I wanted to take a Typography class at MassArt. Really wanted. Like, barely got any sleep the night before, woke up at 6AM, briefly breakfasted on apples and almond butter, and hied my ass hence to MassArt wanted. But I didn’t get in. I walked home through the Back Bay Fens I found the rose garden open. Someone was in the hut in the back, someone dressed from cap to jacket to pants in light blue denim. I had to say good morning. Up in a red-fruited tree I saw a bluejay with my own eyes for the first time.
The someone’s name is Winfield. He’s a full-time gardener for the city of Boston; a 44-year-old man from Barbados who came to Boston twenty years ago (his accent, though trimmed back, still weights his words). He has two daughters, one my age, one a little older. He likes to cook, and doesn’t understand how people can go to restaurants all the time; he likes to drive, and drove from Boston to Niagara Falls this past weekend; he likes jazz, and if I were older would invite me to a jazz club he likes to go to. He doesn’t like Boston winters, and when the rose garden closes up and he’s only got greenhouses to work on he goes home to Barbados for a couple of weeks to relax, chill out. His shed in the back of the garden is outfitted with an electric sprinkler system and a radio, which was playing the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” when I first let myself in.
One of the first things he told me: he loves his job.
But he lives so simply! I think of the other people I know who love their jobs. They live at such fast paces. They hustle; they shove. They love their work more than they love themselves—oh, by a long shot. And I thought I admired and envied them. Winfield surrounds himself with roses from 7AM to 5PM on weekdays, flipping switches on a sprinkler, pruning browned leaves and petals, making conversation with people like me who find themselves wandering in. After our conversation—anywhere between twenty and forty minutes, I lost track—he cut me one of his favorite roses, a Fragrant Cloud, and sent me on my way back to my apartment. Its scent is one of the most delectable ever to curl up in that space between my nose and palate.
Do you know what it is that my happy workaholic friends and Winfield have in common, what it is that I covet so much it makes me nauseous? It’s that they have known what they want to do, and are good at it.
I want to do such small things. I want to cook everyday, and eat like a little king. I want to dress well and stay organized. I want to rifle through graphic novels and typefaces. I want to figure out the musical tastes of my roommate’s pet fish. But what’s my object? I fear my own authority. I hate talking about philosophy, about art, about bands, because I am never certain of my opinion and I never want to be certain of my opinion. When I make up my mind I will have to defend myself, and I cannot defend myself. I don’t know how. I don’t want to.
But what is it that I, you know, want?
I’m good at writing but I hate to do it. Whenever I am writing I am dying to be done, to resolve the conflict, to make the point, to get away from my own tiny Frankenstein’s-monster words on the page and fart around like Vonnegut has put us on Earth to do. I love to design, to play with colors and type and layout and arrangement. I could do that for hours and not notice at all. But that world is so cut-throat and competitive and I’m not built for that. I don’t defend myself, like I said.
And I never know what I want. Like with guys. I’ve been on so many bad dates and it’s not even their fault, I think. I send such mixed messages. I’m so low-maintenance and relaxed but get so frustrated at guys with “no game.” I don’t want a relationship, but I want him to try and impress me. I like to hook up and stay casual but I want to be special.
But as soon as I know what I want I’ll have to defend myself. And I love thinking and feeling nebulous, floating in a tin can far above the world. I’ve lived in cities my whole life and I love being just one tiny person, just a speck of humanity, left alone to do what she wants. I don’t want to compromise. Leave me alone.
I don’t want to know what I want. But I want to get what I want. And I worry that there’s no place on this Earth for someone like me, you know?