The Copy Clerk

Last month, I asked friends to reframe their lives in terms of a new story. I gave no direction other than that it had to be a way of thinking about your life in a novel way – a way of seeing yourself in a different light. Silvia de la Peña did not disappoint. Without further ado, Silvia’s story, inspired by her love of Chekhov.

∙ ∙ ∙

It was evening. The sun was setting, casting a golden hue over every long aisle of tables and chairs in the office. Silvianna Alexandrovna Ivanovna sat hunched over at her small table, quill in hand, working on the very last assignment for the day. ‘Another word for grand … Must think of another word for grand …’

Clack. Clack. Clack. The sound of black boots walking across the cement floor grew closer, a long black skirt swishing with every step. The chief supervisor of the copy house, Lizotchka Kudrinsky, stopped at the side of Silvianna’s desk.

“Katerina …” the supervisor began.

“She left an hour ago,” Silvianna replied.

“Who did?”

“Katerina.”

The supervisor lowered her round spectacles and peered down at Silvianna from above the tops of the frames. “As I was saying …” she continued. “Katerina, we really need this copy within the next thirty minutes, we simply must have it by then. The governor’s ice skating gala depends upon it. If they don’t have invitations, who will know if they’ve been invited?”

Swish. Clack. Swish. Clack. Lizotchka Kudrinsky walked down the aisle back to her desk at the front of the room.

‘You’re invited to the grand ice skating gala,’ Silvianna thought. ‘You’re invited to one especially grand ice skating gala … the grandest of all ice skating galas … where all your dreams can come true.’ As she thought of more ways to say “grand,” she swiped the quill against her forehead. Silvianna marveled at the amount of oil that appeared on the feather. ‘My powder said matte and the mister promised hours of a shine-free face, yet here I am again at five o’clock with an oily forehead.’ She wiped her forehead with her finger this time and looked at it for some time. ‘I shall gather and press my excess facial oil into a rose scented serum and sell it to ladies with dry skin. Then they will apply it to their faces in the morning, hoping to stay glowing all day. I could make millions of rubles! It would be … grand.’

From the front of the room, the chief supervisor cleared her throat and glanced up at her worker. She was eating from a small bowl of halved red potatoes. She stabbed one potato with her fork and pointed at the clock on the wall with it. “Katerina,” she said, “time is ticking.”

“Yes, Madame,” Silvianna replied. She stared down at the paper. Was it really to be a grand ice skating gala? Would there be roasted chestnuts and tea served by the frozen lake, like last time? Would they offer tours of the governor’s palace, like last time?

Silvianna gazed out the window along the side of the large room. The golden hour was nearly over, the trees and the sky outside had turned dark. She thought of her mother at home – had she locked all the doors so that no one could get in? Was she safe on the sofa, knitting a blanket? She thought of her father – would he like the sanitarium? Would he be lonely? Would he mind the staff, would he listen to instructions and not bother anyone with his episodes at night? Did he miss his mother? Silvianna thought of her last conversation with her grandmother before she passed several months before.

Her grandmother had been lying on the cot, holding her hand out and pointing toward her bedroom. “Silviannka,” she said. “Take my lamp. It’s in my bedroom. The one with the flowers. I want you to have it.” She put her hand down and closed her eyes.

Silvianna went into the bedroom and spotted the lamp. It was set upon a tall dresser, surrounded by trinkets and tiny pieces of dust. She returned to her grandmother’s bedside. “Thank you, Grandmother. I will take it later,” she said.

Her grandmother, with her eyes closed still, nodded. “Okay,” she said, and went off to sleep.

Silvianna thought of the lamp now. Should she have taken it? Did she have room in her small apartment for another table lamp? She wished she could have one more conversation with her grandmother.

“Five thirty!” cried the supervisor from the front of the room.

Clack clack. Swish swish. She appeared at Silvianna’s side again. “Katerina, do you have the invitation ready?”

Silvianna dipped her pen in the ink well and scribbled quickly onto the paper. She slid it across the desk to the supervisor.

“Ah ha …” said Lizotchka Kudrinsky as she read. “You’re invited to a capital ice skating gala held by the governor … Capital fare will be served, and all will have a capital time.” She lowered her spectacles again and peered down at Silvianna. “You may go,” she said.

Silvianna buttoned her coat in a hurry and stepped out onto the street. Suddenly she was in the mood for tea and roasted chestnuts.

The Flamingo Queen: This Is 30

I’m a straggler – so many of my friends are already in their dirty, flirty, nerdy 30s and loving it, even those who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into their own 30th birthday parties. This is (mercifully!) the last month of my 20s, with only 17 days to go. As I hurtle head-on into that milestone, I’ve been taking stock of my life. There’s a lot of talk in those horrible “Why aren’t millennials buying Ferraris?” articles about people of my generation not being where we thought we’d be, mostly based on our parents’ lives, at this age. I’m not a homeowner (thank GOURD – if I ever have to do a lawn care task, it will be too soon), I’m not married (on my way there), I’m not making enough money to support a family, and I haven’t made a name for myself in my career, in my artistic life, in my popstar aspirations (Emma XCX), etc. On this blog I spend a lot of time musing on what I’ve learned, but today I want to imagine the person I hope to be in my 30s, the things I hope to learn, and the cocktails I hope to drink.

