My Dubious Unemployment as a Person of the Writing Persuasion

canstockphoto10583842Lately, as I’ve tried to rehabilitate my creative self from an addiction to rules, schedules and the right way of doing things, I’ve arrived at this particular tenet: Questions are more interesting than answers. As an illustration, let me take you on a guided tour of my brain while unemployed.

For most of my life, I’ve been highly organized, driven, disciplined and determined. Why, you ask, don’t I have a job now? Why haven’t I started my own business? Why don’t I pay people to scoop the litter boxes and sort the family laundry? Why haven’t I won any awards or invented something spectacular like the hair scrunchie from which I make millions from hawking it on QVC? Why am I, by most concrete and measurable standards, not a success?

It does seem highly suspect that I should attain a college degree and work for years, yet the high point of my week was getting free groceries at Whole Foods when all their registers went down (seriously, though, I scored organic produce!). I’m smart. I work hard. Shouldn’t I be running my own philanthropic foundation now because I invented a new mobile app call CrackShot, exhorting people to take advantage of other people’s low riding pants? What have I been doing wrong?

canstockphoto15362073Now before you start sending me memes about success not always being money, but rather hugs and rainbows of cute bunnies, let’s be frank. Or Betty or whoever you want to be. Regardless of whatever faux Eastern philosophy has been slapped onto a t-shirt or coffee mug or the bumper sticker on your Hummer, many of us were raised with rather concrete ideas of what success means.

On a good day, I’m filled with gratitude that I have food, clothing and a place to live. I’m grateful for a family that I like to be around. I’m glad that I have opportunities which I’ve never had before. I can appreciate a good cup of coffee. Gratitude good. I get it.

On a bad day, when my writing is shit and every word seems made up, I resent not having the power to punch someone in the face who irritates me and then being able to lawyer up and get away with it. canstockphoto22305059Power and money and freedom – that’s what the human world recognizes.

I’ve read so many articles about writers and their work, that if one more of them refers to their “craft”, I’m getting put away for punching them in the face. Let’s bring it down a notch, artistes.

I’ve also been annoyed lately when writers have written about being “sponsored” by their spouses. I’m not being sponsored by anyone. I won’t try to justify it by making up some salary stay-at-home moms cite in defense of their worth. If I ever get that defensive, I need to go back to work. But we live under our means so that we have choices and this is, as a family, our current choice.

My ass is back in an outside job as soon as my husband says “my turn now”. El Patron wants to work on his super server and I’m back working in an office for some kid named Ashton who makes me think of that bully in 3rd grade who took my bike. Don’t get on my bad side, Ashton. I’ll put you in a corner.

Where was I? Why aren’t I a success? Perhaps it is that my brain is like a pinball machine, ideas bouncing everywhere. I tried to explain the phrase Renaissance woman to my daughter the other day. I suspect that the expression on her face was very much like the one I had when she said she wanted to be a musician. Don’t get me wrong, I’m psyched about the kid’s ambition, but it looks like finishing that room in the basement was a good plan. She’ll need somewhere to live while she’s viola busking.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that my creative nature has been losing out to safety. It’s safe to keep working at my age. Re-entry is going to be humiliating. It’s safe to follow rules, to honor the social measures of success, to be able to answer the question “what do you do?” I always had an answer. It was uninteresting and predictable. There was no need to engage further.

canstockphoto18643787Now, I don’t have a concrete answer. What do I do? I speculate on paper. I ask a lot of questions. I follow the trail that leads to more questions. I loiter at the library. I watch the grocery clerk as she tries to manufacture perkiness. I have weird inclinations, like wanting to learn French folksong lyrics or how to do the pigeon yoga pose.

Yesterday, I sat back in my reading chair and spent half an hour watching a spider traverse the ceiling. I thought, ninja spider! and I wonder if he hates me because I killed his companion in the kitchen yesterday. Then I thought about a short story I wanted to write about revenge. Then I wrote. That’s what I do.canstockphoto7439490

35 Comments on “My Dubious Unemployment as a Person of the Writing Persuasion

    • I think if home cooking and spotless rooms are a measure of being employed in the running of successful household, I’m on probation right now and not eligible for a raise. And I suspect the cats are actually in charge.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. You know … it bugs me the way we have confused “what do you do to contribute to the economy?” and “who are you?” – and, more than that, that we define a person’s value by the answer. I’m not free of it myself. I often feel like a loser because I don’t have a job or at least a bunch of clients – and I can’t point to any published work to justify my claim to be a writer. I could attach a bunch of labels to myself – as, of course, could you – but for what? Depending on the strength of the glue, labels either fall off and get lost, or stick so tightly you can never be free of them. Either way, they do a piss-poor job of answering the question “WHO am I?”

