Dear Stella,

The following is the letter I actually turned in to Hotel Bar. I’d love to take credit for writing it, but after various drafts ranging from 3 to 18 pages, Dawn stepped in and came up with this. Brilliant, right? Apparently, the letter “got around” at Hotel Bar. On my last night I asked Jim, one of the cooks, if he heard I was leaving. “Yup,” he said. “I read your letter.”

“You read my letter? How?” I pictured multiple copies floating around the halls of Hotel Bar landing on various surfaces—the front desk, the poultry prep counter, the two-top by the window—before a mysterious gust of wind carries them to their next destination.

“I saw it by accident,” he said, then paused. “It was awesome.”

I will admit it wasn’t easy turning the letter in. I was so entrenched in the psychological gamery of the place (one of the reasons I knew it was time to leave), that I was dreading handing the letter to Mean Manager because I was afraid she’d make me feel bad. So I gave six copies to HR and asked them to distribute the letter to everyone for me.

After I turned it in, something wonderful happened. I felt free! With a single act, I reclaimed my agency.

So I proudly present to you—the freedom fighting letter. Short, sweet, atomic.

________________________________________________________

Dear Managers X, Y, and Z,

I am writing to hereby submit my resignation to Hotel Bar. On those rare occasions when I was able to bartend (which is really what I do) and not cocktail waitress (a harder job for less money), I felt glimmers of hope that this might work out. Yet, on the whole, my experience has been one in which I have felt increasingly demoralized. I simply cannot thrive in an environment where the employees are never verbally appreciated, only verbally micromanaged in such a persistent and ongoing manner that I feel as if my every movement is registered, monitored, and critiqued, and I feel neither trusted nor respected.

Please let this letter serve as my official two weeks notice.

Thanks for the initial opportunity.

Sincerely,

Stephanie

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Dearest Stephanie,

This holiday season, let’s take a moment today to appreciate the absurd.

So I went furniture shopping yesterday evening with my lil boy, who needs a new bedroom set.  We walked into the store, and a very polite young man named “Columbus” (his real name, or so it said on his name tag) approached us.

“Good evening,” he said proffering a card on which was printed some essential information about a HUGE SALE going on for ONE DAY ONLY, that day being this very day on which we have, by lucky happenstance, decided to stroll into HIS VERY STORE! “Are you looking for anything in particular today?”

I know how this game goes. If I say what we’re looking for, he will follow us throughout the store commenting on everything on which our gazes fall. He will try to sell us on each and every item in the store. Each item will be more fantabulous than the last, especially if said item happens to be more expensive. I have warned my young, who is by nature sort of a Chatty Cathy and also EVEN MORE suggestible than I and who is, by virtue of being young, more vulnerable prey: “We’re JUST LOOKING. That’s our line. TRUST ME ON THIS.”

I repeat our line to Columbus.

“We’re JUST LOOKING, thank you,” I say perfunctorily, dismissively, as I KEEP WALKING. It is very important to keep moving when shopping amongst overzealous sales associates, the hope being that eventually they get tired or stumble upon less knowledgeable prey. It’s not unlike being a gazelle in the arid plains of Africa. Or wherever gazelles do their thing.

I’ll say this for Columbus: he’s a discrete, gentlemanly salesman. That’s hard to find in a recession! For this reason, I took the card from his hand as I briskly marched past him, holding tightly onto my little boy’s gloved fist.

We went up the escalator to the bedroom section. We strolled amongst the displays debating the pros and cons of potential arrangements, assessing the quality of various sets, imagining what it would be like to live with these pieces.

“If we get this one,” he noted about a bunk bed version, “then you could sleep on the bottom one, and I could sleep on the top one.”

Moments like these, when my son seems to view me as primarily a playmate, do cause me to question my parenting effectiveness.

But anyway. It’s as we’re ambling through the displays in this fashion that Sal the Salesman (yes, “Sal” is his real name) makes his debut. His appearance has an ominous quality, like the lion that leaps suddenly and unexpectedly from behind a tree to sink its long fangs into the unsuspecting gazelle’s neck, snapping it instantly then dragging the gazelle’s broken, bleeding corpse back to the lion’s den, where a host of additional lions will feast on that corpse, tearing the tender flesh apart. Perhaps this entire scenario plays out in front of wildlife documenters’ cameras to later be broadcast on Animal Planet for the purposes of entertaining masses of bored citizens.

