When I worked in New York, I could tell you, down to the tiniest
detail, most anything about my store. When it was my turn in the
rotation, I often walked the floors, cordless phone in hand. There I
would be, day in day out, riding up and down the escalators– ready to
respond when I was needed. The store was spread out over three floors,
and I must have walked many miles during my time there.
Except for the deli across the street, I don’t think I could have told
you much about the shops and stores surrounding mine. If there had
been a quiz on what items were featured in the windows nearby, surely
I would have failed. The outside world buzzed with an energy that I
was very conscious of, but I rarely stepped out into it. It’s true the
city doesn’t sleep, but there are pockets of solitude, the eye to the
I can count the times M and I went into the city on one hand. I often
had a longing to visit the shops in the World Trade, as they were a
stone’s throw away, but it was like there was an invisible fence
keeping me in. I didn’t think I could handle the shock of stepping
through to get to the other side.
It’s fifteen years later and one of my biggest regrets was not getting
out more when we lived there. I watch movies and see people walking
the streets on the way to a museum, or coming out at dusk after dinner
to catch a cab home. I imagine myself there amongst the crowds of
people bustling to their destination. Perhaps I am headed to a cafe,
or one of the urban restaurants I read so much about in the magazines
Funny how some things don’t change. The scenery outside the place I
work now is vastly different. And though I have vowed to get outside
more, it hasn’t really happened. Somehow my desk has this effect of
grounding me. I know that stepping away would untether me like a
balloon released from a small child’s grip. There’s no telling where I
would end up, so I try not to chance it.
But last week a friend stopped by to pick up some things for her
upcoming vacation. Out of kindness and curiosity she asked about my
photography. You would have thought I was talking about a lost love,
it was hard to keep the excitement out of my voice as I told her about
my 365 Project. She listened intently, and then she did the kindest
thing: she held out her hand and invited me outside.
I said Yes.
If I hadn’t stepped away from desk, I wouldn’t have seen the line of
puffy jet stream slicing through the sky. I wouldn’t have found the
piece of birch bark I’d been longing to use for a nightlight. I
wouldn’t have seen the spot on the tree that stood out from its
surroundings, begging me to photograph it. And I wouldn’t have made
these hearts in the snow.
Afterward we talked about our hopes for a Snow Day if the storm should
finally come, her travels South in the next few weeks and how she
would spend the rest of the evening.
If only it could always be this easy, to shirk off that heavy leaden
coat of responsibility and leave my desk, the patrons and the books
behind. Talk a walk to clear my head; take off the blinders and really
see. Of course it’s not brain surgery or a life or death situation, I
don’t have that type of job that asks me to give up some of soul in
return for a big fat paycheck. One of the perks of my job should be to
step away for a few minutes each day. It sounds so easy. I wonder why
I have such difficulties? I shouldn’t need a formal invitation. But
there is this strong magnetic pull, as if I need to break through the
gravity on the way to whatever awaits outside.
Hands beckon me, words inspire me; they wrap round and braid together,
forming a sort of lifeline. I read Mary Oliver’s lines like the ones
pictured above or the ones I stumbled across today:
“I do not want to be doing this… hanging over my desk like a besieged
person with a dull pencil and innumerable lists of numbers.”
… and I feel like it might be possible.