In order to make a living while also pursuing the arts, I feel it’s best to aim low. Being a writer, I myself cobble together a living from multiple, mostly unimpressive sources.
One: I work part time at a community center, where I’m paid a modest wage to unlock the building on Saturdays for toddler ballet, shred papers for the office staff, read the newspaper, and add up attendance numbers. I also pass on comments from patrons to my supervisor, such as: “There’s a bee’s nest under that metal thingy that holds the basketball hoop.” Or: “We don’t like these toddler dance classes to start so early. We like to sleep in on Saturdays.”
Two: I work a few hours a week for a pair of old people, who honestly value my ability to change their light bulbs, pick up the screws or sticky notes or puzzle pieces they’ve dropped on the floor and can’t reach, find their missing coffee cups, fix the wheels on their walkers, and paint over the scuff marks where their walkers bonk into their walls. These bonk marks are especially noticeable on outside corners.
Three: I married a guy who is willing to work. I didn’t choose him consciously for this quality – my memory is that I was attracted to his wit, his kindness, and his ability to perfectly impersonate Momma from Throw Momma from the Train. Unconsciously, however, I probably noticed his work ethic.
Four: I write. I’ve been paid for writing exactly once, but this was so exciting that I photocopied the check and framed it. I have a couple of near relatives with whom I cannot share this success because the piece of writing for which I was paid will get me disowned, but I secretly hope that one day they’ll spot the framed check and grill me about it. I will then be forced to confess that yes, I am a published author. Yes, I did get paid for it. No, you are not allowed to read it. Yes, that check was the real thing.
You will notice that none of these sources of income are particularly good for my ego – though every one of them has turned out to be a first-rate source of writing material.
Yesterday, a Sunday, I worked a shift at the community center, “supervising” a birthday party rental, which means unlocking the door, disarming the security, and helping the renters locate a power strip – a task at which I failed. Once the party realized I was of no use to them, I got to work entering last season’s class evaluation questionnaires into Survey Monkey. The questions: What class did you take? Was your experience very satisfactory, satisfactory, neutral, unsatisfactory, or very unsatisfactory? Would you recommend your instructor? Please explain.
The answers to these questions are helpful to the staff but are not terribly interesting to a writer. For the question What class did you take?, the answers are things like Belly Dancing, Hip Hop for Tots, or Urban Homesteading. Mostly our respondents loved their instructor, who was “very encouraging to beginners,” and mostly their experience was very satisfactory, often with stars and exclamation points.
Among this batch of not very interesting questions, however, there is one with potential: Are there other classes you would like to see offered at our community center? Sometimes our patrons only want more Zumba or believe they would enjoy Swing Dance for Seniors. Some people want to learn how to make cheese or homebrew. Some tell us that everything is great exactly how it is, in case we needed a little reassurance. But sometimes a patron will suggest something genuinely interesting. Like yesterday, when I came across the suggestion that we offer a class on how to fall down.
Now, that’s a good writing prompt, or a fine opportunity to spin narrative out of scant information. Noting that our patron was evaluating Tai Chi for Beginners, and that another student in the same class had already remarked upon his or her improved balance since taking Tai Chi, I freely assumed that some portion of the students in this class were oldish, perhaps even “elderly,” because, as everyone knows, the oldish but especially the elderly are more likely to have balance that could use improving. It seems fair to extrapolate that the student who wants a class on how to fall down might also be oldish or even elderly and wants to learn, literally, how to fall down. Presumably without injury.
The toddlers in Saturday ballet class could teach a class on how to fall down. They have falling down figured out. According to toddlers, the first thing you do is you trip up on something: your neighbor’s feet or maybe your own. You go down. You are startled for a moment, until you realize you have had an upsetting incident. You wail. You might need a kiss, but the kiss might not be enough. You feel you might as well die now because life is so awful. You wallow in this feeling for a bit, until your ballet teacher, “Miss Amy,” plays a Louis Prima tune, which you just can’t resist. You get up and dance.
The toddlers recommend “Pennies from Heaven.”
When my son was a toddler, one of his grandmas lived in the town of Klamath Falls. When we told him we were going to visit Grammy in Klamath Falls, he felt called upon to correct us. “No,” he said. “It’s Klamath Falls Down.”
See? Toddlers know all about it.
Falling down is very common. I myself came close to falling off the front porch last week. My husband used to take judo, and he informs me that learning how to fall down is a verifiable judo skill. I imagine there’s an art to it, all right. This same husband fell off a ladder awhile back with no greater damage than a couple of sore places. Of course, he has that judo background. If I had fallen off that ladder, I suspect I would not have come out of it with such flying colors.
My grandma fell down a month ago. She’s 93 and has been using a walker to get around her assisted-living apartment, down the hall to the dining room, and to chase wild turkeys when they show up at her patio door. She was in her kitchenette making coffee when she let go of her walker for a second, lost her balance, and went down. Previous to her fall, Grandma had not taken a class on how to fall down, and if she knew how to do it when she was a toddler, she has evidently forgotten. She broke an ankle. Her doctor put her in a cast, but Grandma either can’t walk with the cast or she won’t. She has since taken to her bed, where she now sleeps upward of 20 hours a day. In addition, she has gone off her feed and is wearing adult diapers for the first time. She tells us she is waiting to die.
When a frail elderly person falls, it is not unusual that they break something, stereotypically a hip. This fall, accompanied by the broken something, often heralds the beginning of the end – or, as we caregivers call it, “CTD,” which is caregiver code for “circling the drain.” Grandma fell and broke something, and now it kinda looks like she’s CTD. If our student from Tai Chi for Beginners is somewhat younger and further out from the drain than my grandma, you can imagine that he or she would be wary of getting any closer to it. It follows that if one can avoid the drain by learning how to fall down without breaking something, that looks like a skill worth cultivating.