By this, I mean to say that I wondered, briefly, if perhaps hidden cameras lurked behind fluffy pillows or faux plants or cardboard computers to document our encounter with Sal for the purposes of educating future salespeople. Perhaps Columbus would be viewing this entire exchange at some point in the distant future to cure him of his discretion.

Sal came bearing gifts—water bottles and a balloon. I cannot tell you why the sudden appearance of this man, from behind an expensive looking paneled armoire, made me want to burst out laughing. I’m always trying to understand things, and it’s exhausting and fruitless. So instead, I will simply set the scene for you, and let’s see if you too experience a moment of perfect absurdity:

Perhaps it was that he was so stealthy, so quiet (granted, the floors are carpeted), so that as I turned to look over my shoulder towards my little boy, this man—about six feet tall, grey hair, water bottles in one hand, blue balloon bearing the store’s name in the other—seemed to materialize out of nothingness. He was holding the balloon by the tie, allowing a long blue string to trail along behind him. Part of me hoped he’d trip on the string in some spectacular fashion, but I immediately felt badly for thinking that.

Perhaps it was the cheap grey suit and slick pink necktie. I have always found neckties particularly absurd. Perhaps it was the portly belly, bisected by a brown belt, which clearly clashed with the grey of the suit, the pink of the tie. Could he maybe have preserved some of his dignity if he’d opted to keep his jacket buttoned rather than hanging loosely open? Or maybe it was the culmination of all these things: a middle-aged man in a suit and tie standing amidst poorly made but cunningly arranged children’s furniture clutching water bottles in one hand and blue balloon in the other. Clearly, he’d been stalking us for quite some time, unbeknownst to us, and he came prepared.

I gulped back a huge guffaw as I contemplated this sudden apparition.

“HI! I’M SAL!” he boomed. ‘SO YOU GUYS LOOKING FOR SOME BEDROOM FURNITURE TODAY?!”

I think that’s fairly obvious, Sal. I smiled tightly (no teeth, pained expression) and nodded tersely. My little boy eyed the blue balloon covetously. Ah that crafty Sal. He’d clearly taken some time to approach his prey—just the right number of water bottles, just the right color of balloon.

“YOU GUYS WANT SOME WATER? YOU MUST BE THIRSTY!”

My little boy looked at me.

“No thank you. We’re good,” I said. I was thinking of Columbus. Poor Columbus. He hadn’t even shadowed us. Such a shame. If he had, they might have come to fisticuffs. What fun that would have been! It could have been just like when you’re in junior high school, and two boys have a delicate fistfight over the privilege of escorting you to some pathetic, themed school dance!

“OH COME ON! MY HANDS ARE FREEZING HOLDING THESE WATER BOTTLES! HELP ME OUT, HUH?! HAHA!”

“Ha,” I replied humorlessly. “No, really. Thanks, though.” I was thinking of another time and place, another shopping encounter, when I happened to walk into a Coach store in the mall to peruse and was similarly assaulted.

That time, the sales associate offered me some sort of sweet (very much like the White Witch from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, though I cannot be certain that Turkish delight was involved). She too had trailed me aggressively commenting on the vast appeal of every item within my purview. I have a grotesquely imaginative inner life, and here is what I saw: I saw me taking the sweet, ingesting it, then waking up in my car much later with two unaccounted for hours and a backseat full of shopping bags. So I rejected the sweet and fled the store.

However, I was not travelling with my little boy that time.

Every self-respecting lion knows to target the young, who are slower and weaker than adults. Sal turned to my little boy, “HOW ‘BOUT A BALLOON?! YOU WANT A BALLOON?!”

The boy looked at me. I shrugged.

“Sure,” he said, reaching his plump little hand out tentatively, as if he feared getting shocked.

“SO YOU LOOKING FOR SOME FURNITURE FOR YOUR BEDROOM?!” Sal inquired.

I think we’ve been through this, Sal.

No matter how promising the grazing territory, the gazelles know the score. Once the lion makes her appearance, it’s time to get the fuck out. Just hightail it outta there, lickety split.

