Magnificence and mailboxes

Wheatsheaf - There's a Whale

This is the story of Jonah. Not the reluctant prophet who took a time-out in a whale, but a man named after him by a mother who should have known better.

Like his Biblical namesake, Jonah had a calling. Not to preach, but to create something. If you asked him about it, at twenty-three the conversation would have gone something like this:

“What are you making, Jonah?”
“Oh, I’m working on mumblemublemutter.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
“You know, just a rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb.”
“Alright, it’s a decorative mailbox! Okay!?!”

Young and self-conscious, Jonah gave in to embarassment and stopped making his mailboxes. He became an electrician instead, which is a job that’s much easier to explain at parties. He married Marie-Claire, joined the local football team, and was content most of the time.

But Jonah was haunted by mailboxes. In his dreams he invented mailboxes shaped like Kodiac bears, mailboxes that brought the mail to the front door in a model train, mailboxes that played carillons when parcels arrived.

Through his twenties, Jonah tried with some success to suppress the dreams and live his unconscious life in as ordinary and normal a way as his conscious life. It was easier when the kids arrived; the never-ending activity kept him busy.

On his thirtieth birthday, Jonah surprised everyone…

…including himself, by getting a tattoo. It wasn’t the idea that was shocking – tattoos not being terribly rare amongst electricians – but what it said.

When asked to explain why he’d gotten this quote by James Lowell on his arm, Jonah could only say, “I dunno. I just liked it.”

The quote?

Not failure, but low aim, is crime.

But still, Jonah was an average bloke with an average life… if you didn’t count the dreams of mailboxes.

Everything was ordinary for a long time, but Jonah got pretty damn twitchy in his late thirties. He started sleeping badly and drinking one too many beers on the couch at night. He fought with Marie-Claire and yelled at the kids. One day the younger, Harry, said: “I don’t want to be around you, Dad. You’re mean.”

Jonah started crying and couldn’t stop for a very long time.

He started going to a therapist, on the quiet for fear that the other guys would find out. She was nice enough but didn’t help, so he tried another one.

Three sessions in, Brian asked, “Do you remember your dreams? And why did you look so ashamed when I asked you that?”

Soon the therapy sessions stopped being about feeling his feelings, and started being about mailboxes.

Brian asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you followed this dream and started making mailboxes again?”
“And what’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t follow that dream?”
“Which is scarier?”
“The nothing.”
“Yeah, I thought so.”

Jonah quit the footy team and started locking himself in the garage.

Six weekends later, he sheepishly asked his family to come out and have a look at something.

It was a tree, three foot high and strangely familiar, with a treehouse at the top where mail went in. Marie-Claire’s forehead creased and then she shouted, “It’s one of the trees of Lothlรณrien! From Lord of the Rings! Oh Jonah, it’s beautiful!”

His grin went from embarassed to excited. “You like it? I mean, I made it for you.”

Marie-Claire and the kids looked shocked, from Jonah to the tree and back. “You made this, darling? Really? I know you said you used to make a few mailboxes when you were younger. But this is… amazing! You made it from scratch?”

“Yeah. I was thinking I’d make a few more, if that’s cool.”

Three years later, Jonah quit his job to make mailboxes full time. For reasons he never consciously understood, his first professional design was a whale.

The moral of the story

Magnificence is fucking scary.

I don’t think it’s rare because few people have the talent to create it, I believe it’s rare because so few people have the guts to go for it.

It’s up to you to decide whether the persistent discomfort of selling yourself short is more or less uncomfortable than the soul vertigo of reaching for greatness.

Which do you choose?


If you’ve chosen to strive for magnificence (and you’d prefer not to take as long about it as Jonah), then Goddamn Radiant is for you.

Creative Commons License photo credit: artwork_rebel

89 thoughts on “Magnificence and mailboxes

  1. Cathrine, you are wonderful. Every time I read one of your posts, I feel like you are talking to me with a big wag of your finger. I’m trying to be less of a chicken shit. ok. lol.

    Thank you.

  2. This is yet another brilliant, and timely, slap in the face for those of us living in complacency and dragging our knuckles through a life that’s brimming with magnificence but is being slowly drained of substance and awesome by mediocrity.

    Best of thoughts and wishes to you Catherine, for sharing this story on this day of harvest and renewal.

      1. The cogs are forged and being placed in the clockwork-awesome-machine, the tracks and foundations are being laid. Ideas for a destination are being discussed with my navigator (wife) and I’ll be consulting my astrolabe soon to plot a course for Glory ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Soon, my dear, soon. I shall embark with ideas in the beta stage and will call upon you to help slap them into their “public release” stage!

  3. Holy Shit Catherine. Where on EARTH do you keep coming up with these fucking awesome stories that make me cry and want to run out and conquer the world? You rock.

  4. This is SO what I needed today. It validates what I’m trying to do. First and foremost I have to have the GUTS right? And then not give up the “dream”. Well thank you Catherine for kicking me in the “6”. Thank you, thank you.

  5. Hey Catherine, this story is fantastic! What a great way to make your point.

    I see myself in that story, and so many other people.

    Three cheers for the Magnificent Mail-box-makers!

