artsy fartsy,  blue-collar working

Why I Need to Paint a Mural on the Breakroom Wall.

I’ve been working so hard to make money lately that I’ve forgotten to be creative. If you know my go-to bio, it says that “being creative every day makes me happy,” so you can gather from that how I’m feeling.  I’ve been slapping that phrase everywhere I have to write a bio for the last fifteen years!  I know this about me!!  So why am I not being creative?

I blame scrolling and Ralphs. I waste all the free time I have scrolling. Bug shared the funniest (and most accurate) meme with me the other day that had a word for it: “internest“. It’s when you’ve had too much time “peopleing” so you hide in a nest of covers in bed that completely block out the world, and then you scroll the internet. You can lose hours this way. Bug and I call TikTok the time machine. You open it up and the next thing you know you have lost two hours. It’s crazy.  Want to go into the future? Open TikTok.

The last time I did something creative was for a website I designed that hasn’t been able to go live for programming reasons, and I haven’t been able to get paid for it because it’s not generating the client money yet and the client has no funds to pay me. It’s a vicious cycle.  You have to spend money to make money but if you don’t have the money to pay, you hire a graphic designer who is a people pleaser (me!) who will work for you on blind faith that her amazing work will bring you money.

How did I get to this point? Well,  I hate taking money before a job is complete because of that one time I worked for weeks for someone who I was terribly under-skilled to do what they wanted and needed. I knew it, they knew it so when I finally finished the challenge, they were expectedly disappointed. I couldn’t handle it. I had mistakenly thought if I really dug deep I could rise to the challenge. I didn’t. I gave them all the money back because I didn’t want to waste their money. There went all my time down the drain. So maybe I’m just too nice to be a designer? I don’t know. So many times people have been happy with my work and I’ve managed to stay afloat (with the help of my books) for seventeen years!!

How have I managed to stay afloat? Through this blog and being creative! That brings me to my opening paragraph. I haven’t been able to be creative for a few weeks now. I’m tired from working my Ralphs job, which is very physically draining. I’m barely finishing my graphic design work, and I’m internesting because I’m depressed about the website that hasn’t taken off or been paid for.

Today I have a day off from Ralphs. I have a few days off this coming week. I have to come back to being creative. This reminds me of when I worked at the coupon factory generating junk mail. It was such a boring job. But I was pretty high up on the coupon-creating design ladder, so I had a nice office and the respect of my coworkers. I’ve probably told this story before, but it’s stuck with me, so I’m going to re-tell it.

There were a bunch of boxes outside my office. We had recently moved and hired a bunch of new employees so they all had new computers (with towers and huge clunky box monitors because this was back in the dinosaur days before we had laptops) and all the boxes were piled up outside my office to be broken down. All day long those boxes called to me. Make me into a castle! Make me into a spaceship! It drove me crazy. I had coupons to type and junk mail to design I had no time for cutting up boxes and taping together spaceships and castles.

Finally, I gave into the call of the boxes and made a spaceship for my friend who had a toddler son. I wasted a whole afternoon. But you know what? I was happy! I was so happy and I was known for being happy. I was the girl who could take an ugly letter about miniblinds or deals on canned salmon and make it into something beautiful. I needed to be happy to do my job. It was my signature.  After the box-craftaganza I was able to go back to focus on my boring junk mail designs with a fresh attitude.

At Ralphs I’ve been daydreaming about painting a mural on the breakroom wall. The employee breakroom at Ralphs is the most depressing space you have ever seen. It’s dirty. The paint is peeling. There’s one of those old massage chairs you see at Brookstone that doesn’t work that is sunken in the middle like someone has slept in it for thirty years. It’s so old and gross. The pleather is peeling and bits of it slough off. Employees flop into this chair exhausted and “internest” during their breaks. I can tell that someone tried to interior decorate twenty years ago. It has a Route 66 clock on the wall and some kind of traffic light decoration that I don’t understand. Motivational posters are taped up next to How to Lift Heavy Objects without Injuring Yourself posters and in between are hand-scrawled shouting messages about not forgetting to put “paid” stickers on the food you buy from the store and that all lockers will be cut open if they are left past a certain date that was three years ago. The place says: I’m underpaid and understaffed and my work-life balance solution is to not care about this place.

But then there’s me. I look at this one wall in the hallway next to the women’s restroom, which is quite big and has absolutely nothing but scrapes and paint-peeling scars on it, and think: this would be a perfect place to paint a mural. I already know what I want to paint there. I want to paint really big colorful shapes and then on top of it the words that say small at the top: “Small changes make” and then below that in really more giant letters: “A Big Difference.” Brilliant, right? Wouldn’t it cheer people up and maybe we’d all start caring more and cleaning more and then this depressing store would slowly get cleaner and happier?

I mention it to one of the checkers. She loves the idea. She mentions it to the general manager on the floor, and then my idea goes to die. It’s a no-go. Why? Because I would need to do it on the clock to be covered for insurance reasons (what if I got hurt?!!) and nobody has time to pay me to paint a mural. I’m not giving up though. I think I will illustrate my idea and take it up the ladder to corporate. Somebody will lift their head up from their phone and realize this could be a small change that makes a big difference. I could get a job painting murals in all the breakrooms like they do at Trader Joe’s who have a way easier time keeping employees because they are proud to work there. What’s my boss’s biggest problem? Finding good employees.

I think I have a case.

Why did I just spend an hour making a graphic for no reason? Because it made me happy. Guess who’s back!


  • Cathy

    Welcome back, creative SAJ! I was s eecretly checking for a trip report, but I feel you to some extent. Our ‘lunch room’ at work is so dilapidated, I don’t know how the company isn’t embarrassed when other see it. They are of the ‘we can’t have nice things’ mind. Pbfft. I hope Ralph’s will change their mind and let you paint it (for pay even) -it’s so cheery, inspiring and good for morale. Morale boosters are so underrated sometimes. Glad you are back though – bet you were suffering a bit of post vacation blues too.

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