“We were just looking,” I repeated over my retreating back as I made my way to the escalator having shot my little boy a meaningful look.

Way to chase us out of the store, Sal.

I could feel Sal’s presence behind us on the slow ride down the escalator. It was so awkward. Actually, it was like one of those comical stalking scenes from a movie, where the characters pause their chase to ride the escalator casually, pretending this is just how they do, but then when they get to the bottom of the escalator, the chase begins anew. For fun, I briefly contemplated breaking into a run towards the glass double doors while shrieking “GO GO GO! RUN FOR IT!” But I feared this would be over the top, and I didn’t want to freak out my young. I put my hand over my mouth to hold in the laughter. At the bottom of the escalator, our party broke ranks, my little boy and I proceeding at a leisurely, casual pace towards the exit, Sal heading for his fellow sales associates.

I made it to the doors before bursting into peals of borderline hysterical laughter.

“What’s so funny, mom?” my little boys asked, utterly perplexed.

I could not stop laughing long enough to explain, and he lost interest anyway, preoccupied as he was with his acquisition, his precious blue balloon. And even if I did explain, could he possibly understand? Do I?

I was still giggling as we pulled out of the parking lot.

Love,

Stella

Quitting (Again)

December 17, 2009

Dear Stella,

I am that person in a restaurant. I study the menu for however much time I am given. Best to not give me too much time, for it will only complicate matters. Spinach salad with fresh strawberries. Mmmm. I picture an abundance of green. I feel the berry’s sweet body split in my mouth. But what about the grilled cheese? That browned, crispy crust? Or the butternut squash soup, a veritable winter treasure?

There’s no telling what I’ll choose until I choose. I fully commit myself, at one point or another, to almost everything on the menu. Only the presence of the server and the pressure of a deadline will force a decision, not because I am unhappy with the choices, but because I so clearly see myself with all of them.

All this is to say, I drove to work on Monday fully committed to rescinding my resignation. This was, of course, after the meeting in which my managers apologized to me for the way they treated me, listened to my complaints and suggestions, and asked what they could do to change my mind about leaving.

When I got in the car, I was absolutely committed to the plan you and I had discussed. It was a good plan. No, a great plan. I say yes to coming back. I take the week and a half off they were willing to give me. I buy myself some time.

But I hadn’t even made it over the Bigelow Bridge when I knew; I just knew. All that self-torture of the weekend—my little pea brain running itself into mad circles, getting thicker and thicker into its brambled torment—just ended.

I am so, so done here.

Quitting (again!) after the managers ask me to stay is not the safe thing to do; it’s not the reasonable thing to do, and it very well might not be considered a sane thing to do. Who leaves a job in a recession with so much debt, and with no back-up plan?

I do.

If strength is endurance; if strength is sustaining marathon physical difficulty; if strength is resisting, denying, withholding; if strength is pressing against the self with all one’s might, then I am a sissy of ginormous proportions.

But if strength is a matter of doing the thing whose importance is felt but not easily seen; if strength is doing the crazy thing that makes sense to no one, perhaps not even to you, you just know it needs to be done and sometimes this thing can appear selfish and sometimes this thing can appear self-destructive, and sometimes this thing may cause your loved one stress, and only you know that it is better in the long run because what can be better for love, really, than a lover who takes care of herself and does the necessary thing to be the best she can be, the most alive she can be? And if strength is a matter of saying “Yes!” to the self when the self is clamoring to be heard above the “reasonable” negations, then I am a fucking she-woman right now.

love,
Stephanie

Enjoy Juliet, Naked

December 15, 2009

My dearest Stephanie,

Boo, my favorite server, is a middle school English teacher by day. During the school year, he works seven days a week.

“Isn’t it exhausting? How do you manage?” I asked him recently.

“I’m just so used to it that I barely even think about it,” he replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Do you like being a server?”

“It’s kind of addictive,” he said after a contemplative pause. “It’s that every night is new, and you never know what’s going to happen—who you’ll meet, how much money you’ll make, how it’s going to end.”

I’ve heard this sentiment echoed by other servers and bartenders.

I can relate.

***

“Enjoy Juliet, Naked!” I said this to one of my customers, a charming and witty Brit, one night.

