relishyourstory.com

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WORK

I was twelve years old when I began babysitting other people’s children.

The work was demanding, but since I already had so many younger siblings, I was accustomed to it, so I didn’t complain. Besides, it was usually easier than mowing lawns for money (which I also did), and I liked having a few dollars in my pocket to show for it. And when I say a few, I mean a very few.

One particularly well-off miserly family (the mom used to laugh about how she couldn’t wait to go to work to get away from her two small children) saw fit to pay me a whopping twenty bucks to watch them five days a week for one whole summer, then had the nerve to complain about how much of their food I was eating when I had the nerve to eat the last Klondike bar I found hidden in their freezer the day before.

I was thirteen or fourteen at the time, had always been underweight for my age, and she made me feel ashamed. Made me feel like I was stealing food from their table.

For me, that was the last straw. I could handle watching her two young children, both still in diapers, but I could not handle her being as big a baby, so I quit.

When I think of how hard I worked, not just watching other peoples children, but cleaning their houses and even getting dinner started some nights for one family, I cringe at how badly I allowed myself to be taken advantage of back then.

I was fifteen when I finally landed my first real job, though barely above minimum wage it wasn’t much better than my babysitting gigs.

It was at a local family-owned pharmacy, the kind with a soda fountain where the construction workers who were erecting something or other nearby would come in most afternoons just as my shift started, and spin around on the swivel chairs at the counter and order coffee frappes while they flirted with me and another of my friends that worked there. I guess you could say I’d graduated from babies drooling on me to grown men drooling over me.

Most of the time I didn’t mind it, nor did I mind swiping makeup off the shelves when the boss wasn’t looking (not a very good Catholic girl I know) or stealing an occasional pack of butts while refilling the cigarette shelves when I was broke, which was basically all the time.

But when it began to feel as though I was a toy for those men to play with, when the innocent flirting began to take on sly, threatening tones, I quit and spent the rest of that summer ironically working in construction. I knew a friend of a friend that was looking for a couple of laborers to help them finish constructing a large stone wall for a property in a town nearby, so for the next several weeks that’s what I did, and I reveled in it.

When the wall was finished, I hung up my work boots and went to work at a local supermarket as a cashier.

By the time I was seventeen, I was living on my own and working full time to support myself.

During the years eight years that followed I held eight different jobs ranging from a bank teller, computer operations at said bank, a medical secretary, a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, an air traffic control student for the Federal Aviation Administration and other various office jobs in between.

My ninth, working from home as a fine art painter of collectible miniatures, I would continue to do for the next sixteen years while I raised my two kids and simultaneously homeschooled them.

When I stop painting exactly ten years ago, it wasn’t because any part of me wanted to quit. OK, maybe some part of me did; the part that woke at four in the morning every day to get the work done before the kids woke up. But the real reason was that the work was taking too great a physical toll on my body.

At that point, I was working seven days a week and making more money than I ever had in my life – even if most people would consider it small potatoes, so giving up the freedom of working from home was not an easy adjustment to make.

But after more than sixteen years of being hunched over at my desk, forehead pressed against a hot lamp set above my subject matter, my wrists held at unnatural angles for hours, my neck and shoulders strained and trained into repetitive movements that would take lying on the floor after a session to get to relax back to where I could move them again, I had no other choice than to give it up the same way I’d given up smoking: cold turkey.

It would take almost two years of physical therapy to get back to full mobility once I’d quit. Thankfully my husband was making enough money (for the most part) by then to cover my sudden lack of income, so I could remain at home and continue to teach my children while I kept clipping coupons and tried to find new ways to make every single dollar stretch.

In the ten years since I have had many other jobs, but not until very recently when I was hired by my son as his bookkeeper, was I ever paid for any of them.

My teacher’s salary was nonexistent, as was any salary for being a nurse, a veterinarian, a personal shopper, a housekeeper, a chef, a gardener, a household finance manager, a climber of laundry mountains, you get the idea.

During all that time, without an actual paying job, I always felt inadequate when compared to my husband, the breadwinner, since none of the work I was doing was held in as high a regard.

No matter how hard I worked the fact that I no longer contributed financially to our family, translated into me being on less than equal footing.

