Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Collage of Guilt

Last Monday was supposed to be a busy day. With cleaning and organizing and the moving around of furniture and the jettisoning of boxes to charity. Busy busy. Like an achieve-a-thon.

But then I remembered that it was the last day of January and I'd signed up for a month-long mentorship during which time I was expected to send at least three uplifting e-mails and a single snail mail letter to the 'mentee' that I was paired with, cheering her on as she worked to fulfill her New Year's Resolution. Write e-mails? Write letters? Just write? I love this kind of stuff! And I like to imagine that over the course of the month I was an over-achiever, boring my poor 'mentee' by inundating her all January long with e-mails full of kind words and affirmations.

E-mails are all fine and good, but snail mail letters are my favorites. Love to write 'em, love to receive 'em. And instead of getting the single one that was required of me out of the dang way early in the month, I let the idea of it marinate in my head. I didn't want to just send a handwritten version of yet another one of my e-mails. I wanted it to be special. I decided over time that I'd create a little recipe-card-sized collage that my 'mentee' could use as a bookmark, something she could look at often and know that I was waving and cheering at curbside for her personal parade. Great idea, right? And then days passed and I forgot about it.

Snow was falling and piling up that morning when I realized that it was Now or Never. The deadline had arrived and I knew that if I didn't want to have to walk my letter to the post office through all the fresh snow, it had to be created and ready to go by the time the mail guy arrived at my door. So I grabbed the nearest stack of flotsam destined for the recycle bin and began paging through it for stuff I could use. I cut a square from an empty oatmeal box. I sliced words from ads and magazine articles. I misplaced the scissors. I lost the cap for the gluestick. I spent long minutes rereading stuff I was planning to throw away.

During all this time I felt eyes upon me. Someone authoritative but invisible, like the memory of a teacher. And I could hear them thinking: day's ticking away, work needs to be done, and here you are -- dinking around. But I wasn't 'dinking around!'.... Was I?.... I was doing something important. Something that would hopefully make someone's day. But I suddenly felt like my childhood self, shirking chores and homework by playing my day away. And the thought that my work waited undone just curdled whatever fun I was having....

The finished product was delightful! I wrote a note, tucked the collage inside, sealed everything, decorated the envelope with drawings, and secured it all to the mailbox with a clothespin. Whew! Just in time, I thought. And then I began to doubt myself. I rethought it all. I steamed the note open and studied everything I'd done. It was no longer delightful, it was crap! It was too cutesy, too generic, too fill-in-the-blank. I hated it.

Frantically, I hauled everything out again and started over. And all the while I was recreating my collage, I was hearing, "Your mentee is going to look at this and laugh!" "She's going to open your envelope and wonder what you were thinking." "Can't you do anything right?" That invisible authoritative figure was shouting now. And worse: I sensed it had a smile on its face.

This time the finished product was simple and more to the point. It was direct. I liked it better (OK, hated it less). It wasn't schoolgirly cute, like the first attempt. It was as though in the process of recreating it, the collage grew and matured. But I regressed, I think! And after getting it all in the mail just seconds before the letter carrier arrived, I spent the remainder of my day trying to appease The Figure.

I got my homework done, but I did it half-assed. Just like in the olden days.

No comments:

Post a Comment