I actually called it across the length of the bar. I was in the midst of polishing the glasses and saw that he was putting on his coat.

“That doesn’t sound quite right, does it?” he replied with a bemused smile, as he slipped his left arm into the appropriate coat sleeve.

(I love how the British do this: make an understated observation then punctuate it with a rhetorical question: That lime I bit into whole is a bit tart, isn’t it? When you break your femur, it’s rather uncomfortable, isn’t it? Stalin was rather ghastly, wasn’t he?)

“Oh, haha. I guess it does sound rather salacious,” I said. Then turning to the rest of the bar, I added, “No worries, you lot. It’s a book title! Ha!.” I threw in the “you lot” as a sort of inside joke. That’s okay. No one was much listening anyway.

I love this dude. Or perhaps I should say, I love this bloke. He and his (American) girlfriend eat at the bar once a week or so; sometimes, they come in with a little boy to eat in the dining room. I’ve decided it’s his son from a previous relationship. Just a hunch. Anyway, he always comes in with some reading material, usually before she does. He orders a Grey Goose Gibson martini, up, and usually follows with a Sapporo beer.

He and his girlfriend are adorable together. They have a lovely, warm relationship filled with witty banter, and once a week or so, I get to be a part of it. It would seem they live together, but I try not to think of them arguing over who has to clean the toilet this week. Is he the kind of man who is excessively tidy? Does he get Type A about articles of clothing discarded wherever she sheds them or perhaps about the stacks of mail she lets pile up? Or is it the other way around?

The conversation started because I’m reading Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked, and when he first sat down and I was looking for some conversational entrée, some way of forging a connection without taking up too much of his time, I said, “I’m reading a book by one of your compatriots. Haha.”

Yes, I really, truly said “compatriots.” This is because I’m a fucking idiot who spent too much time in graduate school with other idiots, many of whom were pretentious and also socially awkward, and my vocabulary has become unwieldy. It’s sometimes a struggle to speak like a normal human being. Still. I threw in the “haha” to make it sound like I was making fun of myself, which I was actually.

Because I sensed that I sounded like an idiot, I hurried to complete the thought—I do this sometimes: just keep talking to cover over some moronic statement I’ve uttered.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I love Nick Horby! He understands human motivation so well.”

“Yeah, I’ve read a number of his novels. I’m actually reading Juliet, Naked right now, as well,” he said. “It’s on my nightstand. I’m about a quarter of the way through.”

We ended up having a brief but lively conversation about Nick Hornby’s novels and the movies they spawned as he ate his Tangerine Beef with Sesame Pancakes and sipped his Sapporo and I polished the glasses. Again. There are always glasses waiting to be polished, aren’t there?

***

I suppose I decided to bartend because I felt lonely.  For what, I’m not sure because it’s not as if I don’t have wonderful friends and a wonderful family who contribute meaningfully to my life. It’s not as if I don’t have plenty of things with which to fill my time.

Perhaps the life I was living felt exhausted of possibility, and I was looking for a new context out of which to wring some meaning out of life. What I wonder is, does every experience eventually become exhausted? How can you make the old new again?

Love,

Stella

Resignation Letter, Take One

December 10, 2009

Dear Corporate Hotel Bar Drone:

Please consider this my formal two-week notice. I’m sorry that you disappointed me to the degree to which I can no longer stand the thought of enduring one more minute in your establishment, especially, but not limited to, the particular feel of entering the locker room at the beginning of a shift and opening the red locker, the sound of the metal, the smell of hairspray hovering in front of the mirror, the toilet that always seems to be out of order. I overlooked the fact that when I first used the locker (noting with a sense of the uncanny that the combination given to me was my mother’s birthday) that someone else’s clothes were still in it, slumped at the bottom of the locker as if the body in them just simply disappeared (and strange, I thought, that these clothes were white, like a nurse’s uniform rather than the distinct blue long sleeve number of the Hotel Bar’s “team” members). I overlooked this perhaps foreshadowing sign of an abrupt departure and simply hung my own clothes over them. I did not tell HR about the mysterious white clothes until almost a month in, when I ran into Jill in the locker room and together we picked each item of clothing out, underneath which we found one metal coat hanger, a pair of white orthopedic nursing shoes, an empty perfume bottle, and one tube of fire-engine-red lipstick. If there were a crime, surely one of these items would be a clue, but as it were, they were clues without a crime, and so their mystery hung about unrealized.

