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?