Uncommitted: Being Jack

In high school, we were forced to take an assessment called the Career Occupational Preference Survey (COPS). It was supposed to define the possible kinds of work you might enjoy doing, based on your interests. I was directed towards engineering, public relations or education career clusters.

Nothing I do today remotely relates to any of those careers. My dream jobs run like this, in chronological order of when I thought “it would be awesome to be that when I grow up”: librarian, writer, English teacher, writer, architect, writer, spy, writer, accountant, writer, personal trainer, writer….you see where I’m going with this. Yes, I love to write. Will I be able to squeeze a career out of it? I can’t predict that, but writing does the thing that nothing else does. It allows me to be a little bit of everything, while justifying reading for hours on end as “career development”.

I recently re-read parts of Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One. I read it several years ago and it was an epiphany. If I had not read this book, my next step would be to have myself evaluated for ADD. Friends were being promoted in careers, finishing advanced degrees, building stable floors under their feet. I was still struggling to figure out what I wanted to do. I was seeing my desire for constant change as a weakness, because I seemed so wishy-washy compared to the solid citizens around me.

Over the years, I’ve halfheartedly committed to the writing life, but like a restricted diet, I assumed that the career of a writer had a formula and if I didn’t follow it, then it was my failure. You get an English or Journalism degree. You hang out with other writers in salons, exchanging bon mots and bed partners. You spill coffee on yourself while running to get the big story. You sit hour after hour plodding away at a typewriter, with a bin nearby overflowing with rejected copy. You write erotic prose after feeding your 500 cats, a neighborhood eccentric in a big floral hat. Or my personal favorite: you spend all your time brooding and drinking and smoking, while snarling angrily at publishers and readers alike. But they put up with you, because on paper, you’re genius.

After reading tons of “how to write”, “when to write” and “what to wear when you’re writing” bits of advice, I’m more convinced than ever that this is a way of life for me. No writer is consistent except that they write. Whether it’s after they’ve finished a triathlon or while they’re laying around in their underwear at 3p.m. nursing a hangover. You can know a little bit about everything or a lot about one thing. It doesn’t matter.

I still argue with myself whether I should get an MFA or set a timer on my desk so that I’m locked into writing time, but that’s just insecurity rearing its ugly head. I’m writing and I’m writing more consistently than I ever have in my life. I’m a jack of many trades and master of none, which is to say that I don’t know much about anything, but whatever I do know, I’ll be sure to write about it.

5 thoughts on “Uncommitted: Being Jack

  1. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Still don’t. There were too many interesting roads to pick just one, and I’ve always liked the idea of being a Jack o’ Trades. It’s ended up serving me okay in an ever-changing world!

    A thing that interests me about art and artists is that there is no one way, let alone right way, to create art. Each artist has to find their own way!


    1. It’s a great time to be Jack in this economy. The 1950’s myth of a straight line from college to career is long dead. I think versatility, adaptability and an interest in learning are key to keeping one’s head above water. It is definitely true that each artist has to find his or her own way. That became abundantly clear after I read so many books about writing and writers. It’s nice to play with their ideas, though, to see what might fit.


  2. I think versatility, adaptability and an interest in learning are key to keeping one’s head above water”

    Very true and very true for every writer I know who makes their living at it. Journalism and publishing are changing so fast it’s making our heads spin.


    1. I’m not really in the game yet, but your post today scared the crap out of me. I have another friend who is a playwright and I’ve heard about her struggles over the years. I’m going to keep my blinders on for awhile longer…I’ll make money out of writing by the time I need a new set of teeth, so I’m keeping my expectations low.


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