(Steller)

Doing The Work

(Journal)
Published – 07.03.2021
(Writing)

I have been spending most of my days in a small piano shop, close to my flat. I walk there around midday, stopping for lunch and then sit at the desk, contemplating. I polish the ebony instruments as I watch the traffic pass slowly, slowly, then all at once as school comes out and hungry workers head home to their families. It gets busy then, and the line outside the post office snakes around the corner in front of the pub, two shops down. I like to stand close to the window, leaning on a Yamaha or a Steinbach, watching the street. It’s not a busy road for foot traffic; most people stick to the main road one block away for their shopping and eating, but there are the occasional recurring characters that amble by my window at, say, 4pm every Tuesday, or around lunch of a Saturday. I feel better for seeing them, more relaxed somehow. It’s as if everything might be alright because the world is moving in the way that it should.

I duck out mid-afternoon, waving the “back in 5 minutes!” sign in my hand as I amble to the door. Crossing the road, weaving around traffic, I order a coffee or a biscuit and read the poetry stuck outside the cafe doors by some wily local writer. The bricks that frame the little laneway that I lean on as I wait for my cold brew reflect the heat; summer will stretch on this year, I think. I have been walking slower this summer, trying my hand at curbing my need to rush. It is a consistent, low-level drone; a voice that encourages me to pick up the pace, and I am fighting that urge as I walk back and forth to the cafe.

When I am not at the shop languidly staring at the instruments, I have found myself, bizarrely, sitting through long days minding streams of paper showing photos from the 1950s in a small hall amongst a large garden. It is an odd job in the truest sense, and it confuses me still, despite the menial nature of what it truly requires of me. I open up, I sweep, I inspect, I sit. The minutes crawl by. Then I stand, I inspect, I sweep, I lock up. It is very quiet and hours go by with no visitors. Just me, and the thumping of rain on the tin roof, or the whistle of the wind, or the heat that traps you; makes you move slowly as if wading through jelly. There is time to think and to observe, and I hate that time and rail against it by reading paperback after paperback. I am not inclined to delve into my thoughts. The hourly rate is low, but I insist on wandering over to the French restaurant to buy a sandwich during my lunch break. The bread is exceptionally good and fresh and it is such a bright spot in my day that it doesn’t seem to hurt too much to toss away all the money I earn in a 60 minutes bracket.

The other work, the real work, is too quiet to discuss. It is me and my shining laptop at both ends of the day and in the moments of calm, madly dashing off emails or returning phone calls or puzzling together programs, translations, contracts. It makes me consider, when I drag myself into bed at night exhausted, what work really means. Which part of the day is the work? Am I doing the work? Am I missing some integral piece of the puzzle that says “yes, you are now working”?

It feels hard to fathom that it is not just me, alone, trying to figure out how to make life happen when I am sitting quietly at the piano shop or in the garden. It takes a visitor, or a customer to remind myself that I am part of something larger, that the work happens in every moment. That I do not need to always be working. That work is both good and bad and neither of those things. A means to an end and also the end. Or perhaps art is the end, and art is the work. The puzzle, as it were, continues.

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