Letting go

by Radio Somewhere

Have you ever been asked if you are running to something? Or running from something?

I was asked this a couple of years ago, at a time when I was really worried about some of my recent decisions in life — such as quitting a good job that I could not stand any more, without lining up a new one first.

I thought a bit before answering — but I did not have to think too hard. I knew that it was not a question of running to or running from. I was having trouble letting go of something — but I did not know what.

Since then, I have managed to get my act together. Working with a career coach has helped me identify a new direction that I probably would enver have thought of by myself; and even if I had thought of it, I would not have known how to go about making it happen. And I started to find a voice for my writing. I participated in NaNoWriMo last November and finally considered my novel finished yesterday! (Now I am working on the outline for the novel I will write this November.)

On Monday, I revisited one of my “retail crime scenes” — Magic Mouse Toys in Pioneer Square , downtown Seattle. This was my first job following a traumatic couple of years during which I left academia and dealt with some personal challenges. I was almost out of money — so you can imagine the relief at having a paycheck again.

I interviewed on a perfect summer day in late September. Having had no kids myself, and having also been distant from family life in general for a long time, my experience of toy stores was rather limited. So when I walked into Magic Mouse that day, I was instantly charmed and enthralled. I had to wait a while for the owner to show up, so I had time to look around. The part of the store that is entered at street level from First Avenue is a wonderfully light and airy space with a ridiculously high ceiling. On one side of the room, shelves go all the way up to the top of the room — and faces of plush animals of numerous species, real and mythological, gaze down at you with such lifelike expressions. (I would later become quite a hand at pulling toys from these shelves with a long grabbing stick!) In another room, I turned a corner to be greeted by a shelf of plush frogs with adorably wide smiles. Everywhere I looked, there was something delightful. And by the time the wonderfully eccentric owner showed up, I had my heart set on working there. It was probably the most enjoyable interview I have ever had — and I did indeed get the job.

If you have retail experience yourself, you will not be surprised to hear that the charm wore off after a while. Retail is retail. The challenge of working at a place like Magic Mouse is that customers want the staff to indulge them with a playful, fantasy experience — but they also expect a Nordstrom-level of customer service at the counter. And I found it hard to do both at the same time — especially in such a high-stimulus, sometimes chaotic, environment. On a good day, it is hard to imagine a nicer place to work. But on a bad day…. well… never mind. But despite the bad days, I have so many happy memories of that job, especially the first few months when it all seemed like a new adventure — and I still look back on that time as perhaps the happiest episode of my whole life.

And I suspect I have been holding on to that feeling for the last ten years — wishing I could recreate it, or bring it back to life somehow. There is something special about finding a soft place to land after your world has been turned upside down.

But you just can not stay in that place for ever.

I am starting a new job tomorrow — in a place that could not be more different from Magic Mouse. I am enjoying my last day off in the exact same spot I was at the day before I started at Magic Mouse, in September 2003 — in the Starbucks at Alki Beach. Back then, I think I just watched the scenery: customers coming and going; the 56 bus arriving and departing; and the back-and-forth of the Bainbridge Island ferries.

Today, I have been sitting with my MacBook Air, catching up on activities that are best done with WiFi. But I have been enjoying the Alki scene — and marveling at how much of that 2003 feeling is still with me.

The 56 bus to Downtown no longer runs during the day, but there is the 50 to the Junction. It just departed — and at the sound of the engine being started, an alarmed Starbucks patron grabbed drink and laptop and bolted out to catch the bus!

The magic is still there.