Sometimes casual statements summarize unknown anxieties so perfectly that they echo in our hearts and horrify us for months or years. The words puncture a place we didn’t know was soft. They eventually become inspiration for change. These are some of my favorites.
“Don’t forget to get all the bits.” – Duncan Duffy, my boss in a dilapidated British estate.
Duffy was so enthusiastic as he rubbed the nozzle of a small vacuum over a lollypop stick on the carpet. He thought I should be enthusiastic too. This was my life after all. At 18, I went out into the world to make my own way. I got a UK visa and flew to London. I figured fate would help me. My intentions were so pure. I ended up in the north of England. It was always misting heavily. It was cold. I worked as a general assistant in a country retreat for a private boys school. I cooked and cleaned. I “hoovered” the halls with that useless little vacuum. It was a half hour drive from the nearest village and I didn’t have a car. This was my life. Hoovering the bits. The experience wasn’t as liberating as I convinced myself it would be.
“Do you still, like fun?” – My best friend.
I had been seeing my boyfriend for about a year and a half and most of my friends were confused by the nosedive my personality took. I never wanted to go out anymore and I rarely laughed. From living with him I felt tired all the time. I felt old. I felt dead. It was love. Artist-love. I was offended that my friend couldn’t see how much better my life was with him. How dare she boil it all down to whether I was still some, fun-loving free spirit or not? It missed the point entirely. But her words haunted me anyway. And when I broke it off with him and started feeling like myself again I knew exactly what she meant. I do still like fun, it turns out.
“Can you, not cash your check just yet.” – Artistic director and boss at the theatre company.
My coworkers that season had already quit. I was alone in that office, working 50 to 70 hours a week and paid about $5 an hour. The money was supplemented by the fact that I got to work in the arts. It’s how most people working in the arts feel. I lived paycheck to paycheck, obviously. But sometimes, the money wasn’t there for me. Paying me was such an oversight to people spending our budget on artistic whims that my pathetic salary would be gone before I got it – spent on some stage decoration. Salaries are vulgar anyway. Artists live on inspiration. I had wanted to work in the arts, even if it meant hardly any money, but this was ridiculous. La vie bohème indeed.
“This was supposed to be a summer job and I’ve been here 20 years.” – James, my trainer at the bank.
My bank manager – a kind, optimistic, but slightly downtrodden man entering middle age terrified me to the core. I took the bank job because I needed real cash flow and didn’t expect to stay long. James joked that he never intended to stay at the bank longer than one summer. “It just happened.” How could that just happen? The only explanation was a time vortex somewhere between investment and credit. Or maybe there was a hypnosis program in the computers that put people under a spell where they’d wake up decades later – grey, fat, exhausted. Drones. I couldn’t let that happen to me. Not for all the money in the world. I couldn’t spend 20 years in a place where photocopies of the dress code would appear on my keyboard if my socks were the wrong color. It was truly a well-carpeted dystopia.