Saturday, July 22, 2017

Nancy Writes Junk Mail for Ministers

One of the artists I worked with, Vic, made this impression of me for my birthday.
I am wearing a Brooks Brothers dress I had bought when I was in sales.
In seminary, I knew the address 2900 Queen Lane as the home of Fortress Press. Now I had a job working there, working for the Board of Publication (BOP) as a copywriter/copyeditor.

The interview was quite strange. The head of Promotion looked over my resume and noted I had worked for the Lutheran pastor who once was an editor at Fortress. She decided I had to be OK because my old boss had high standards. And that pretty much ended the interview.

I discovered that my coworker was another United Methodist pastor's wife, a younger woman whose husband was serving at the Providence/Mt. Pisgah charge! I discovered we were very different, and also that I was totally unprepared for my job.

My coworker was an English major who had interned at the American Poetry Review, to which I had subscribed to since it began. I had a sales background and had loved advertising since a teenager. If the arts--literature, music, and painting--influenced people's thinking and feeling, I saw advertising as another form of influence. The power of the word, whether in fiction or a print ad, fascinated me.

At my desk I had my Stunk & White and a good grammar book. And learned on the job how to write, edit, and prepare manuscripts. 

Everything was old-school, pre-computers. We used an IBM Selectric typewriter and cut and pasted changes with scissors and mucilage glue. 
A brochure and a print ad I wrote
We wrote ad copy for display ads in Lutheran publications, flyers and brochures, catalog copy, and letters for mass mailings. The in-house graphic artists did the layout and art. I took several evening classes on graphic design at the Abington Art Center, reimbursed by the BOP.

Book promotion copy ad I wrote
I had to learn about the new software that was being developed to write a display ad and an article that appeared in the Lutheran paper.

 I had challenges such as how to make a boring history of Christianity exciting....

 Vic did the art for this catalog I worked on.
After our boss red penned our manuscript, we would cut and paste, and then it went to the in-house artists for the graphic design aspect. I loved working with the artists. Vic was an older gentleman who had worked for Theodore Presser Music for years. Wendy had joined the army to get her art school education. They were later joined by a young Hispanic artist.
A drawing Vic presented to me.
Wendy's sketch in response to the Ethiopian famine.
It was the first full-time desk job I had ever had. After a few weeks, I started joining my coworkers at coffee breaks and lunch. I got to know people from other departments as we sat in large groups at long tables in the cafeteria. The job had its drawbacks; I gained twenty pounds the first year and another twenty pounds the second year. Regular lunches and sitting all day took its toll after years of skipping meals and being on the go. Plus, I drove to work as there was no direct mass transit route.

A woman we met through the Kensington Area Group Ministry worked there. Jane also was into clowning and Gary joined her, becoming a mime.

Gary in his mime costume
Jane had joined a new choir, The Choral Arts Society directed by Sean Diebler. Gary and I auditioned and were accepted. The choir had four performances a year.

Here I am at a Halloween party dressed as a witch
with Jane in her clown costume 
Sean was a demanding director, whipping us into a 200 voice choir that would sing with the Philadelphia Orchestra in several venues.

In 1984 we performed the magnificent A Sea Symphony by Vaughn Williams. That July we were at the Mann Music Center, an outdoor venue, for An Evening with Rogers and Hammerstein with Erich Kunzel directing The Philadelphia Orchestra. In November the choir participated in the second Concert for Humanity, with Ricardo Muti and Emmanuel Ax. And in December we sang the Messiah by Handel with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music. In 1985 we performed the Neue Liebeslieder by Brahms, the Gloria by Vivaldi, Sea Drift by Delius, and other pieces.

Gary's work took him to San Francisco for two back to back conferences over two weeks. I saved up money and flew out to join him for the weekend between conferences. We ate in Chinatown, went to the Warf and walked around the city, drove across the San Francisco bridge to see the John Muir Redwoods National Monument and Napa Valley. We even had time to stop at some famous wineries.
I was enchanted. I knew the geological history of the area and had read about the Redwoods. The very flora and fauna were so different. I did fall in love with the city and area and would have moved there in a heartbeat had it been possible.
Company picnic

The BOP was a real community with were social events and trips. We went to the Baltimore Inner Harbor to see the opening of their new Aquarium. I wrote this poem.

Aquarium
Baltimore, 1986

Room walled round with water
--underseascape--
and fishes flashing, weaving
or slowly spiraling downwards
like drugged dancers
in weightless pirouette.
Some paired, some schooled, some
silver racers in revolution, some
enacting most ancient rituals.

Most primal and original of creatures!

And into these, with regal entrance
the stately ray wings effortlessly;
mottled brown back, wing tips
upturned, tail properly level.
Majestic, even to the cream underbelly
and smooth-lipped gills elegant rhythm,

proving humanity's simplicity
with a sting.

On Halloween, we wore costumes to work. I remade an old choir dress. wore a long blond wig, made a hat, and carried a real vintage ostrich feather fan, channeling Mae West. I am at the center arrow in the photo below.
Halloween at 2900 Queen Lane

My coworker left for another position in the building and a new woman was hired. We became friends and one weekend when Gary was away she invited me to her mother's cabin in the Poconos.