“Work is intimacy and discovery even through the boredom, even through the imprisoning necessities of toiling for another, even through the trauma of rejection and dissatisfaction, even through being badly recompensed. ” – David Whyte Consolations

The work I chose was just that, chosen. No one held a gun to my head forcing me to do any of it. I wanted children, and more importantly, I wanted to be the one to raise my children, so the isolation I felt being a stay-at-home mom, the work involved looking after everyone’s needs, even the lack of being paid a penny for any of it, I willingly signed up for.

But when I was forced to stop painting, or more to the point when I stopped bringing home a paycheck, I no longer felt like all the rest of the work I was still doing was enough.

I had to prove myself, didn’t I?

I had to have an answer when asked, “So what do you do for work, Amy?” since answering, “I’m a stay-at-home mom” never felt like a good enough answer.

So I began writing. I had written two children’s books years before, that despite my many attempts, were never published, so this time I decided I would write a novel, something I’d always believed I was meant to do. After all, I had the financial and emotional support of my husband, had some great ideas, and had the proper motivation to do the work.

I’ve written three novels in the last ten years, but since none of them have ever been given an audience outside of a very select few, I’ve never felt the satisfaction that comes with being published. Of being paid for my labor. Of finally having my literary voice heard.

Writing, I discovered very quickly, was hard work. Maybe the hardest work I’d ever set out to do aside from raising my children, but not for the obvious reasons. Not because educating myself about story structure and plot and themes and so on was any more difficult than any other thing I’d done that took hard work and dedication, say like designing and helping to build our home.

For me, the hardest part about writing has been returning to the blank page day after day despite knowing I may always be my only audience.

It’s a feeling that until I began writing this blog, has never gone away.

This blog has been a year-long labor of love. It required hard work to keep pushing through the resistance I felt writing a new essay every week.

To move forward, I had to remember where I had been and who I was then, compared to who I am now, even when it meant ripping open old wounds to do so.

In the process, I found something in each of my stories to relish, even the most painful ones, even if that something was that each story is uniquely mine and I’m still alive to tell it.

A gift from my sister for my fiftieth birthday.

“I write to balance the teeter-totter of my childhood.” – Screenwriter and novelist, William Goldman, once said.

I would add, I write because I was sick of giving power to my pain.

The often invisible child I was, has been seen.

The story of my future is no longer the story of my past.

I’ve spent my life feeling like I didn’t deserve to be happy, and felt guilty whenever I was.

I kept some of the best parts of myself locked away in a self-imposed prison. Over the years I became very comfortable there. So much so that I no longer noticed the bars on the windows or that the door was locked from the inside.

At the risk of upsetting and or alienating people very close to me, or instilling disbelief in others who have expressed doubt about the accuracy of my memory, with every story I have bravely shared here, I’ve taken one more step towards freedom.

“Are the stories we tell ourselves true?” Was never meant to imply that mine or anyone else’s memories and stories are not accurate or factual – only our very one-sided interpretation of them.

To my audience – every single reader who took the time to read any or all of what took me a lifetime to write –  I hope you feel your time was well spent. I will forever be grateful to you all. And to those of you close to me who reached out – always when I seemed to need kind words of encouragement the most – thank you for your unwavering support. I love you.

And I will forever be grateful to the poet extraordinaire, David Whyte, whose poem, Sweet Darkness, I clipped from a magazine and hung above my bed many years ago, never knowing that our paths would cross one day.

https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/sweet-darkness-by-david-whyte

His wise words have been a gift and an invitation for my inner child to come out and play.

I am a big believer in not wasting time having learned that lesson the hard way by wasting so much precious time in the past.

My hard work has paid off. As the year draws to a close I don’t feel the need to make any resolutions; I have the resolution I have longed for.

All that is left is love.

I have gifted myself with something no one else could have given me — tabula rasa – a clean slate.

“With the right work, the right relationship to that work and the mystery of what is continually being revealed to us through our endeavors, we find a home in the world that eventually does not need debilitating stress, does not need our exhausted will and does not need enormous amounts of outside energy constantly fed in to sustain it.” – David Whyte Consolations

I have found my home in writing. It feels like the right work. It feels like both a mystery and a dear friend.

Anyone that knows me well knows that when I start something, I finish it; preferably as soon as possible.

I am glad to have stuck with this blog. As many times as I thought about quitting, I knew I never would. I made a promise to myself and kept it.

I plan to keep writing here, on my blog when I can, and I’m anxious to get back to work – whether that turns out to be something brand new or not I can’t yet say, and that’s okay.

I don’t need to know.

I rather like not knowing.

Dare I say I relish it?

 

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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