Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Monday, December 12, 2011

Working with the Finest

The very first job I ever had was working as an assistant in a very rinky-dink little flower shop the summer after my sophomore year of high school. It didn't get much business so my primary activities were washing and re-washing the floor of the shop with Pine-Sol and a broken sponge mop, scrubbing buckets with bleach, and cutting the thorns off roses. I was still pathologically shy at this point in my life, so this is also the job where for the first week I allowed them to call me Maria, rather than my real name, because I was too embarrassed to correct them. It was not a very positive experience, so the summer after my junior year I chose to volunteer as a kids' art camp instructor, a position much more to my liking! The summer of my senior year of high school, however, under orders to find a paying job, I decided to give working in a flower shop another try, but this time I went to work for an upscale, high-end flower shop which had a great deal more business, so there was real and interesting work to be done! And so began my relationship with Fena Flowers, a fruitful one that has lasted many years.

It was a lot of fun to work at a flower shop that not only was very busy, but was also involved in all kinds of cool events and brought in a wide variety of high-quality flowers and greens. I found myself going back to work there on most of my Christmas and summer breaks throughout college. It was an extremely friendly and loving environment and I enjoyed working there even when my primary responsibility was washing dirty buckets. I was therefore already a part of the so-called Fena Family when I found myself back at home in late 2004, scarcely functional, and in need of a job. Like a true family, Fena Flowers readily opened their arms to welcome me back in.

Purple mokara orchids.
And so, from December of 2004 until October of 2009, I found stability, structure, support, and friendship at Fena Flowers, as well as the other more standard benefits of gainful employment, like insurance and a paycheck. From the very first day that I came back, I was completely open about the mental health struggles I was going through and they absolutely, uncritically accepted me back into the fold, telling me that they would give me whatever support I needed and they kept this promise over the years and then some! It was so helpful for me during those early years in particular to be able to be perfectly honest with my employer about what I was going through, why I didn't feel well, what struggles I might be having, and being granted as much time as I needed to take it slow or to take off work to cope with medication side effects. They never once made me feel less than wholly accepted. I benefited enormously from having a regular schedule, being around kind people ten hours a day, working with beautiful things, and knowing that I didn't have to be anything other than who I was and as well as I was on any given day.

A mass of arrangements ready
to be delivered to an autumn
wedding reception.
One of the greatest skills I learned at Fena Flowers had nothing to do with flowers at all. I had struggled with severe general and social anxiety for my entire life, so when I started working there full time in 2004, I was terribly shy and rarely spoke. I was always closely following the conversations that were going on around me and often had ideas or comments or even funny things I might like to share, but I never had the confidence to say the things I thought. I was worried people would think they were stupid and not worth sharing. With such a friendly and accepting group of people, however, I tentatively began speaking up more. When working in a large open space with half a dozen people for ten hours a day, lots of conversations come up, and I was able to see, even before I started chiming in, that while most topics of conversation were quite trivial, they were also very pleasant, and people enjoyed just hearing what others had to say, no matter how ordinary the subject. I started to understand that I didn't have to produce perfectly crafted conversational gems. I didn't have to have brilliant ideas in order to speak. So I slowly started volunteering what I had to offer, even if it didn't seem like very much. The feedback I got was wonderful. It wasn't dramatic, it was simply that people seem to enjoy my participation in the conversation. I grew so much more confident in responding to what others were saying that I even began volunteering topics of my own. What began as a studied effort on my part turned into a natural sense of ease and a greater bond with my caring and generous coworkers. I was able to carry this ability to converse out into the rest of the world and no longer have any hesitation or anxiety when it comes to conversing, whether it's with strangers or people I know. I'm so grateful that I had this opportunity to learn how to speak with others!

This wedding bouquet is typical
of the kind of work and product
produced by Fena Flowers.
There were quite a few times they had to accommodate my illnesses on the job, especially during the years when I was suffering through terrible withdrawal from the drug Geodon. There was a period of time, for example, when I would find myself falling asleep on my feet while I was working. I had to resort to clocking out and taking fifteen to thirty minutes naps in a chair, which was usually sufficient to help me wake up enough to go back to work. My coworkers seemed to find this more amusing than anything. Being able to clock out for a few minutes and get through these bizarre episodes of falling asleep on my feet without any reprimand was a huge relief. They also never once chided me for having to take off several days in a row when the Geodon would make me horribly sick and utterly unable to work. When I had migraines, I was told to stay home and rest and get better. I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it was for me to know that my work supported me even though I wasn't always able to give my all and frequently couldn't pull my weight. In the meantime, when I was well enough to work, having a regular schedule of interesting and varied work with warmhearted colleagues help me get better and better.

Fena Flowers made the
most beautiful corsages!
I had just started learning
how to make them when
 I had to stop working.
Another wonderful thing about my work was that they never made me do more than I was able, but they did gradually increase my responsibilities, so while I started out unpacking the flowers when they arrived and cleaning out the coolers and washing the dirty buckets and menial kinds of activities, by the time I had to quit working because of the migraines, I was a full-fledged floral designer. It was wonderful to be able to work with my hands, which is something I've always enjoyed, and to essentially be making beautiful sculptures out of flowers all day long. Sometimes they were impressed by my skill because I had never gone to floral design school, but I had studied art in college and every day I was applying design principles I had learned there. I also got to do fun things, even before I was the designer, like setting up events, acting as a navigator and assistant on complex deliveries, and filling easy orders like bud vases before I became comfortable doing larger arrangements. With their gentle encouragement, when I was ready, I learned the daunting task of answering the phones and using the computerized order system. While I've always been leery of phones, I came to really enjoy being able to offer customers great service and creating beautiful arrangements to fill their orders. All in all, it was extremely satisfying work. And while I didn't see myself being a floral designer for the rest of my life, it was a wonderful job to have during those years as I first recovered and then began to thrive.

It's been more than two years now since I had to stop working, but I still think of the flower shop as “my work” and of the people there as my friends and colleagues. I don't get to see them very much, even though shop is just a mile from my house, but it's so nice to visit when I can. I'm as welcome now as I always was, and their love, kindness, and acceptance warms me still. On my most recent visit, I brought my new camera with me and took some pictures of the flowers and greens that can be found in the shop. These are some of them:

You can see more photographs I took in the flower shop here.

I may not have become a floral designer for life, but I will always have a special place in my heart for my Fena Flowers family. I've come away from my years there with a great deal of knowledge about flowers, setting up weddings, organizing coolers, navigating downtown Seattle, and the healing powers of true acceptance and kindness!

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely place to grow and flourish! Much love CC. From Beth<3