Work smarter, not harder.
That's what your father used to tell you. Every Sunday afternoon he'd force you to play chess, a game you hated, which made you hate him. After you graduated high-school and left for college, you never gave it a second glance.
As your career took off, you started to think about it again, though. Not necessarily playing, but which piece you might be in the game. It didn't take you long to figure out that you weren't just one piece. You are all the pieces. You are the whole goddamned board, with the power to move everything in every direction, regardless of the rules.
Now that you're fifty-three, and tired, you've started to think about your father's little motto. Work smarter, not harder.
While you might have hated chess, you have always lived by those words. But lately, sometimes you catch yourself thinking—What a load of bullshit.—because isn't it all the same thing? You work smart, but you work hard, too. It's no secret that more often than not, you make things more complicated than they have to be. Being a control-freak isn't always good for you.
Believing yourself to be the whole board, all thirty-two pieces and sixty-four squares, has never been good for you.
Caroline and Cassidy are driving you insane at home. They've barely begun to enter the teenage stage of life and you're already wishing for them to be two years old and constantly crying. That would be preferable to what they are putting you through. Moving to Haiti is starting to sound appealing.
Runway is, as always, the best, but there are things that bother you these days that never have before. It feels like it takes you longer to make decisions that at one time, would have only taken seconds. And you experience doubt. That's such a new concept; it makes you feel like you're suffocating. With all this, comes no sleep. Being indecisive, doubtful and unable to breathe has rendered you unable to close your eyes. It doesn't help that your phone is always beeping. Everybody always wants something from you, no matter the hour. Yet, your assistants have the nerve to think they've got it bad.
Daily, you ask yourself the same set of questions:
Have you ever been this tired?
Have you ever felt this run-down?
Would it be possible to fire yourself?
The answers are always the same: no, no, and no…and perhaps you're not moving those pieces around the board as well as you think you are.
Christmas is little more than a month away. Since you are tired, run-down and ready to fire yourself, you're not prepared. Being a control-freak, means you actually go out and do all the shopping. Every bit of it. You would never relinquish that right to a personal shopper and can't very well have a member of your immediate staff tend to it since gifts for them must be bought as well.
You might be an absolute bitch about everything else in the world but Christmas always turns you into pure sap. Buying gifts, once a year, for a handful of people you hate, yet couldn't do your job without, makes you terrifyingly giddy.
But this year, there's a problem. You're indecisive, doubtful and sleep deprived—meaning, you need help. You need advice. This year you cannot move all the pieces by yourself.
Andrea comes in with another cup of coffee. Is it the forth? Or fifth? You've lost count and it doesn't matter. What matters is that you are elbow deep in countless notebooks, trying to find that brilliant idea you had last year for a shoot. Nigel is desperate for inspiration, which means you are even more desperate. You pray to God that the answer is somewhere in your trusty notebooks. They've yet to fail you in all these years; you cannot afford for them to fail you now.
So you're flipping through…flipping through…thinking about anything but Christmas gifts when the words come right out of your mouth: "Andrea, what do you think Emily would like for Christmas?"
You're more than shocked by the question you've asked, and have a hard time stopping yourself from calling HR to replace the Editor and Chief of Runway. Weren't you supposed to take a few more days to come up with something on your own?
There's a long pause and you almost dismiss Andrea altogether. Lately, she's become a bit tongue-tied around you and who knows what that's about. Usually she reads you so well, which is why she's still here after three years. Why would you ever get rid of the one assistant that actually has a brain? But even so, lately she's been different. Or is you? Aren't you the one that moves the pieces? Aren't you the one that dictates how everything should go?
More and more it feels like she's off on her own though, moving about on the board as she pleases. Even if it's all tongue-tied and directionally challenged, Andrea has somehow gained a bit of control.
Control you must have let her have without realizing it.
After you nearly age by another year, she opens her mouth. "She'd probably love an Etsy gift card."
So far, you've managed to not look at her but now you must, feeling your eyes narrow into mere slits. "An Etsy what?" You ask because for one: what in the hell is an Etsy? And two: a gift card? No. Miranda Priestly does not to do gift cards. Not even for your children.
"It's this online shop…thing," Andrea says, like she really doesn't know how to speak. "That Emily likes. You know…when things are slow, she's on there all the time. I think she spends half her paycheck on…whatever."
So when things are slow, Emily spends her time doing nothing? Basically, that's what it is. Surfing the internet is doing nothing. For some reason you don't care though. The work gets done, somehow, so what does it matter? And this in itself is a problem. Normally you would fire someone for doing nothing. But today, Andrea is fidgeting and seems ready to die on the spot, and you really don't care about Emily's laziness so much as you should. More proof that pieces of you…your board, rather, are being moved around without your consent. Does Andrea even know how to play chess?
For instance, does she know that a rook is at its most valuable when little is left in its way? When it can control more of the board… Does she know that?
"Or maybe something from the new makeup line featured in the last issue?" Andrea says, while your mind is tumbling down a rabbit hole.
While you try to work through it, you chew on the end of your glasses, wishing you'd never asked and that you really could call HR. But you did ask and just like you already know, you cannot call HR for your own replacement. Irv would have to do it, most likely, and he's on vacation.
Too much time as gone by so you finally make a decision. "Fine then," You'll go with the first idea since Serena has surely supplied Emily with the second. "Send me the link to this Etsy thing. That's all."
Andrea lets out a clearly heard breath of what must be relief, and turns to go.
