Scrivener’s Friday Five: “We can work it out.”
- What’s a real-world lesson you learned from your first job?
- What was pleasantly unexpected about your current (or most recent) job?
- What are some identifying tools of your trade?
- What’s something a job required that you thought was far outside your skillset?
- Robert Frost wrote, “My object in living is to unite / My avocation and my vocation / as my two eyes make one in sight.” To what degree have you united your vocation (your job) and your avocation (your hobby)?
I have always worked. First selling boxes of raspberries on a country road outside Old Town, Maine, which is about as far as you can get from a center of commerce. Maybe one car passed by every three hours; I can’t remember ever making a sale when I was 7 or 8. Later I was in demand as a babysitter. I also crocheted little sachets filled with lavender I grew myself to sell 50/50 at a consignment shop. Later I added a line extension with crocheted and tatted Christmas snowflakes.
All of these jobs were desperately needed to pay for my contact lenses, school supplies, and theoretically, my college savings fund. I knew I had to get to college, but when I was young, my parents sat me down and explained our financial realities and said if I ever hoped to go to college, I would have to earn my own way there.
My first full-time job where I actually filled out paperwork and paid taxes was when I was 13. I was hired as a Packer & Shipper at the Mason and Sullivan Clock Company, now defunct (though you still see their clocks online and at auction). While I was trying to improve my speed of rolling sticky tape across box lids, I was also trying to figure out the dynamics of my new workplace, a converted warehouse with about a dozen personnel. The person I watched most often was the man who silk-screened the glass panels depicting a ship and sky for the Mantle Clocks. He made piles and piles of beautiful glass panels, some with the sky at sunrise, some with cloudy skies, others pure blue, and some at sunset. He would take breaks and smoke mentholated Kools. I was really impressed that he had the power to reject: if he didn’t think a sky was good enough, according to his inner instinct for skies, he could put it into his reject pile.
I loved those rejected skies. They were stormy, oversaturated, even fluorescent. And, in terms of real-world lessons, they represented the power to reject or accept. My entire life had been one of acceptance; I never had the power to reject anything. I was never allowed to say “No,” even though according to my mother my first full sentence as an infant was “I don’t want it.” When Mr. Kool gave me permission to take home any of the rejects I wanted, I was exhilarated. I held on to my pile of rejected skies for more than 12 years, until they cracked when I tried to remove them from the kitchen wall where I had glued them to decorate my small Seattle apartment on Phinney Ridge. I cried then, for everything those rejected skies had come to mean to me. I had a west-facing view of the sunset sky every night in that apartment. The jobs I had to take to pay the rent there had deepened my conviction that the power to say “No” was just about the only power worth having in the work world.
Recently I have been freelancing again, under the brand Words That Work®, a consulting service I established in 1992 for extra income and to get me through the lean times every time the company I worked for went out of business or outsourced its creative department.
The most wonderful and unexpected part of freelancing is that I can say “No” any time I want! I don’t even have to get out of bed, since I can type with my pillows behind my back, listening to the doves and sparrows and bulbuls in the avocado and breadfruit trees outside my bedroom window. Unfortunately, saying “No” isn’t terribly realistic in this economy, since I’m having a hard enough time already paying rent for this lovely little bedroom. But, theoretically, I could still say it. I don’t, though. I need every assignment I can conjure up. Metaphorically, we’re back to selling berries on a winding country road out in the middle of nowhere, for all the incredible income this is generating. I am good at new client development. I am bad at chasing after bad debt.
As a writer/consultant, my tools are my brain, my phone, my laptop, with some pens, notepads, coffee and chocolate thrown in just in case. And protein bars. And filtered water to stay hydrated. My brain is taking forever to boot up in the morning, hence the coffee. Oh, also chairs, a desk, the aforementioned bed and pillows, and my library of real, not virtual books for reference. An air-cleaner. Since a good strategist spends more time thinking than writing, my brain is in all ways the most critical tool. Sometimes I don’t give it the respect it deserves.
The strangest job requirement I’ve ever encountered, which was definitely not in my job description, was the willingness to be at the beck and call of my boss at Funny Business (I am not making this up–there is no protection for the guilty here), at all times. Back then I cycled to work downtown and didn’t have a car. So when my boss didn’t feel like going into the office (he had the power of “No” down to a science, but he also had a rich mother), he would call me and say, “Get a taxi and come over to my houseboat and take notes.” Well, taking notes was well within my skillset. Alas, “taking notes” was a euphemism for activities which, while known to me, were never listed as desired job skills since doing so would have been grounds for a lawsuit. He threatened that if I didn’t “take notes” I would be fired. I was 23, desperate to pay off my student loans. I had been supporting myself since 17, and had just graduated college with high honors and scholastic recognition, and “taking notes” was so demeaning and insulting that I developed a profound depression. When Funny Business started bouncing paychecks, I quit.
People ask me, why didn’t I sue him for sexual harassment, and probably other charges as well? What very few people in this country understand, until it happens to them, is that if you are poor and the perpetrator is rich, there is no way you are going to get justice. The system just doesn’t work that way. So once again, I was stuck in a position without the power to say “No.” Even though I did say no, I was still forced to “take notes.”
I am a writer. I have always been a writer. I wrote my first novel at eleven, while on a long journey by freighter from Australia back to the U.S.A. via the Panama Canal. Admittedly, it was a pretty lame effort, about the exciting adventures of a cat who lived underwater and was always trying to fit in with various sea creatures and undersea ecologies where despite its amazing powers it was always rejected, always moving on, traveling the ocean floor.
My entire professional life is about writing–perhaps not yet the writing I consider my avocation, such as poetry, fiction, and memoir: creative writing that I hope will win me a Nobel Laureate and get me a Wikipedia entry (this is all I care about in 2017, why don’t I have a Wikipedia entry?). I am the Junk Mail Queen! I write evocative travel copy. I translate high-tech feature sets into benefit-rich consumer copy. I am pretty damn good, if I don’t say so myself. I did have a book of poetry published in 1994, but unfortunately was hit by a truck just before my publicity tour, and one night at a reading fainted at the podium, and there went my publicity tour.
The most enticing aspect of blogging is that you can incorporate your avocation into your vocation. Tropical Toes began as a serious effort to get motivated to complete my almost-finished memoir (which was also my MA thesis), because everyone who read bits of it was certain I had a hot marketable property on my hands. Memoir as a genre sells quite well. Then, thinking optimistically, some publishing company will buy the rights to my first book from the now defunct Bellowing Ark Press, republish that along with books two and three of poetry, plus my novel, my science fiction novel, and my memoir…and voilà, my life of fame and fortune and Wikipedia recognition will begin.
Meanwhile, I really need to be writing something incredibly profitable so that the skies I do choose to reject are hidden from sight by a roof over my head, instead of hanging over my head with no protection. Rejected skies for sure.