Thursday, March 29, 2012

Things we do to pay our bills and feed our dogs...

Don't worry, I'm not talking about prostitution.

Although I think someone once argued that writing was a lot like prostitution. (First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, then for money.) But before this post spirals rapidly downhill into firmly disreputable territory, I'm going to redirect us toward the subject I intended to talk about when I wrote that title:



Now, I'm not one of those lazy types who likes to slug around in my pajamas and eat Doritos while playing video games from dawn until dusk, but I can't deny that I shiver a little at the idea of being confined to an air-conditioned space from 9-5 every day. And this Normal Job Phobia has caused me no little inconvenience through my last five years as a college grad, as most of the jobs that have interested me have put rather a strain on both my pocketbook and my intellectual growth. Not that I didn't learn loads at both Barnes & Noble and the dear, lovely greenhouse that employed me, but neither was I able to stretch and grow into my full potential as a person while working at those places.

I wish I could say that I've finally found the perfect job to complement writing life. (Who knows if that miracle will ever surface.) But I can at least say that I've found something a bit closer to the perfect job. For the last month, in addition to tutoring English at the community college, I have been working as a merchandiser for Scholastic book fairs. And let me just say that this job is nothing like sitting in a cubicle.

There's a lot of lifting boxes. (Full of books!) And a lot of rolling massive cases. (Full of books!) And a lot of building eye-catching displays. (Of books!) And generally a lot of being around librarians, PTA volunteers, and yes, books.

Frankly, it is intoxicating to be around books so much again, and even better to see such a wide range of new, award-winning, and bestselling YA titles come out of the boxes every time I set up a display. But if you write, you probably know what I am going to say next: It is also a little like having a burr in my saddle, because it makes me all itchy to have my book on a shelf for some eager middle-schooler to pick up and read.

I was talking recently with my sister-in-law about how difficult it is to wholeheartedly pursue your passion as your career. And it seemed to us that a major part of that difficulty is in the financial frustration it produces. Inevitably, you end up sacrificing much more than just time and energy to pursue the thing that beats in the center of your heart like a bird waiting to be set loose, and when you're living month to month on paychecks that never seem as large as you expect them to be, it is easy to lose momentum. I have often caught myself thinking, while in the throes of bill-paying anguish, that I should give up my stupid, pointless dream of being a writer, and just get a job that would pay the effing rent.

But that's arrant nonsense. Because do you know what would happen if I stopped writing in order to pursue a "real" career? I would become desperately miserable, my soul would wither up like an old prune, and the fierce, wild bird in my heart would starve from neglect. Financial stability is simply not worth that, and neither are creature comforts. Maybe my dog can't wear Burberry collars and eat Rachel Ray dog food; and maybe I sometimes feel like throttling my car for its junker deficiencies; and maybe I'll be working piddly, unsatisfying jobs for many years to come, but I will at least know I'm doing it for the sake of something I love with all my heart.

And that's something.

What about you? What sacrifices do you make to pursue the thing you want most?


  1. Sanity in general. That's what I sacrifice. A happy, normal relationship where I dont break down crying every couple of months when I realize I'm so far away from everything I want to be. I pray he never gets sick of nursing my ego, but let's be realistic: when someone isn't intending to be a "career artist" themselves, they just don't fully get that you'd sacrifice entertainment and food for a tube of cadmium red paint and some wooden supports. Or that you'd barely scrape by on gas each week for some glitter spray paint and clay.
    I sacrifice my pants, as well. Every pair has paint stained on them.

  2. I'm in a weird position because I *am* pursuing a career in what I love -- one of the things, at least. Getting a PhD in something as esoteric as fairies in fourteenth century Middle English romances, at a university in Scotland no less, is a tremendous privilege. And, Lord willing, if I get a lectureship or an academic job somewhere, then I'll still be doing what I love and getting paid for it.

    That said, it still has a cost. I'm not being paid to get a PhD. I've taken out a lot of student loans. I'm already getting worried and nervous about where and when I'll get a job so that I can pay back said loans -- knowing that the process of which will probably take me at least a decade. :\

    But your new job with Scholastic sounds so much fun. I remember going to book fairs and how much I loved them. I'm lucky I had parents who never said no to buying me books. Could you add a regular feature to your blog of all the new YA books that catch your eye?

  3. I count myself lucky every day that I happen to be passionate about editing rather than writing. Helping a true artist's work shine is what gives me real satisfaction, and though I rarely feel that I am working with a real artist, it is lucky for me that editing mixes a great deal of art with business so both my creativity and pocketbook are satisfied a lot of the time (though my dogs by no means wear Burberry or eat Rachael Ray either. They are humble canines who eat the kibble of the peasants.).

    What I give up in the meantime is the chance to work with who I want, on my own timeframe. Someday I hope to have built up my street cred enough to freelance full time, and then I CAN work with real writers, who really love books, and I can do it at home, the way I want.

    And, you know, not having to work in an air-conditioned office where I am surrounded by thirty other people at all times. It's like working in a goldfish bowl, and people are always coming by and tapping on the glass. Metaphorically. I don't have any real glass. I'm going to stop talking now.

  4. Lauren/Nik/Clover Rose, my friend: I love that you have a fiance who is willing to nurse your ego. That's wonderful. And I can relate to the sacrifice of gas in the tank for something you don't "really" need, but in actuality, REALLY NEED most. Keep plugging along, you wonderful artist, you.

    Chera: I think you sacrifice a fair amount for your dream, considering the amount of time you must dedicate to PhD work. Even the other dream--the creative writing one--needs often be nudged aside so you can do what you must for your studies. And I think that's shows very admirable dedication. It is wonderful that you're getting to do it in such a glorious place, though.

    And I will definitely try to do some YA book spotlighting here on a semi-regular basis! That's a great idea.

    Katie: If you had a glass cubicle, I would come visit you just to tap on it! That would actually be rather more interesting than a normal one, I would think... Anyway. I appreciate your perspective. It's interesting to think that editors must often sacrifice working on projects they really love in order to build up to their ideal career. I have no doubt that you'll get to that ideal point, though. Much like writing, I think editing succeeds most when fueled by deep passion for the craft. Writers love people like you. :)

  5. Someday I'll find a name... :)