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    • Most of this post was tongue-in-cheek with a slight edge, but I see that I hit a sore spot. I am generally okay with the direction I’m heading in, but on occasion, in one awkward conversation or another, I realize that I’m out of step with practically everyone I know.
      It’s a real challenge to do that and not have those moments of doubt or anxiety that I’ve made completely wrong choices. But it gets easier. I’ve been reading too many posts by writers at varying stages of their careers and there’s a lot of justification going on where maybe none is needed – my own twisting in the wind as well.

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      • Lol – no, you didn’t hit a particularly sore spot … I mean, I worry about it sometimes, but mostly it just BUGS me that people judge each other – and themselves – that way. My sore spot is that I’ve managed to dig in my heels and say “Not gonna play that game” but I’m having the damnedest time getting my act together as regards actually writing.

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  2. I relate to this on so many levels. Remember writing is hard. Most people can’t face a blank page or create something out of nothing. It’s a lost art and completely devalued in our society, yet years later, the thing that is created is what is remembered and has meaning. So yeah, I think society’s values are all screwed up! Keep on the path.

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    • Writing seems, at this point, to be the easier and more enjoyable thing for me to do – much better than dishes or laundry. I’m a bit of a nihilist when it comes to what may or may not be remembered or valued, but there’s nothing to convince me that it’s not worth doing.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Amy. I see you’re keeping up the good fight!

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  3. This is fucking great. You’re talking to another kook now, though. You know that.

    Pigeon pose: highly recommended. Not joking. Especially if you hold tension in your hips. Don’t laugh, Michelle. It’s my favorite pose.

    I like you and that spider. I like the scene of you with the grocery clerk. I like that it’s not safe. I have to go get my kids now at the bus.

    I’m charged by the anger in this, a bit. Might last me another hour or so, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I re-read what I wrote after reading your comment. I didn’t think I had anger when I wrote it, but it does just sort of bleed through, doesn’t it?

      I got hit with a poorly timed question from a relative: “So, what do you do besides write?” It got the ball rolling on this post. All this time, I’ve been making excuses and falling over myself trying to convince other people by becoming super volunteer or talking about some house project I was working on – to prove that I was busy, that I had worth.

      Well, I’m not busy. I’m meandering and daydreaming and writing and actually enjoying myself. That tension you mentioned – I carried that tight hard ball in my jaws, shoulders, facial expressions. It’s starting to melt away and my brain is becoming this whacky, fluid place that I like to hang out in. Likely defensiveness is a side effect of transition. Someday, when I am asked “What do you do?”, I’ll answer “Not much” and drift away.

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      • I apologize for the F bombs. I apologize that I’m apologizing but reacted quickly to your post, with like a few minutes to read it you know which is ridiculous given I’m unemployed, but wanted to squeeze it in. I can see why you would react that way to the comment ‘what else do you do.’ When I was a lot younger, a guy asked me on the phone ‘are you published?’ and I said I’m published every time I pull the paper out of the roller, buddy. They don’t understand and that’s OK. “They.” Yikes, I am going back to this radio program now featuring Mardi Gras music. Liked your post. Bye — sleep tight and wake up weird.

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        • No need to apologize on the language. It seems like lately I’m editing it out of every initial post draft. Not sure why. I keep it in fiction, take it out of personal essays. Probably because I’d likely use it every other sentence. I’m settling in with a book I’m reading on death. Cause I’m sunshine girl.

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        • Death is one of my favorite themes and not a bad card in the Tarot, kind of necessary multiple times in your life.

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  4. The key to this whole thing is “many of us were raised with rather concrete ideas of what success means.” Damn their insidious hides! Ideas are just ideas. This one happens to run deep.

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    • There are some persistent myths of success in this country that are bound and determined to make us feel like failures, despite the obvious economic and social indicators that times are-a-changin’.
      It was always about having a job while growing up through several recessions. Then it was about health insurance once we found that we could be bankrupted if we got sick. Now my shift is towards retirement planning and then, you know, death. Somewhere in there, I’ve just decided to make room for writing.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. It is in the nature of a human to doubt. There is also a perverse pleasure in intentionally running in the opposite direction of everyone around me. I do both pretty well. Thankfully I avoided the whole cat thing – that sounds scary.

