Sometimes I channel my current WIP characters, especially if I have been in a deep state of writing for hours. At times it feels trance like; scenes appear in my manuscript that I don’t remember writing. These scenes stay with me, long after I’ve logged off my computer to head for work at the toy store.
Yesterday, I was so involved in what was happening with my main character, Ibbie-Rae, that I forgot to eat breakfast, and I barely finished my second cup of coffee. After handing the reins to my Sleepy Mind at 6 A.M., I sat back to enjoy the ride, having too much fun thwarting her tightly controlled plans. The more wrenches I threw at her, via a Jerry Garcia obsessed kid, the more fun I had. Though she won’t admit it, eleven-year-old Ibbie-Rae likes to micro manage, especially when it comes to her parents. Enough said on that. (My dad always said, “Keep your stories within; protect them, and allow them to grow as they should, through your writing process. The minute you discuss an under-developed manuscript, precious energy escapes, and sometimes, the desire to finish the story.”) While I am in the revision stage for the completed manuscript, changes are occurring, thanks to characters who have politely informed me that I, the writer, need to let go and listen to them.
So in the spirit of Ibbie-Rae, I arrive at work, having been up for four hours. I am hungry, but happy to greet the gigantic bear that sits on our front porch. Surprisingly so, the early January weather is warm enough to prop open the front door. I hang the birds outside, vacuum the lower level carpets, restock the bags, and greet the first customers, which is when I see The Note.
The Note is my clue that while things appear normal in the lower part of the large, old-fashioned toy store, the upper level may hold surprises for me. I read: “I will be in at noon to help with the boxes.”
The Boxes, I think. How many can there be? I walk up the ramp with slight trepidation, past the dolls . . . past the puzzle area . . . past the books, and . . . the Playmobil shelves are blocked by at least twenty boxes. Manageable, I think, until I notice that a cumbersome Schleich display is no longer pushed against the wall. It has gone missing, so I search, only to find another room filled with twenty or more large boxes. I take a deep breath, try to channel Ibbie-Rae, who would know what to do and already be in the midst of organizing the shipment.
But it doesn’t end there; I can barely see the floor of the science section, there are so many boxes, and there is the missing Schleich rack.
I wish I had eaten breakfast, or at least, finished my coffee.
I put myself in the mind of my character. How would she handle this challenge? I slice open every box, only to discover that the majority of boxes contain multiple boxes within. I take those boxes out. There are card games, building sets, bowling sets, lacrosse sticks, baby toys, bath toys, baby bottles, Calico Critters and Calico Critters and more Calico Critters, because these little critters (adored by kids) have no recession or economic problems in their world. They have cozy cottages, town houses, tree houses, and luxury mansions. They drive fancy cars and have a full-stocked and furnished trailer. Families of raccoons, elephants, hedgehogs, dogs, bunnies, cats, squirrels, and deer manage triplets and twins without a problem, because there are Ferris wheels and play groups, and I don’t know if any of the animal parents even work. Their latest addition is a motorcycle with sidecar. I suppose, while the Calico Critter babies are being cared for at The Nursery, the parents ride around their luxurious town, feeling the breeze against their fur.
Personally, I am just as happy to get up before the sun rises to write for four hours in my pajamas. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, not even the hot tub that comes with the Calico Critter tree house.
I find my confidence, march to the back stock room for an assortment of baskets. I open the bi-fold door and—the door, which has been a source of frustration at times, falls off the track and nearly takes me out before I’ve priced a single item. I carefully put it back on the track. I slide the door to its closed position and try again. It falls off and, this time, hits me on the head. I study the piece of tracking. Bent and hopelessly out of shape, I call maintenance. Within a minute of their arrival, I am told, “Yup, it’s bent, can’t fix it. We’ll call you back about a new piece of track after our break.”
Tomorrow is the weekend; the bi-fold door must work properly, not at the point where it falls over and hits employees on the head, namely me. I have survived a large, heavy doll falling from a high shelf to hit me on the head, and walking into a rack, but the door . . . All I need now is for the village ducks to waddle into the store.
By now, it is noon, and help arrives. I nearly jump up and down with excitement. Another person means I can get food and sustenance so I can handle the hundreds of boxes and now the door crisis, among other challenges that have arisen today.
I am not a superstitious person, but I look at the calendar and realize it is Friday the 13th. That thought aside, I direct the other employee on Plan A: Sort by category first, then price merchandise, after which you stack in the area it belongs in. Look at one box at a time to keep from feeling overwhelmed. We proceed with gusto. Empty boxes are folded and stacked. Shelves begin to look less empty, following the busy holiday season. I have eaten a cup of soup. Life is good, and then I make a follow-up call (lunch hour is over) regarding the bi-fold door.
“We can fix it on Tuesday, there’s a holiday on Monday.”
Anticipating tomorrow’s Saturday crowd, I call the owner; the door must be in working order before the next morning. I find the other employee to tell her I am headed to the nearby hardware store. “Do you know how to fix it yourself?” she asks.
“Absolutely, no idea,” I say, trying to muster up self-confidence that I can learn anything, if I have a good set of instructions. With a screwdriver, I take the existing track off the door frame to take with me, along with the metal part that fell off.
Hardware Guy takes one look at the track and shakes his head. “We don’t sell this here.”
“What do you mean? This is a hardware store. Can’t we check?”
“Nope, never seen track like this for sale here.”
“I. Need. Track,” I say, wishing I could make my eyes look like Puss from the Shrek movies. Whatever my expression ends up looking like to Hardware Guy, he proceeds down the aisles. I follow him to The Section Where Something Like What I Need, has Nothing Like What I Need. “You see,” he says. “Nothing.”