  6. I know I should be talking about the moral of the story (I love the quote, btw, and I still have way too many “What are you working on these days/MumbleMutterRubarb” discussions) but wow. WOW.

    Oh, wait. I know how to do this!

    “The Moral of the Story: Magnificence is fucking scary.”

    Are you fucking scared yet, Catherine? Because your storytelling-with-a-point?
    It’s magnificent. Ok, I’m off to see if I can get fucking scared, too, now. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. This reminds me of a number of turn-around moments in my life. I’m glad I’m 52 now, and some of those choices have already been made. There’s always something new to learn, though… I won’t be done for a while (Like 84yr old Helen, my computer student who will always be a role model).

  8. Hey Catherine!

    Wow – this is another powerful one! Whew!

    I particularly liked what you said at the very end: Itโ€™s up to you to decide whether the persistent discomfort of selling yourself short is more or less uncomfortable than the soul vertigo of reaching for greatness.

    And I already know that selling myself short is FAR more uncomfortable… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. YES. This was awesome. It takes a lot of courage to take our dreams seriously! I’m finding out more and more it’s less about ‘luck’ and more about taking the time to really pursue something. When you work hard at it and just keep going with it, even if you’re taking itty bitty steps that seem insignificant, they add up. People appear to help you. Connections are made. Things happen. And all of a sudden you’re like “whoa… I’m actually doing this”.

  10. You know, I have to be beaten over the head a few times with it – how to conquer the fear to build something wonderful – but I think I’m finally starting to GET IT. Thank you for helping me GET IT, Catherine. Your stories are educational, inspirational and everythingelse-nal.

      1. I hope you’re right! I thought before I could spray my sauce bottle of magnificence everywhere, I should update with an easier to use theme. I got it, installed it and it wasn’t until hours later I’d realised what I’d done. The theme I’d chosen was called ‘Magnificent’. How did you manage to get into my unconscious mind as well!? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. This one made me cry.

    His grin went from embarassed to excited. โ€œYou like it? I mean, I made it for you.โ€


    Yes, that’s cool. Please make more.

  12. You see a lot of people trying to get a message across with a story. Most bore you to death. BUT, this story had me hello. Well actually at โ€œAlright, itโ€™s a decorative mailbox! Okay!?!โ€ Thank you for such great entertainment, and an insightful message. Recently I did something that was courageous (for me), and I think it paid off. Kinda surpised myself. I remember reading some place, if it scares you to hit publish, then it’s probably good. They were right. I like the way you tell it better thou! Thank you.

  13. I always thought I had an interesting story, and it’s similar to Jonah’s.

    When I graduated college in 2006, I was clearing 5 figures per month from my blog. My family wanted me to get a “real job,” but I didn’t listen because I was making money.

    After doing the blogging thing for a year, I eventually caved and got a “real job” at a Fortune 100 company… earning in a year what I earned in a few months on the internet.

    Sounds crazy, I know. I lasted at the Fortune 100 gig for 2 years before I ended up quitting and began making mail boxes again, heh.

    I suppose I’m lucky. I only fell off track for 2 years. Could have been worse. Heh.

  14. What a great story. Now I want a whale mailbox but I fear the non-educated delinquents that frequent the Glasgow streets, would never leave it in peace. Damn them all to hell…

  15. Oh, love. Love love LOVE! My mission is pretty damn cheesy. It’s also really sparkly and gorgeous, when I unabashedly share it with people. Catherine, you inspire me to keep making mailboxes. And never, ever stop.

  16. Another motivational & uplifting post Catherine. But I can’t help thinking that it’s one thing to have the courage to pursue your dreams, but quite another to turn those dreams into something financially magnificant too!

        1. If you’re producing OMG WONDERFUL but people aren’t responding, it could just be a disconnect between the awesomeness you’ve made – and your jewellery IS lovely – and how you talk about it.

          That’s the problem that Goddamn Radiant (and the soon-to-launch product version) is there to solve. Sign up for one of the free sessions, we can talk about it.

  17. I’ll run with you, its over now. ill start dreaming. Tell rachel the better man won.

    No more communication now. My computer is yours take what ever you want.

  18. Great starry, great point ,made me cry too! I want to step up an show the world that i will do it too!

  19. OMG Catherine, you are a friggin’ genius. Who knows how many amazing stories like this I have missed while being burried in my day job. Thanks for mentioning Jonah today (yes, I took note of it despite the speed in which it came and went in our conversation).ย 

    “I donโ€™t think itโ€™s rare because few people have the talent to create it, I believe itโ€™s rare becauseย so few people have the guts to go for it.” SO TRUE!!!

    I love how amazing you are. Thank you for being you and sharing it with the world and having the guts to go for it.ย 


  20. I was at work at 5:24 on a Monday, counting the minutes until I could leave, reading this article.ย  You can tell by that one sentence that Jonah and I have something in common.ย  For the moment, we have the first part of his story in common.ย  I truly hope that we have the second act in common before too long.

    Great story.ย  Thank you very much.

  21. soul vertigo! ROCKED my soul! Thank you. I found you today when I needed you most {in the spiral, of course!} and I’m not letting go! Big smooch to you in this wildly large small space of the internet. Thanks for your rocking radiance. I’m starting to shine too – can you feel it!

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