I am 20. Maybe 19. I have been at college long enough to know my way around, but not long enough to legally go out drinking. I am on about 40 milligrams of Celexa a day, with the occasional Xanax for panic attacks triggered by having to leave my house and meet new people. (Agoraphobia and going to college are not a great combination)
I am working at the scene shop of a theatre on campus. It’s a small house, only a couple hundred seats, they do mostly opera and upperclassmen projects. I work in the mornings mostly, we are able to make our own schedule and I was a morning person so I went in when we opened at 8:00 in the morning and I worked till my first class at noon-ish. I work with a man named Bill, he is the TD of the opera company but also runs the shop. Bill was probably in his mid 30’s, he seemed dramatically older than me at the time but he probably had graduated from ASU only about 10 or 12 years prior. He was married but hated talking about his wife. He had silver rimmed glasses and shoulders so broad you could land a plane on them. He was an unapologetic liberal, a noisy one and as we were the only two people in the shop first thing in the morning, he turned the radio up and yelled at the talking heads. Between radio call in shows he taught me how to use a band saw, how to assemble basic flats in under 5 minutes. He taught me the right way to coil cable and didn’t expect me to talk very much. A few months into it he had me in charge of doing a lot of ordering. I sat at a battered desk, covered in paint and pitted, I filled out forms in triplicate and leaned over as Bill signed things on my back, hammer in his rights hand, nails clamped in his teeth.
It was a dream job.
I am 23, about to leave for London to live with a friend for several months. I have put in for a leave of absence at the job I have been at for the last 2 years. I answer phones, organize research for grants, and develop marketing materials for a non-profit housing organization. I work with my mother and the man who will one day be my step father. I have learned to use several different graphic design programs, I spend the majority of my day at a computer, the long thin muscles I developed using power tools and lifting scenery are less defined.
I started at this job answering phones and talking to clients. I was not particularly suited for this aspect of the job, but I was dynamite at compiling research materials for grants and writing letters to people who might give us money. So I developed my own position.
Several years later, I visit the office and notice they are still using the marketing materials I developed. I am proud…but distressed to notice how dated it looks.
I am 26 years old. I have not taken anxiety medication in 2 years, I have a son and 2 marriages under my belt. I am, in truth, a wholly different person.
I write grants for an established theatre company in Arizona. I help plan parties. I talk to funders and convince them to give us $1000 more a year even though we are in the middle of a recession. I love my job, I work with 2 women who are forces of nature, hilarious and beautiful, driven and classy. We make each other laugh and frequent the tiny Mexican joint near our office for margaritas after big events.
I cannot believe my luck at finding this job. It’s perfect.
6 months after I start, they lose funding for my position. Last hired, first fired.
I am curiously not devastated, just curious at how they are going to finish the stack of funding letters sitting on my desk. I find out later that they never do and in the following year have to lay off about 70% of their staff.
On Monday, for the first time in 3 years, I sat at a desk and did some basic work. Pulled some files and printed off some forms. I am working in the nursery at our church, as a temporary fill in for a friend. I am on my feet a lot in my new job, picking up kiddos and carrying them around, talking to parents. I am well suited for it, at ease with both the children and their parents. I find myself being incredibly patient in many situations, I learn from the staff I am in charge of: how to talk to kids, the quickest way to clean a whole box of Legos. I am almost never in the office, almost always in the nursery itself.
But as I sat at my desk on Monday, the memories of the desks I have done thousands of minutes of busywork upon came flooding back. And I was filled with a lightness, and a joy. A sense of satisfaction.
I have worked at a lot of jobs, many of them had no desks, but all of them fulfilled me, comforted me, in their own ways. All of them have been exactly what I needed at that point in my life. And I am terrifically grateful for that.