I am desperate. I am so desperate that I scan every inch of the aisle, hoping that a piece of track will fall from the ceiling and hit me on the head, so I can say, “Aha, here is it!” While this does not happen, my eyes do fall on a long narrow box with the words: Bi-fold door.
I am the one who should be working at the hardware store. I convince Hardware Guy to open up this mysterious box, which contains the perfect width track, though, too long for my needs.
“Oh, this will work,” he says, like he is the one who found it. “When you get home, use a hacksaw to shorten it.”
“I am not going home; I work at a toy store, where we sell dolls and books and puzzles. We do not have or sell hacksaws.” I give him a look of I am Not Leaving Here Until You Help Me, Because I Know You Have a Hacksaw, Being That This is a Hardware Store.
He gets my non-verbal message.
After a quick detour to Dunkin Donuts, I return to the toy store. The other employee has a glazed look on her eyes. “Snap out of it, you have to stay strong!” I tell her.
“It’s just . . . there are so many boxes and I don’t know where to begin.”
I drum my fingers against a wooden shelf and scan the remaining unpacked and un-priced merchandise. I check the time. “Okay, we are proceeding to Plan B.”
“Plan B?” she says.
“Yes, Plan B, which is you go take your break and then come back with the belief that we can get this all done before the day ends.”
Her nod lacks confidence, but knowing the Blue Squid Bakery is next door, I figure a mocha cupcake will get her motivated again.
Ten minutes later, I have a shiny and new person to direct. I point her towards the Calico Critters while I wrestle with the shiny and new piece of track. I open the bag of screws and parts. I stare at the directions with the tiniest print, little of it in English, no pictures. Nothing fits where I think it should go. I want to bang my head against the wooden desk.
I will admit to not being beneath begging the first man to come through the door to ask for help. Somehow, I manage to make my eyes resemble close to what Puss excels at when pleading for compassion in the Shrek movies. (I do ask the man’s wife, first, and his four children, who happily offer his assistance.) “My dad is a computer whizz, he loves to fix things.”
In my head, I drop to my knees to give thanks. With his clear instructions (and after I borrow an electric screwdriver from the garden store, which has run out of battery and needs recharging), I have the confidence to fix the track and door. (Thank you, kind stranger who took pity on me.)
While the borrowed screwdriver charges, I scan the remaining, unpacked boxes. With the store closing in less than three hours, I know everything will not get handled. Clearly, it’s impossible.
“We are now moving to Plan C,” I tell the other girl.
“Plan C? I thought we were on Plan B.”
“Plans change, we need to be flexible. Plan C calls for choosing the most important product to price and display, while the other boxes will be neatly stored. Plan C means Confidence and Conviction,” I say and steer her in the direction of picking and choosing.
There is still the issue of boxes that need to go to the compactor. Dozens and dozens of boxes, and the weather has intensified: wind whips the air around, and even inside the store, you can hear tree branches snap. I elect to go first. I put a load of boxes on the dolly and head outside. The wind pushes the box off the dolly. I set it back, and then maintain a tighter grip. I get to the compactor, after I pass some crow on a precarious branch, watching me. “Caw, caw, caw,” it says as if to warn me that something is coming. The compactor is full. I leave the boxes to use my key to turn the compactor on. The motor starts up, as does the wind, with much gusto, and . . .
My load of boxes has disappeared and is now flying through the air towards the parking lot. I run. Mr. Creepy Crow caws at me. I wrestle the boxes back to the compactor and set them on the dolly. In the sky above me, birds circle. The compactor finishes its crushing cycle. I put my boxes in the metal container, forgetting about the heavy door that is now swinging back towards my head. I stop it in time, and then use my key again. The motor starts up, which is when I hear a squealing noise, the sound of wheels moving . . .
The wind is pushing the dolly through the parking lot, towards a shiny new SUV. I run, catching it in time, though another kind stranger was headed in my direction to offer assistance.
Ibbie-Rae thinks she can do everything herself, and today, she and I both learned a good lesson: One person cannot do it all. One writer cannot do it all. We all need help. Help from our fellow employees, help from other writers, help from kind strangers, and help from teachers, who teach us how to hone our craft.
Thank you to all who come to my rescue; I managed to fix the bi-fold door by closing time, though I should have paid closer attention to the crow’s warning.
Next time, I will listen better.
9 thoughts on “All in a Day’s Work”
Great post, Betsy! I’m especially grateful to you for sharing the sage advice from your father about not letting out too much of your story or you’ll release precious energy…SO TRUE!!!
That’s one I’ll keep in the foreground of my writing technique, forever…
My father would have been so pleased to know I was sharing his writing advice, and that it even helped one person. My favorite Words of Wisdom, from his years of being a lifetime writer, came after he read a completed manuscript. He called to say, “Chapter 11, paragraph four, I looked up at the clock.”
That was all, which meant, “You lost my attention, enough so that I checked the time.” I always keep that advice in my head when revising.
Oh, that’s ANOTHER great one! I’m almost to the point of revision (if I can stop myself from revising as I go–I waste sooo much time doing that!)
Thank you for sharing these valuable tips with us… They’re priceless~
LOL-thanks, Betsy! Ibbie Rae and you together make a great pair!
I love Ibbie-Rae. And I miss your critiques of her manuscript, she has grown a lot.
Very funny! When your book is published, I’ll remember this post and smile.
While this character actually started as a picture book, she is now the star of a middle-grade novel, and so much fun to work with.