So even though when I started at our indie bookstore a month ago I was told that full time was very unlikely, possibly not until over a year from now, if ever, I’ve been offered full time. When the boss sent a message on Sunday asking if I could meet her in a couple of hours for a chat (and was kind enough to include in her email that it wasn’t anything bad), I suspected the offer, though I don’t know why. Just an exciting thought.
And when she put it to me, saying she couldn’t afford to hire me full time but she also couldn’t afford not to, in light of what I can and am contributing, in light of the fact that we are short-staffed, I wanted to interrupt her by shrieking YES! But she knew that, of course. She put up her finger and said, “I want you to promise me you’ll go home and think about this. That you’ll talk to your hubby about it.”
Yes, yes. I needed to consider several things: one, I would be taking a major paycut and making minimum wage, about a hundred bucks less per cheque. Since we’re both practically working for peanuts already, we really can’t afford this. And working 40 hours, I wouldn’t have much time for freelance copyediting for more money. I also needed to consider that I would be leaving what is a relatively secure job for a totally insecure one. The store is currently surviving pretty much on school purchases alone. It’s the same story as everywhere else: bookshops are in jeopardy. It could close in a few months, and then where would I be?
And so on.
I dutifully and then seriously hemmed and hawed, then. When C asked me over supper what I preferred, to be happy in a job or to have money, I actually struggled with the question. We’ve been through financial hell and are slowly coming back. Sort of. And while I would be working at a bookstore, would I be able to afford buying books anymore?
The thing is, while fear grips my heart about losing our small but beloved house, about having to cut out yet more things, if possible, about perhaps losing the job and trying to find another one in this crappy town (it took C almost two years after being laid off); while the (purported?) threat of all bookstores being inevitably doomed grows in my mind, what keeps overriding that is how I feel when I’m at the store now, how I feel in comparison to how I’ve felt at all my other jobs…possibly ever (and I’ve had a ton of jobs).
I’m very happy at the store, surrounded by books, overwhelmed by books, to be honest. I love browsing the shelves, meeting and chatting with people who are buying or searching for something new. People who read excite me. I love seeing what’s coming out, what’s going back. I want to know, to absorb everything, all the knowledge and know-how. I want to constantly be enveloped by the fragrance of books. Even in a bookshop I’m called weird. I am like a dog—I sniff every book upon greeting, with various reactions. But they also call me Matilda, after Roald Dahl‘s spunky young bookworm. (Previously unbeknown to them, I use a Quentin Blake Matilda bookmark, so this new nickname makes me doubly happy.)
Being happy, not noticing the hours, not wanting to leave, not wanting to miss a day, being really good at what I do, and fitting in with confidence, finally—that all counts for something huge, in my mind.
And if you’ve read my about page, you already know that having my own shop is my goal. I’ve tried Chapters, the library, publishing. I wasn’t happy in those jobs for various reasons. Until I started working at the indie, I truly thought that maybe I was wrong in thinking I wanted a career in books. Maybe I was simply supposed to buy and read and collect them and then have something boring to do for 8 hours a day, five days a week. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been told as much. But that’s depressing! I refuse to believe it. So I started my blog, just to have something more to do with books, and I attended more author signings (and that’s how I got the job at the indie!). I don’t want to separate passion and work. I want work to be less…work.
I’ve been at our indie now almost two months and I’m surprised to find myself still smiling and happy no matter what time of day it is there. I’m not disenchanted, not bored. True, I work there only two days a week. But I simply seem incapable of being unhappy around books. If there’s a person who’s tiresome or a coworker in a bad mood, I have those books. They’re like…better than people.
So. I am surrounded by books, I get to talk about books, and I like my coworkers. Now, too, I’m beginning to recognize regulars, the ones who come in for their daily paper or the mom and tot who kill time but always buy or order something. People are starting to come to me for suggestions, to trust me even though I’m the newbie. Giant points for that. I am content being in an indie selling books freely without people breathing down my neck about what I can and can’t do. If I want to change a display that’s been around for a while and that isn’t selling, I can. If I want to be creative, host an event, try something new, all I need do is ask, and the idea will be considered and usually simply given the go-ahead. It’s all confirming that, yes, ideally I would like to have my own bookshop. I still dream of Biblio all the time. I LOVE that place in my head. I always see myself milling about with customers, discussing their choices, pouring their tea, suggesting what to read next and placing books in their hands, making up gift baskets of tea matched with books, sponsoring events, comparing notes with customers, making them happy. I am always grinning ear to ear. At the end of a busy day, I’m sitting at the staff room table, cupping a mug of tea and feeling utterly content.
Idealist? Of course it is. Of course I am. Of course I’m also afraid I’m setting myself up for disappointment. I’m afraid that it’s not feasible. If bookstores are not going to survive, my life might as well be over. I have no other desire, no other ideas. As drama queen as that sounds. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe I could move to the country and open an animal sanctuary or something. Animals are my second love. Maybe I could move to Yorkshire and tend pigs and horses and sheep.
If my goal is to open my own shop one day, then this experience is perfect for me. It’s good training. In five years, say, or less, I want to be an expert on books and their publishers, on ordering and receiving, on knowing how an indie works as opposed to how a library or Chapters works. I want to be on a first-name friendly basis with publicists and the rest of the industry people an indie deals with. I want events to be plentiful, teeming with delighted people. I want to keep the paper book culture alive—not only alive but kicking. I want success. And mostly, I think, I want to be where I fit, doing what I do best.
So I’m saying yes to full time at the indie in spite of the things that niggle at me: the money issue, the security issue, the horrible dread of telling my current boss at the clinic. Maybe something will happen where money isn’t so much an issue. Maybe the store, which will celebrate it’s 30th year in a couple of m0nths, will surge forward and prove everyone wrong. And my current boss will get over me.
I’m saying yes because I’m tired of choosing based on money. Because being me I have to choose passion and potential and ultimately hope (mainly that bookstores will prevail) over everything else in order to feel some sense of fulfillment. Love over money. I know it’s horribly romantic. But it also makes sense considering what my goals are and what I’d face otherwise—stagnation, dreary days of laundry, booking appointments, listening to patients go on about their ailments, etc.
The thought of taking such a leap, the sense of feeling I’m finally starting life (at age 36 no less), is weighted with the thrill of risk, but also the promise of potential, achievement, experience, and, most of all, joy.