∙ ∙ ∙

  1. Try an aperol spritz: what are they? People in New York drink them. I want one.
  2. Wear jumpsuits: you’re really cool if you wear a jumpsuit, it’s science. I must find one that works for my decidedly short corporeal form.
  3. Speaking of the tragedy of corporeality, stop self-body shaming. Part of this is knowing who I am and demanding people give me respect and adoration where I am in the present.
  4. Enjoy the silence. My therapist always asks me why I’m afraid of being boring, and I get all in a huff. I’m not afraid of being boring – no chance – I’m afraid of being bored. But why? One goal is to let there be empty parts of my life and to stop filling every nook and cranny with the junk food of life: people and things that make me feel bad in the end.
  5. Paint more. Yesterday, I was so tired from work and post-work weight training that I could barely stand to paint. But I did it. I painted three strokes and collapsed into couch potato life. Forcing myself to do a tiny bit is better than adding another day to the creative trash heap. Keep going.
  6. Challenge myself physically.
  7. Go to Big Bend. When I was 13, I went to Santa Fe with my mom to see Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and worked for so many years. I still look back at those drives through the desert with boundless fondness. The desert: a land without allergies. An endless landscape of reds and purples. I want to feed that part of me that is a baby Georgia O’Keeffe. I know this is possible without (gulp) camping, and I’m ready to make it happen.
  8. Ride my god dang bicycle, which has sat lonely in the below-the-stairs bike rack since LAST MAY.
  9. Walk, walk, walk.
  10. Be proactive about my health. This means finding a doctor I don’t actively loathe, continue collecting sensible footwear, and skipping the third glass of wine.
  11. Plan the most Sam and Emma wedding possible – and don’t cave to the pressure to do it any other way. That’s right! I’m buying the pink flamingos that are on my wedding Amazon wish list. Wedding spoilers abound!
  12. Cultivate a community where we live. This is the first home I’ve ever had as an adult where this feels feasible. Our neighbors look out for each other, bring by treats, finish bottles of wine with us, take in our stranded packages, and share their dogs. I want to work on being a neighbor I would enjoy and appreciate.
  13. Wash my face every night, even on nights when I could fall asleep sitting up in my clothes.
  14. Volunteer my time.
  15. Learn a new craft. I think I might be ready to take the plunge into fiber art, after months of channeling my wedding anxiety into pom poms.
  16. Practice for skeeball. I’m pretty good, but I could be very good, right? 
  17. Send care packages. This used to be one of my favorite activities. I love assembling prayer candles and candies and shipping them to the people I miss so much.
  18. Defend myself when I’m feeling attacked. Boy, is this a big one this week. After a crappy interaction with a doctor and a friend, I smiled and nodded and, in so doing, internalized some of their piss poor attitudes about me. I bounced back, but why didn’t I speak up? That’s not me. Defending oneself is often about being vulnerable, almost crying, and trying to control one’s temper and timbre. Why don’t I trust myself to do that? I am powerful.
  19. Listen to a new band every week.
  20. See live music two times per month. A new study finds that seeing live music twice a month can help you live happier and longer. Let’s live forever, baby!
  21. Seek adventures, big and small. Take the long way home. Say yes.
  22. Wake up early. Early mornings, my old friend, make me feel more like myself and are the engine of my creative life.
  23. Keep in touch with people I miss and love.
  24. Pay compliments.
  25. Go to therapy regularly, even though it’s expensive and sometimes I don’t have much to say. Keep pushing.
  26. Hustle. Promote my business and make art that changes people’s moods.
  27. Save money. Hello, wedding joint savings account, my first real foray into saving (that’s right, mom).
  28. Support my friends’ art. They’re incredibly talented and deserve my attention and money.
  29. Push myself at work. Put in the time.
  30. Be the Flamingo Queen. A couple of weeks ago, I wore this dress. I was nervous to attend a formal event in something so Emma and so loud, but all night, people (timidly and bombastically) came up to me to pay compliments to the blessed dress. Getting in the elevator after the wedding, a little girl said to me, “I like your dress.” Then, quietly, she turned to her mom and said, “She looks like the Flamingo Queen.” The happiness and wisdom I gained in that moment is unparalleled in my 20s. People respond to positivity, to me being myself, to statements, and to playfulness. I had felt unsure if I was still young enough to make that statement and to be the Flamingo Queen, but b*tch, where’s my crown? Watch the throne: 30-year-old Emma is coming.