I enjoyed writing but my editing was not consistent. When the Lutheran pastor I had worked for offered to help me get a job at the Board of Pub I had declined. I knew my failings ever since my Kimball High writing class. My mechanics were not great, and I was not a perfectionist.

Right before my boss went on vacation she told me I was in charge of overseeing all the projects in process. She did not prepare me in any way. I neglected to notice my own copy was missing the all-important order form. I went on vacation and came back to learn that my coworker had been promoted instead of me.

My boss Mr. Lilyers
When Jane changed jobs I applied for her old job, working for Len Lilyers who managed the periodical and music departments. I did secretarial work and helped drum up advertising for a publication for organists. In my spare time, I helped at the in-house house retail shop, the St. Nicholas Shop, and the customer service gals with whom I shared office space.

 Another birthday came with another card from Vic.

At the BOP I was surrounded by people gifted in music, art, and writing. In my department alone there was Larry, a church organist who brought me in as a 'ringer' when his choir had special performances; Kent who was a wonderful pianist who had built his own harpsichord; Jane who sang in the Choral Arts Society;and Andy, editor of a periodical and a church organist, and his wife Jane who sang and played recorder.
Jane, Kent, and Larry were dear friends at work
My sketch of Kent, Jane, and Larry
Mt. Zion in Darby celebrated an anniversary and all the previous pastors were invited back.
Gary and I at the Darby anniversary celebration
Gary's job at UMCOR meant he was away long hours and many weeks. He left the house by 5:00 am, taking the subway to the North Philadelphia station, riding the train to Pennsylvania Station in New York City, then catching a subway to Riverside Drive. Depending on transit delays he was home about 7:30 at night. He traveled across the country and out of the country, sometimes being away two weeks a month. So my friends at the BOP were a Godsend.

When Christmas came I still worked a second job. In 1985 I was a sales clerk at the Lord and Taylor store in Elkins Park. I worked in the sweater department, back in the ugly sweater era, and spent my free time refolding them. I found notes for a poem on the back of their mimeographed employee instructions

Lights Out at Lord & Taylor, Xmas 1985

Hating things, yet loving, caught in the world's trap
desiring this man's gifts but despising his scope,
at night when the lights are out and the empty sterile hall
sends back my solitary steps upon the linoleum floor
the stony models' cold gaze diminishes all to its material form
the essence of breath and spirit flushed out, purged;
no longer do the clocks carol around the upright
nor muzak's mild assault reverberate. All is silent night and dearly still.

Oh! But were it not for beauty that money can purchase!
Cold change and worn paper rule our senses.
The richness of fine things, well-wrought artifacts
which enchant us, entrap us. Where it not for beauty
how content I would be to remain poor.

Who has turned us around this way, senses tutored
to delight in the lovely, who cannot pay the admission fee.
I have come to disdain the wealthy who take their wealth
so carelessly, who cannot understand those who live
not by their desires but by necessity.

 At night the gold chains, leather purses, silk shirts
all turn drab, seen for what they are, apart
from the value we award them. Then our petty desires
shrink, flimsy and hollow.

In 1986 I worked at the holiday St. Nicholas shop in a mall. That was fun because everyone working there was from the BOP.

I had not been a television watcher since Ninth Grade when I decided to give it up. (Except for Star Trek!) We only had a 13" black and white portable television. But with Gary away so much I was watching more tv. In 1985 we bought a 20" color tv.

I would come home from work and walk P.J. Because of the mass transit hubs, there were a lot of outsiders in the area. People made wide arcs passing us and when someone asked, "Yo-is that a miniature Doberman?" I would reply "Yes." No one wanted to mess with a Doberman. When we got home I had to play fetch with P.J. for an hour, and then I made a light meal to watch in front of the tv. I also took up working on Gary's stamp albums.

I had to deal with house problems on my own, too. One morning when I turned on our vintage torchiere lamp I heard a mad squeaking. I found a bat nestled around the now hot

When the water heater died and leaked all over the floor I had to clean it up and have a new one installed. Another morning I discovered I had forgotten to close the front window behind the couch and found the screen halfway pulled out. I realized someone in the process of breaking in must have met P.J. face to face. Thankfully, our 'miniature Doberman' scared the intruder away. P.J. also twice alerted me when people tried to steal our new Toyota Corolla when it was parked in the driveway behind the house.
Remember those big glasses of the late 1980s? 

Gary helping out in the kitchen.
Since turning thirty I had been thinking about a child. I had never before considered having a child. But now I saw the child with us, and I was constantly thinking about our actions and how they would impact a child.

Maternal Instincts

I am the one who always
comes when called, closing
windows at the first sound of rain,
opening the door
for the dog at night.

I caress children, sympathetic
to their fragile questionings,
fond of their games.

And the small animals
of the suburban malls gather
a great indignation in my breast,
a longing to set all creatures free.

Suffering from the hollowness
of my womb, my Antarctic breasts,
I am the woman born for loving
who has not the luck to love.
Another birthday, another card from Vic!

I had no idea back then how a woman's fertility drops after age 30. Every month I would dream that I was not pregnant. But one day I just knew. Gary and I bought a test. It was positive! I made an appointment at the HMO and told the intern I was two weeks pregnant. I was 34 years old and the biggest adventure of our lives was just beginning.