I got the job,” I say, now unenthused about what I have signed myself up for.

“Terrific! Do you get a discount?” she asks me, eyeing a pair of shoes.

“I’ll find out on Friday.”

*** Continue Reading