October 18, 2015

Gurus & Vacuum Cleaners

A check in an envelope with my name on it would be waiting for me on the table in the foyer. The building held three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs, all used for tenants. The family who owned the house had private quarters, and I rarely was asked to clean there.

The vacuum was antique. A huge beast with a loud roar. I would drag the behemoth up the stairs to use after dusting. The woman of the house had taught me exactly how she wanted the rooms cleaned. I followed her directions precisely... at least, I did to a point. I dusted. I obediently emptied the trash cans, cleaned the bathroom, polished the door handles. I made fancy fan patterns in the navy blue shag with the uncompromising vacuum.

All of that won me the check in the crisp envelope.

But I also soaked in the ambiance. I learned how to observe. I took note of people's collections, the books they kept stacked by their beds, the state in which they left their rooms for me. One man always made his bed neatly, even though I would strip the sheets and put on a fresh set. One woman left her panties tangled in the bedsheets. Several pairs every time.

Some of the renters were only there for a week or two. Others stayed months.

One long-term tenant followed a guru. I am not even sure if that is the right word for what he was. A spiritual leader? A guidance counselor? A man who made her road easier—her load bearable. He had the look of a rock star. She'd tacked a full-size poster of him in her closet. When she left the door open, I caught sight of this man with his shirt open, his whole body covered in her liquid, lipstick kisses.

I'm a writer because I can't not write. Because every scrap of paper in the house is covered with my notes. Because the people never stop talking in my head. Not ever.

And I think every job I've had (and—fuck—have I had a lot of jobs) has honed my abilities.

You will use what you've learned along the way. You'll catch a glimpse of a luminous stranger and write the story that comes to you. You'll wake up in the night because the voices won't let you sleep. I don't believe any one job makes you a "real" writer.

I believe all the jobs do.


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