Jennifer McLean, 11/28/2010
Current occupation: grant writer
Former occupation: I’ve held a variety of jobs, including management consultant, conservation project director, legal secretary, policy researcher, sales rep., deck crew, canvasser, and farm worker
Contact Information: After several big city and small town adventures I have settled for good in Asheville. Some of my stories appeared a long time ago in Writ, The Trinity Review, and Off the Coast. I am back in the game! Fellow readers and writers are welcome to contact me at jmstory”at”rocketmail”dotcom”.
Growing where planted
– a meditation on Art
Even in a law firm one can cultivate, one can get by. Even as a secretary to corporate lawyers, one can show creativity. It won’t be in what you wear (non-descript). It won’t be in your personal objects (none). It won’t be in your speech (limited) or your smiles (costly). But consider the in-box of your ill-organized and procrastinating boss who doesn’t want to be there, who knows she has a hearing tomorrow and won’t start on it until tonight. Instead, she’s shopping for harpsichords and swimming pools on the Internet. She doesn’t want to be in the office anymore. The in-box mounts. You dutifully turn it like a compost heap, put the most urgent things on top, even waive them at her as she walks by, ignoring you. It will be your fault. Nevertheless, you persist. Your personality survives somehow like a weed in the cracks.
There is the sagging in-box and there is the trash can. There are choices. And wherever there are choices – however few – there blooms creativity. Somebody must take charge. Somebody must weed the garden. And you are loyal. You want to serve and are proud of service, and service is at its best when it is not noticed. You quietly do her the favor of tossing out the Arthur Beren catalogue – no shoe less than $350, then again that’s her hourly rate. In its place you complement her on her sky-blue suit. She will smile this time just because you complement her sparingly, know your place, do not fatigue her with interaction. You pay this complement because the suit is the best of them (her taste and yours not alike). It fits her very well, is cheerful in color, and its obvious she’s hung on to it for years.
You learn brand names like new continents, as if you’d been asleep that day in school. You’d never heard of a trunk sale until you started working for her and got all these cards and phone calls. You select one or two of these invitations, pitch the rest. You put the seed catalogue near the top of the pile. You throw out the catalogues of garden and landscape books (reading is not doing, after all). You attach to the message that she’s required at a bill reading a message from the nursery that the lilacs are in. And that’s enough for today.
You say good morning, if there’s time. You don’t push it, you don’t do anything that would remind her of her manners – that would be bad form. You make sure the taco salad from the hideous but necessary deli next door has the sauce on the side. You strain to hear the radio announcer tell you the name of the beautiful concerto you half-heard while typing furiously to meet hourly deadlines, but the radio is always turned up just loud enough for that attorney to hear it. You try to hum a few bars to remember it, to take it home for later. You get by.
You know she knows that you know that she knows she works for crooks. It’s trickle-down for right now and you’re in on it. It’s been enough for you to buy a house on an eighth of an acre with space for a small garden. You persist.