But it is not the locker room, reeking of high school gym class, nor the way I have to sit and wait far too long in front of the (new! but somehow the candy is still stale) candy machine when I call up to the front desk for the keys on those rare nights that I actually get to bartend, that is what finally did me in. I could put up with, and even, I should add, take a kind of sick pleasure in the eerie Nietzschean eternal return of the gym class, the smell and feel of the behind-the-scenes restaurant hallway, reminiscent of past fast food work experiences like at Wendy’s (despite the Hotel Bar’s aspirations for “fine dining”) as if I am playing out some therapy fantasy of returning to one’s roots, the site of orginary Work, to, no pun intended, work something out. I even grew to love the freaky people of Hotel Bar and their strange practices of “talking at” me: Kyle: the chatty dishwasher who starts to come at me from across the room for a hug, so I’ve got to slip inconspicuously behind something or sing-song my hello as I briskly walk by on my way to do something urgent and important like fill the ice bins or plate a dessert. Or Michael: the older room service attendant who weaves long stories about his years of bartending or lectures on how drinkers and drinking has changed over The Course of History. “Which Michael did you get today?” others would ask me. Thankfully, I did not get the pervy one, as I heard what Michael could be like with the guys and feel blessed that I never had to witness this facet of his multi-layered “eccentricity.”

No, it was not Michael’s impromptu lectures that broke the proverbial camel’s back, but it was perhaps the notes, yes, definitely the notes behind the bar that finally did me in, notes that assume I will eat all the candy corn and disregard the lights that need urgently to be turned off at the end of a shift (gosh, how would I ever think of that on my own?) and that I will let the dirty ashtrays pile up just for my sick, childish pleasure. And it was the schedule, the bane of my existence. Although I did not verbalize my continued dissatisfaction at the schedule, (to you, that is, poor Dawn and my saintly parents did not hear the end of it), I thought about it many times, and I felt I wore my displeasure clearly on my face when I passed you in the hallway. It is certainly not my fault that you didn’t properly interpret such muscular twitches and down-turned brows and pinched skin just above the bridge of the nose, clear signs, as anybody knows, of discontent. Or maybe you did indeed make note of my unhappiness and it was acceptable to you, perhaps it even gave you one of those everything-is-as-it-should-be feelings, for, as a person who seems often unhappy herself, a world of unhappy individuals might seem perfectly “in tune,” as it were, or at the very least, unconsciously satisfying.

That I refuse to participate in this particular version of reality might indeed, I realize, come as a shock to you. Although it was not formally part of the one-hundred page package requiring my signature upon being hired, it was in fact, I see now, part of the implicit agreement of signing on with Hotel Bar to participate in manufacturing a worldview in which we are all victims of a system much larger than us and that, in addition to producing and supplying edible and drinkable goods, we also produce and distribute anxiety and self-doubt. Please consider this letter a formal refusal to participate in this production line. I understand this might cause you some discomfort because, like a fly buzzing in one’s ear, my refusal signals the possible presence of another way of being and, if it is true that one does not need to produce and harbor endlessly perpetuated anxiety and ill-feeling toward oneself and others in the work place (and most likely carried over into one’s personal life, as these things tend to “stick”), then what, you might ask, has been the point of all your own personal suffering?

With much pleasure and also some mixed feelings (including some unexpected sadness at missing those I leave behind and also some shame that I took part in such nonsense to begin with), I leave you to ponder this as you sit down with the new schedule, in which you attempt to sculpt and control other people’s lives.

Thanks for the initial opportunity and subsequent disappointment.

Sincerely,
Stephanie

My dear Stephanie,

I’ve been scouting new writing locations. I lost two of my favorites owing to the “1985” phenomenon I’ve cryptically referred to previously.

[Promise to self: call an astrologist tomorrow to get to the bottom of this.]

So anyway, I found this cute little chocolate shop in my town that has great coffee and a comfortable seating area—two ingredients necessary for writing success.

