Friday, August 29, 2014

Got a Job

Most  writers have “real” jobs that help us afford necessities like rent, car insurance, and tequila. Often we feel those jobs are something we have to do in order to survive and we pray for that one big break which will prove to the whole world that we’re a writer, damn it, so take this minimum wage job transcribing medical records for hypochondriacs and shove it into the Mariana Trench (where the sun don’t shine)!

I believe we’re all writers. We’re also all dancers, singers, and artists. We knew that when we were 5-years-old, but somehow stupid stuff like “making a living” and “acting our age” gets in the way of our natural creative pursuits as we get older.

In honor of Labor Day and the fact that most writers do some kind of labor every day in addition to staring at a blank screen and trying to visualize what it would look like with words on it, I present the following list:

Top 10 Things I’ve Learned about Creativity and Writing from “Real Jobs”


1.      The time I painted house numbers on people’s curbs with my stepbrother who thought it would be hysterical to spray-paint my arms florescent colors EVERY DAY – Creativity can be used for both good and evil. The choice is yours.

2.      The job I had mowing the lawn of a one-armed man who fired me saying he could do better with his one good arm tied behind his back – Avoid perfectionism; it saps the joy out of everything.

3.      My time doing drug surveys for a local government, during which I met a sheriff who grew pot in the country courthouse to “teach his officers what it looked like.” – Good research is important in most jobs, including writing. And if you do it right, it can also be fun.

4.      The job I had one summer during my college years in which I was officially classified as an “Unskilled Employee” and had to file applications for people who wanted to put odd things such as large quantities of elephant poo, into city dumps – It doesn’t matter what people call you. What matters is how you see yourself.

5.      My first job out of college at which I read numbers to a guy who was supposed to double-check them, but he had narcolepsy and kept nodding off – Character quirks make people memorable. (Hi, Eric!)

6.      The excruciating 7 months I worked for a major bank corporation plotting economic indicators and how to sneak rat poison into my sexually-harassing boss’s yogurt – All stories need an evil protagonist.

7.      The time I worked for a multi-millionaire options trader who had been a boxer when he was young, but in his 80s relied instead on his ability to make everyone (the chair of the National Organization for Women, a slew of stockbrokers, and a racehorse) cry – Money makes people crazy and if that’s why you do what you do, you’ll never be happy (unless, perhaps, someone else is weeping openly in your presence.)

8.      My part-time job in grad school in which I worked as a secretary for a man so drunk and delusional he made me take apart my IBM Correcting Selectric every night and hide the key so “people couldn’t use the typewriter overnight.” – It’s important to discover how much libation keeps your ideas flowing and how much makes people want to punch you (as one of his employees did at the company picnic. No, it wasn’t me.)

9.      The job I had for 12 years during which I created one of the best university wellness programs in the country (including helping our campus go smoke-free in 1989!!) only to have is dismantled after I left. – Your passion is your passion. Just because someone else (an editor, an agent, the devil himself) doesn’t get it, doesn’t mean you should send them threatening e-mails. You know who you are.

10.  One of my current “real” jobs in which I teach 900 journalism students every year how to use proper grammar. – The best way to write about what’s going on in the real world is to be in the real world, not sitting at home in your pajamas for months, eating mac ‘n cheese out of the box and watching Big Brother.

Sure, jobs can suck, but if you pay attention, you may just get your next big writing idea while toiling away. And maybe that idea will be the one that takes you to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and ends up becoming a major motion picture starring George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson. Now go out there and spray your arms with fluorescent paint and see what happens.

Leigh Anne Jasheway lives in her own little world, but there are flamingos there, so it's okay. Her latest books are 101 Comedy Games for Children and Grown-Ups and Date Me, Date My Dog: Finding Mr. Right for You and Your Pack. She teaches comedy writing and has a new 3-week online class starting Sept. 11. You can get info and sign up here:


Peter Hogenkamp said...

Fantastic post Leigh Anne! Loved the anecdotes, and I agree, threatening e-mails don't further your cause! Very entertaining and informative.

Eliza Cross said...

What a funny list, Leigh Anne! You've clearly enjoyed a rich, full career life, and you've inspired me to see some of my past jobs (skateboard factory worker, McDonald's cashier, debt collector file clerk) through the lens of writing material and creativity. Thanks for a great post.