I have always seen symbols in things. Often I am wrong about them, but at the time they make sense, and serve their purpose.
Yesterday my day got off kilter when I dashed across town to help a friend find her passport so she could get to an interview and fill out her I-9 for a job. (We found it after an hour-long search–where? Under a saddle!) To get there, I had skuttled my plans to make a couple minor changes to a book I wrote many years ago and ship it off to a contest.
The book has long lain dormant. A writer friend told me about a novel contest. As I looked over the rules, I realized they also took Creative Nonfiction/Memoir. I remembered this book, which is about my first year teaching in Houston, and decided to submit it since the deadline was so close and it had been ready for years.
I got delayed by the passport search, and at the end of the day had to quickly make the changes and toss the pages in a too-big manuscript box since I didn’t have time to track down something more its size. I had planned to put the box inside a shipping envelope and run it to the after-hours postal machine.
But the box didn’t fit in my envelopes. It was too large by a quarter inch.
So I hunted through the racks in the post office self service room, trying to find a bigger envelope. They had nothing. I was late to a meeting already. I figured I just wouldn’t ship it after all. A man walked in and I moved over to a table covered with scraps left from someone hurriedly tugging the backing off sticky labels. “Is the machine working?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I haven’t even tried it.”
“Oh. It’s been broken for two days. All the machines have been.” He gestured around to the stamp machines, all, I now realized, had “Out of Order” signs on them.
“I doubt they’d fix one and not the others,” he said and walked back out.
Great. Even if I DID have an envelope that fit, I still couldn’t have shipped it.
I was bothered by all the curling label bits everywhere, so I began picking them up and tossing them into the trash can at the end of the table. Underneath was a Priority Mail shipping box. I picked it up. It was unused, and it appeared as though whoever had left all the curling labels had been using these, and had one left over. I looked over at the rack again–none there. Only the too-small envelopes.
I tugged the box into shape to see if the manuscript box would fit inside. It did, exactly. I locked down the ends, putting the labels on the outside. Who would have thought that the only box left in the room, hidden beneath a mound of trash, would be the perfect fit?
I turned back to the machine. I had forgotten about it. You have to use these machines for large boxes, as it takes a snapshot of you for security purposes. I set the box on the scale and the screen flickered at me. “How may I help you?” it read.
“You can work!” I told it, and hit the button for “Accept weight.” We went through the steps for postage, and then it asked me for my credit card. I expected at any moment for it to quit working, but it accepted my card and spit out a perfect rectangular label.
As I peeled back the label and pressed it to the box, I felt like I were in a haze, some bizarre filter fuzzing everything around me. Even later, after I’d dropped the package in the parcel slot and returned to my car, I felt strange, other-wordly, as though some veil had parted just for me.
I don’t think this means I will win the contest, or that good fortune is necessarily beaming down its happy rays. But I do think it meant I was supposed to get back in the saddle, keep writing, not give up. And just a few days before, this is exactly where I had been. But I’m reminded this was a good book (you can read an excerpt if you like), and getting it out again was a good thing, contest win or no contest win.
You don’t need to wish me luck. I think I’ve already gotten it.