Added bonus #1: a charming outdoor seating area, good for writing and smoking at the same time, weather permitting.

Added bonus #2: almond croissants.

I went there this morning, got my coffee and my croissant, and then promptly went outside to smoke a cigarette. While outside smoking and talking on the phone with my sister, I saw my friend Lynn walk into the shop.

Like me, Lynn is an ex-pat New Yorker, a disaffected suburban dweller. She is a visual artist, an intellectual, a divorcee, and a mother of two young boys.

When I sat down next to her, she immediately began regaling me with stories about her current boyfriend.

“He’s so weird,” she said. “He told me, ‘I’m never going to marry you.’

“That’s crazy!” I said. “Why do you put up with that?”

“Dating is just so exhausting and time consuming,” she replied. “Who has the time?”

Further, though he is “not interested” in dating other women, he apparently does not object to her dating other men, when time and energy permit.

“This one week when he was being an asshole,” she told me, “I called this male friend of mine, and we went to dinner. So I’m sitting in the restaurant—I had my glasses on and I looked very intellectual…I really liked that—I notice a photographer taking pictures. I didn’t really think about it, but then the next day, a friend of mine says, ‘I saw a picture of you in the New York Times.’ So sure enough, I go to the website, and there’s a picture of me and my friend sitting at the table. Of course I immediately called my boyfriend and told him, ‘There’s a picture of me in The New York Times!”

“What did he say? What did he do?!” I asked, riveted, as I placed my coffee next to my discarded laptop.

“As soon as he saw the picture, I could see the wheels turning,” she replied. “When was this picture taken? Who is that man at the table? Was there someone else seated there who was in the restroom when the picture was taken? After that, he was super fantastic boyfriend. He took me to a spa for three days; he took me to his sister’s house for Thanksgiving; he took me antiquing. He might as well have said, ‘Let’s go antiquing to purchase a nice decorative bowl in which to display my balls because you’ve clearly cut them off.”

“I think you should tell that story at your next play date.”

“I don’t want to be known as the mom with the pervy sense of humor,” she said. “Anyway, I don’t know how to have a play date. But ask me about Nietzche. I can talk about the ubermesch. Just don’t ask me about ‘Bounce U.’”

“How was Thanksgiving?” I asked.

“It was a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, and I felt like Margaret Mead,” she replied. “Actually, it was like a reenactment of Annie Hall. I got to be the Jew!”

Lynn and I share the experience of being “ethnic” types living in United States WASP headquarters: New England.

“I think I inadvertently offended his sister. After dinner, she flopped down on the sofa, letting her arms hang limply at her sides and throwing her head back on the cushions. So I said, ‘everything was wonderful. Thank you so much for all your hard work and effort.’ She sat bolt upright and said indignantly, ‘It wasn’t any trouble at all. After all the times I’ve done this, it’s not hard work in the least.’ Do you think it’s a Puritan thing?”

“Oh right,” I said. “It’s the New English denial thing as opposed to the English understatement thing. A New English Monty Python character wouldn’t say, in response to having his arms cut off, ‘It’s just a flesh wound.’ He would say, ‘What are you talking about? My arms haven’t been cut off.’ It’s hideously déclassé to acknowledge emotion, you know.”

“Actually,” she replied, “I’m quite jealous. I wish I could flat line every time I felt emotion. ‘I feel an emotion. I think I need to go jogging. And then clean.’”

This inevitably led to her recounting her experience that morning at a support group for moms with special needs children.

“Everything was perfect with these moms. Except one. I loved her. She was about to jump off a cliff.”

“Did you talk about house renovations? I’m going to go postal if I have to hear one more conversation about house renovations,” I said. House renovations are an endless source of conversations among the mom set in our town.

“That’s exactly what this meeting was like: How to remodel your home…with special needs children.”

“Were they all wearing workout clothes? Or were they rocking the mom jeans and comfortable footwear look?”

“Oh my God! I felt like some kind of freak!” she said. “I felt like I should rush home and change.” Lynn does bohemian chic so well.

“Whereas I’m overwhelmed by the urge to wear leather pants and studded accessories,” I said.

“That’s what I like about you, Stella,” she said. “You do whatever the fuck you want.”