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    • I think I have some more tearing free of old ideas of conformity to do, but I’m getting there. The cats don’t know it, but we’re going to be a dog household as soon as they’ve shuffled off the mortal coil.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Why am I, by most concrete and measurable standards, not a success?

    At the risk of being punched in the face…. 🙂

    “Organized, disciplined and work hard” is a better description of a soldier than a general. People who succeed are rarely driven by anything other than success itself. Think Glengarry Glen Ross. The measure of everything they do is held against the light of their definition of success. While the rest of us might ask ourselves, “Did I do this right?”, they ask, “Did this do right by me?”

    Most of the writers I know are buskers, people who play for free. They ask themselves, “Is this well written?” not “Will it sell?”

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    • I think my habits are generally in conflict with my nature – habits of a soldier, thinking of a leader. This is sometimes the cause of a lot of disgruntlement on my part. And when I say leader, I mean one of example and not necessarily one of people.

      Blogging is a bit of busking, isn’t it? I do write for myself, but always feel extremely self-conscious when others read it. I need to get over that.

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  7. Really great article! I’m following your blog now solely based on this article, along with the assumption that your other articles are just as good or even better! 🙂

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  8. I hear you, sister. My frustration is the feeling that all my writing doesn’t add up to much, especially since the world of the written word is so noisy. Peace, John

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    • I believe that every writer who is dedicated to a good story and communicating well, can find readers. When people are discouraged by the range and quality and quantity of writing out there, I see it as evidence that there’s room for me.
      I feel like I just told a fellow writer to “turn that frown upside down” – I’ll try to stop doing that. Early morning optimism is sure to evaporate.

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  9. At the young age of 23 I’ve found myself unemployed and pregnant. Though I’m lucky enough to have a partner willing to do what he can to keep our heads above the water I still knew I needed to do something while sitting at home to help. So I’ve started writing, its something I have always loved and enjoyed doing, but thought was years away from being something I could make money doing. So far that’s proven to be mostly true in a month I’ve managed to rake in a paltry $160. I just hope that in time it gets better and perhaps I will soon be able to catch hold of one of those pinball ideas running around in my brain and use it to make something more than $1 an hour for a full time work week.

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    • You’re already ahead of me. 47, child heading to middle school and I have not made a single dollar off of writing. Right now, that thought rather amuses me. In another year, I’m going to be really, really grumpy. Good luck! It sounds like you have a key ingredient to success – persistence.

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      • Thanks that makes me feel better, like you I was raised that success was being able to take care of your family with a successful paying job, and I’ve always been a planner. My plans foiled with the early appearance of a kid, Its been said to me that I didn’t succeed in my goals. However, goals change and I’m not one to let goals slide to the wayside. I am very persistent and apply to an average of 3 to 5 writing jobs a day even if I’m not interested in the topic.

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  10. Free food at Whole Foods? Are you kidding me? Were you in some weird parallel dimension when this took place? Great post!!!!

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    • Thanks! That experience at Whole Foods will likely be the high point of the entire year. I felt guilty, but still pleased that I’d made it through my entire shopping list before they let me know they were closing. It has tainted all other grocery shopping trips from here on out!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I have probably relied way too much on the following quote: “What no one can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.” ~Burton Rascoe

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      • Yes…sooner or later we do have to actually move the words from our heads and deposit them in an ordered way for the reader. Non-writers simply don’t understand that being a writer encompasses a vast process, and I don’t beat that dead horse anymore. Although I have had some works published, I don’t fit the picture non-writers hold of the successful writer: best-selling novelist, book-signing tours, movie deals, etc.

        But I have found that one of the strongest saboteurs of my confidence, motivation, and actual writing has been the non-writer’s definition of a writer; not because his or her intention was sabotage, but because I allowed it to happen.

        Now, when my claim that I am a writer comes into question, I just offer my truth: I am a writer because I am driven by the need to manipulate the written word. I can’t NOT be tuned-in to the writing process, and it is the hardest work I have ever done. That thinking is empowering for me, and I have been able to put more words to the page ever since I quit fighting with the perceived sabotage.

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        • I’m still a bit adrift when it comes to being focused and goal-oriented with my writing, but the most valuable tool I use now is knowing when an excuse is an excuse. It’s okay to have excuses as long as I don’t lie to myself. If I wanted to write, I would write and nothing would get in the way of that. I don’t expect to become a published author any time soon – I haven’t earned it and I haven’t done the work. But I’m inching forward and I try to remember that forward is always a good direction, even if it’s minute and incremental.

          I enjoyed reading about your experience and perspective. For me, the inner critic and editor slows my progress, but I know that and have decided that I can work with it – very slowly!

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