The One About Day Jobs

Want to hear a writer joke?

Hey, how do you piss off a writer? 

Ask what they do for a living.

It’s funny because it’s true.

We’ve chosen a profession that doesn’t pay well. At least, that is the reality for the majority of us in the inky trenches. The last royalty check I received was less than $10.

Woot Woot! Ice cream is on me! But only the cheap brand, okay? I’m not pulling in Breyer’s kind of lettuce.

So, unless you’re like my friend, Dana, who is an oncologist searching for the cure to breast cancer, or you’ve got a Sugar Daddy/Mama Patron, you’re working a crappy day job to make ends meet.

You’re not alone.

I have thirty years of crap jobs listed on my resume. Only two of them were any fun. The rest were all minimum wages for minimum effort. Hell, if I were to time slip back into that part of my life, I probably wouldn’t even remember how to do most of them.

When I got the gig where I’m working now, my boss took me out to lunch and said words that I’ll never forget: “98% of this job is just showing up. So, just come to work, do your job and don’t go crazy like the last one did.”

Like the last one did? Oh, it’s one of THOSE kinds of jobs.

But, here I was, nearly forty years old, transplanted back to Tennessee, starting over from scratch, in yet another bullshit job that was going to take me nowhere.

I had a decision to make. I could either slip into a dark depression OR I could use this time to write stories.

I won’t lie; I fell into a depression. It’s my default mode.

But I think it was that Big 4-0 birthday that pulled me out and gave me the kick in the ass to use this time wisely.

I’ve been here for 15 years. I come to work, I do my job and, in the downtime which makes up 75% of my day, I write. I’ve been blessed with Time. And I don’t take it for granted.

So, don’t let your day job make you feel less of a writer.

The next time someone asks you, “What do you do?” look them straight in the eyes and say:

“I create worlds from nothing but ink scribbled onto paper. I make people laugh. I make people cry. I give people hope when they are sitting in a hospital waiting room as their loved ones fight to survive. I tell children that there are monsters in the dark with sharp teeth and ripping claws who want to eat them and then I tell them how to kill them. I provide diversions for people when they are sitting on the bus or sitting on the toilet. I am a writer. I am the bridge between Mythos and Logos. What do you do?”

The One Where I Slap Down a Youngling

I was honored to be asked to write a few columns about writing for Kristin Kindoll’s Writing Goal Group. She wanted them to inspirational and give advice on a few of the things I’ve learned about the writing life.

Here is one of them.

So, one night, while hanging out with some writer friends, drinking, talking shit as one does, this little 20-year-old thing, says to me, “Hey, Nik, do you regret waiting so long to start writing?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, like, you didn’t really get started until you were, like, you know. Old. In your forties. Aren’t you afraid you waited too long? Like, you should’ve started sooner?”

Because of the outright rudeness of the question, I was stunned and I think I sputtered out something like, “Yeah, I guess so?”

But I’ve had time to reconsider my answer.

*Insert the noise of cracking knuckles here*

Listen up, sweetheart.

The Arts is one the place that maturity is a freaking asset, sweetie.

While, yes, I will admit that I wish I had the vigor and energy that I took for granted as a lithe twenty-year-old but, as an artist, the years I’ve acquired have given me flavor and insight.

Oh, sweet beautiful thing. With your flawless skin, white teeth and high metabolism, you don’t understand life. Not yet. Not until you lived it.

It’s a cruel paradox.

It’s only after you’ve been through the fire do you understand the heat.

There is a perspective that comes with being able to look back on life in the rear-view mirror that you simple cannot have until it is all in the road behind you.

And it is from this, the best and greatest stories are born.

Do I think for a second that Past Nik would have understood regret? Absolutely not. She had read about it, watched movies and seen it from the outside but she had never felt it.

Now, I get it.

I can see all the hurt I caused my mother. The cutting words I hurled at her never caring about damage it did because I felt that the truth was all the mattered.

As if I understood what the truth was at twenty.

She died at 49; I am currently 52 years old. I have outlived my mother by three years.

And I have regrets.

I have been pregnant, went through labor and delivered children. I was a mother. Not the best one I could’ve been, I know. I suffered through years of depression where I was only a shadow mom. I had no money to give them what they needed and I have so many regrets.

I have 30 years of crap jobs that led nowhere but several that gave me some great stories.

I have traveled to different countries and lived in foreign lands where going to the grocery store was traumatizing.  I once bought toilet paper thinking it was butter because I couldn’t read the labels. That taught me compassion.

And it took the passing of time to wear away my body so that I was no longer beautiful. To be a woman who is overlooked and unseen. That taught me to be myself because, fuck it, nobody else really gives a damn anyway.

While you are still swept up in the maelstrom of life, whipped around by youthful indiscretions and casual cruelties, I am outside the dance. I watch it, a chimera of Adult/Child and I can see all the movements.

So, the answer to your question, my sweet, gorgeous, simple child, is no. I do not wish I had started sooner.

I started exactly when I needed to become the person my stories need me to be.