Ha! Hardly! In any event, I was wearing jeans and a sweater I bought at JCrew.Though I did have a nice tall pair of four-inch wedges (purchased at Marshall’s, though, not Bergdorf Goodman’s).

“Are you saying this because you saw me smoking in public?” I asked.

“Partly. I quit smoking because I was terrified that one of the moms would see a rogue cigarette butt at some point.”

Lynn next suggested I get a motorcycle.

“When you get a little sidecar, we can ride around town together. Just don’t smoke while we’re riding. The ash would definitely get in my face.”

“Perhaps we could form a gang,” I suggested.

Lynn liked this idea.

“We’d need a logo for our helmets…maybe ‘Other Moms’?” she mused.

“And a motto?”

“Subversive intellectual moms who refuse to talk about their kitchen renovations (if they had any)! Can you imagine what the other moms would say? ‘Did you see the intellectuals riding around town? I’m afraid they’re going to infect our children!'” She paused, then added pensively, “I was in this book group once…”

“Did you ever actually talk about the book?” I’ve tried at least three different groups myself.

“Not once!” she exclaimed. “What is that?”

“They need a context in which to gossip about their neighbors?”

“You’ve had quite the renaissance,” Lynn remarked, referring to my weight loss. “Someday, you’re going to tell me what inspired it.”

“It’s quite simple really. I was concerned that I would get old and also be fat.”

“Its funny you should say that because now that I’ve quit smoking, my concern has been that I’m going to live longer as a fat person. By the way, have you thought about what kind of work you’d get done?”

“I guess I wouldn’t mind a new set of boobs,” I said. “But I just don’t think I could ever do it. Imagine if you died on the operating table. What an embarrassing way to go.”

“Well yes,” she agreed. “It would be a horrible way to die. But so you just get a PR person. Instruct her to say, in the event of your untimely death, ‘She was horribly disfigured by age.’”

I’m still not sure if the chocolate shop will work out as a writing spot. But at least I spent the morning laughing. That’s one of my favorite things to do.

Love,

Stella

A Familiar Story

December 3, 2009

Dear Stella,

In the movie The Brothers Bloom, two brothers—a notorious con-man team—live out their lives following the stories, or scripts, written by the older brother Stephen. Bloom, the younger brother, yearns for an unwritten life and for something “real” he can never access as long as he plays the parts his brother has written for him.

Ironically, as a kid, these written parts helped Bloom be more of himself. Desperately shy, for example, he was only able to talk to girls when playing the role of someone who could talk easily to girls.

Lately, I find myself living out a familiar story. The fact that it is so familiar should be (and is) alarming to me. It is so familiar, in fact, that it is hard to tell it’s a story. This is the cause for alarm.

The story: I must endure this job. . . I have no choice . . . I’ll never find another job . . .

The story’s subtext: Suffering is noble . . . Making art is a luxury. . . Struggling is the only “real…”

I watched this story play out when my parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet; when my Dad dreamt of being a painter but worked in sweatshops as a teenager instead, then later, when he worked himself ragged for a school that took all he gave (and more), then laid him off after thirty years of dedication.

Because my Dad couldn’t devote himself to his art, I always felt a kind of obligation to live my dreams. My parents made sacrifices so I wouldn’t have to—a common American narrative with a twist. If I don’t realize myself as an artist, then what did he sacrifice his artistic dreams for?

Yet here I am, a woman in her late thirties, unable to support myself and feeling trapped in a shitty service industry job.

Not trapped by the circumstances but trapped by the story. Because the story seems like fact.

At the end of the movie, some bad things happen (I don’t want to give it away.) The female protagonist says to Bloom, “My father used to say, there are no unwritten lives, just badly written ones. Let’s live as if this is the best story ever written. Are you ready for that?” The bad stuff really happened. The facts are the facts. But the characters have a choice as to what they’re going to make of things.

“Are you ready for that?” I ask Dawn. “Are you ready to live as if this is the best story ever written?”

“Yes,” she says emphatically. Then pauses. “So… does that story involve me writing this student recommendation?”

Hmm. And does that story involve me working two eleven hour shifts this weekend?

Story, fact; fact, story. What does the best story ever written look like? And how do we write it when facts seem to be everywhere?

love,
Stephanie