Being a counsellor with no clients sucks. I’ve been working at the foster home for five months now, making sandwiches and sitting through meltdowns for little more than minimum wage. It’s wearying and dispiriting and making me question my decision to live in this beautiful city, which I love, and which is positively oversaturated with mental health professionals. I even had one afternoon where I was positively convinced I wanted to move home to my rural, frozen, politically conservative city of origin, which unfortunately has rather more job openings (and better licensing laws). It passed, but still: it happened.
I miss being a therapist. I miss not worrying every two weeks about whether my bank account will go into overdraft. I miss being able to go home at the end of eight hours and pet my cat.
(Cat is a separate-but-related concern. My beloved cat died in March, at fifteen years old. I decided not to get another cat until I knew I could afford it and whatever veterinary expenses it might incur, since not being able to afford treatment for a sick pet is a special hell with which I’ve become well acquainted. Time has gone on, my money situation hasn’t gotten better, and two weeks ago I bought myself a teddy bear because I so desperately needed something to cuddle and I couldn’t keep telling myself a cat would happen “soon”.)
I keep forgetting that it’s July, the height of summer, despite how taxing the heat is. It feels like some harder, drier season.
So it’s times like this I revisit my favourite stories, the ones about people who do the right and necessary thing despite the cost. I watch Call the Midwife and Oranges and Sunshine (which magnify heartbreak between them, as the stories echo back and forth), and Short Term 12 and Citizen X. I try to find something deeper to draw from.
I go back to the poem I discovered in undergraduate, when I chafed at years of classes and no meaningful work to do, and try to drink my fill again when I have work, but it’s not my own.
To Be of Use
by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
I try to burn on, and shine on, and go on; and not to go out.