But…you're not ready for that. You're can't allow her to move in that direction yet. This rarely happens but every now and then you purposefully keep her near you for just a minute or two longer to avoid watching her leave. You watched that once before and even though you know it won't happen again—she told you so a very long minute and twenty seconds later—it makes you panic. So you keep her nearby until your brain remembers that you've got full control of the board, all the pieces. Or do you?
Today that is unclear.
To keep her close for just a few more minutes, you ask another question. You ask for one more bit of advice. Really, it's out of curiosity than anything else ; you don't expect Andrea to admit she wants anything at all for Christmas because while everyone wants everything from you all the time, Andrea doesn't. In three years she has never asked you for a single thing. Never.
Typically, you allow yourself to believe it is because she is already receiving items from the Closet, but sometimes you can't help but realize the truth. It's not because of the clothes. It's simply because Andrea doesn't seem to want anything. Since day one she's wanted nothing more from you than what you are. Not the title, but the person. You've always known that Andrea doesn't give a damn about your title. To her, they are not one and the same.
Before she crosses the threshold, you manage it. You ask the girl who never wants a thing, what else she wants. "And you, Andrea?" You keep your eyes down and try to remember where all the pieces go, and in which directions they're allowed to move because it's clear you've forgotten. What you're doing now proves you never knew how to play chess at all. "What would you like? For Christmas?"
And by God, you get an answer.
Andrea turns around and comes forward in a straight line, right up to your desk, like a rook that can only move forward, backward or side to side. She's always behind you or beside you, isn't she? Now, Andrea is in front of you. Just as she has been for three years.
Could you be any more confused?
And the look on her face… Nothing about this—from Andrea at least—is going to be tongue-tied or directionally challenged. She's staring at you so intently, telling you right away that asking such a question from someone who hasn't truly been afraid of you for such a long time, can't have been a worse idea.
Can you take this back? Is some unknown Harry Potter manuscript out there just waiting to be found? How fast can you get Andrea out of this room, off the board completely?
But you can't remember how to play. All you can do is sit here while Andrea looks at you like she knows what all the moves will already be. Like she sees the whole board.
Unable to control yourself—or anything at this point—you nod, and Andrea tells you exactly what she wants for Christmas.
"May I write to you?" She asks, appearing at once to become all thirty-two pieces and sixty-four squares. All at once, Andrea is everything.
You can't give her anything but a blank look. Granted, you give everybody blank looks all the time, but even you can't deny that this one is significantly different. This blank stare isn't from your usual catalog of blank facial features.
And this is certainly nothing like anything anyone has ever asked of you. Because let's face it, Andrea is only asking for permission to do something. Still, even now, after being asked, this girl wants nothing more than permission to do something when she could have anything, anything in the world laid at her feet. You would give her anything, and she only wants permission.
Then again, what should you have expected? Besides expecting no answer at all, you should have been fully prepared for Andrea to come up with a request so deeply personal it causes you to wonder if the very foundation of the building is giving way. Write to you? What could she possibly…
"What could you possibly have to say to me?" You manage, while trying very hard to wrap your head around the fact that the building isn't really about to fall down, or that your board isn't cracking in half. That all those kings, queens, rooks, bishops, knights and pawns are not falling into the first level of Hell.
"I understand this better than you think I do, Miranda."
This. What is this? Not you…but this. She understands it. Or, by using one word, does she mean both things at once? Aren't they one and the same? Even with the addition of her, it's always been one thing.
A game of chess. A game that she understands far better than you. But, even if her level of understanding is superior, you're able to pick her out: Andrea is a rook, restricted in some ways but ever so skillful, able to defeat with patience…when the time is right. Which is why she wants to communicate with you on paper, isn't it? Your mouth oftentimes spews nothing but fire, yet, with a pen you've always been far more eloquent, even when furious. Basically, she's well aware that trading pieces of paper will soften you.
As your board begins to break in earnest, you say, "You understand very little." The words are foolishly played. Really, you ought to give up. You know Andrea has already garnered all the permission she needs.
"But better than you think…"
"And will answers be required, Andrea?" Yes. You know this already. She will want letters in return and each of hers will be laden with question after question. Each one will be intrusive; an inquisition most likely. But you've got to ask. "Do you expect to receive responses to these…letters?"
"Only if you wanted."
Lie. That is a lie and you want to scream that you know better. That she is lying. That you can see it written all over her. She wants responses. She wants to demand them as a judge to a jury. But most of all, she wants you to play along.
As if you haven't been already. For three years.
Your board is done with its crumbling and falling. It has been crushed. The pieces themselves are even turning to dust. Who knew this girl could single handedly—and with such little effort—teach you that you are not the whole board. You're not even a game piece. You're just tongued-tied and directionally challenged.
Somehow, you give her permission. Verbally, you give Andrea permission and for it, you are thanked with a look in her eye that says—I've got you right where I want you—and that's the truth.
Having won, Andrea has placed you on her own board. She has worked smarter and harder for you than anyone else.
Later on, you're sure she'll tell you what role, what piece you are to play, but imagine that first, you will be a pawn. And it'll probably be a good long while before you're promoted but regardless of rules or titles, Andrea will likely move you however and wherever she chooses and you will gladly go.
Your only hope is that she won't be able to wait until Christmas to write that first letter.
Note: I have never played chess a day in my life. Three minutes of reading and one phone call at two-thirty in the morning are all the knowledge I've received today. Please forgive any incredibly huge blunders. Hopefully - there aren't any. And to the person I woke up...You are the best ever.