So I’m at a bit of a crossroads. I could take a job for a nickel an hour and redeem my self-esteem in the process, or I could take up the terrifying life of a freelancer.
No self-respecting 54-year-old wants to be on the dole.
That being said, I’m too damn old to bring home $387 a week. I don’t care if I’m stirring oatmeal at the nursing home.
I find my professional life has taken a turn since I moved from Syracuse to Martha’s Vineyard. Granted, it’s a newspaper life and we all know the printed word is about to be dug up by archeologists any time now.
When you do something with your hands or your mind, even if it’s just typing, you tend to wonder all the time if you’re good enough. Isn’t there somebody just over the horizon that’s better, that’s faster than you in every way?
Then there’s the whole thing about making a living for the past 25 years as a writer. There’s still this part of me that thinks to myself, "I’m a writer . . . that’s kind of like being a court jester or a food taster." It’s not a real job.
My title a few years ago was editor but I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. And really I think of myself as a storyteller. My idea of a dream job is sitting around a group of octogenarians and asking them about their first kiss.
Writing is an ethereal way to make a living. You feel like it’s not quite real even while you’re doing it. Then I’m amazed that people pay me money to do it. Even though they pay me very little money and I don’t know how I’ll pay rent with my dividend.
Then there’s the whole thing about how great it feels when someone, anyone, compliments your work. It’s different than a foreman on a bricklaying job in a few ways, but not many. We’re both constructing something that we hope someone will buy. The end product is ours alone. You can look at it and see its worth.
When you put what you have produced right out there for everyone to see, it’s personal. If they don’t like it, they don’t like you. It’s sort of hard to get past that mindset. It must be like when a painter of a house or a masterpiece sits in anticipation before the homeowner or art gallery curator. There are many occupations but I’m not sure how many take such a toll on your soul.
I’ve thought to myself a million times that I should take that nurse’s aide training course or that civil service test for that post office job, but I just can’t do it. I feel like those jobs just don’t suit me. Then I think I must be some kind of highfalutin bitch who can’t bring herself to wipe the ass of a stranger. But I know full well that if it was my mom’s ass or my brother’s ass, I’d wipe it in a heartbeat.
I’m “unemployed” right now and the word alone lends itself to degradation. Visions of heavy-set women buying cheese curls with food stamps come to mind when I know that they buy them because they — A. Don’t have a car, and B. Are shopping at the corner store for children they just want to make happy.
Mine is the world of an underemployed writer. I see the speck of a crumb on your top lip and I think about how it got there and I feel compelled to write about it. Welcome to my world.