Wednesday, December 7, 2011

At Long Last, a Labor of Love

Enough, I say, I have called a halt. The polish draft (i.e. silver, not i.e. Warsaw) is completed, and I'm giving it to my husband to read.

I worked stupid hard to bring this about, ignoring most else that was supposed to be going on. Looking back on the last week, I'm reminded of the way it is to be around my mom when she's working - or used to be, when I was a kid. She'd say "just a few more minutes" and then get lost in whatever it was she was doing, so I'd end up waiting about twice as long as I expected to wait for her (usually it was something like 10 minutes instead of 5 minutes, so not criminal, but oh, bothersome). I totally did this to Matt a bunch of times in the last few days, telling him I just needed a few minutes to get through a chapter and then finding I had to go on to the next one to figure out whether it all hung together. So he'd wait a while and then just fix breakfast himself. And I felt guilty. But it's all over now, the draft is polished, that first closed-door draft is retooled and ready for a reader. Throughout all of it, I only lost a few paragraphs of work, and easily redid them. No computer disasters so far. (nok nok)

Many other things have happened in the last week. The job situation in our house is...weird. I've taken a part-time paralegal job, although I'm not positive it's going to move forward in exactly the way I expect. Everything has been changing from day to day around here lately, so tomorrow I could have some brand-new bit of news that means I won't need the job, or will need an even higher-paying job, or we're moving to Mars. (Dr. Manhattan might need an assistant?) My personal situation notwithstanding, I think I've finally figured out, for good and all, what I want my job to be. I want to be a writer.

Oh, golly, big news, Katharine. Shocking and surprising. Yeah, well, hear me out.

In the last several years I've been struggling with the word "career" and all it entails. I came to the conclusion after a lot of turmoil that one single career was not for me, and that I was destined to have a pile of jobs that interested me and an inner life that I was committed to. The normal thing in America is to commit to your career - even if you don't enjoy it, you still do it as your duty, and you're kind of expected to make yourself enjoy it, as far as I can tell - but I couldn't find anything about the workplaces I've experienced that I could really put my heart into. I am such a delicate and sensitive soul, God help me, that if I don't enjoy what I'm doing for the bulk of my week, I don't enjoy my life. I've spent too much energy despising myself for this quality, when what I really needed to do was learn to work with it instead of against it.

So, I figured, the thing I needed to do was keep moving, go from job to job and career to career at decent intervals, to keep myself always learning and occupied so I wouldn't be so unhappy with a life lacking passion for my career. This is a pretty good operational plan, although in practice it's somewhat hard. Job-hoppers are not kindly looked upon, and I sometimes have to fast-talk my way into my next job.

I usually enjoy the job for a while, six months to a year (the time has been lengthening as I get older; in my early twenties it was four months, tops, before I got bored), and then I'm ready for something else. The key to enjoying jobs for me, I've learned, is that it has to be a) always the same and b) always different. This was why I liked delivering pizza so much: the familiarity of the roadmap, and of the routine of going to door, getting money, giving food, going back to car and counting tip was something I enjoyed greatly. But anything at all could happen within these parameters. The woman could be so snobby and insulting that I would burst out laughing when I got back to my car. The guy could give me a $17 tip on a $23 order. I could be asked to return and party with the folks I was delivering to once I got off work. (All true stories.)

Legal work is much the same way. Every case is quite different, with different circumstances and approaches, but the law remains more or less the same, and the framework of problem-solving - one in which I flourish - is consistent. I think that's why I figured that it would be a decent career for me to have, because the money's pretty good and I could find reasonable enjoyment in the field. But not passion. It has never intrigued me so deeply that I've been able to look past its faults or work happily for 10 hours straight or put up with shitty people in order to do it.

For the last six weeks, I've been at home. I've worked at a job of sorts during that time, a telecommuting position, although the workload has been light and unpredictable. All while I was attempting to work as hard as I could at that job, I was also writing and then editing my book. Both windows were open at the same time, and I was refreshing the company page every few paragraphs to make sure there was still no paid work for me to do.

And in all of the writing and editing I've done during those six weeks - from here it feels like a sea voyage, like a furious white ocean tossing my toy boat like a splinter of wood, wee bosun's mates in striped shirts running about and shouting in panic while the sea monster roars and tightens its tentacles along the stern - I look back and I see Work. I see a body of effort that went on for hours and hours and hours, that was agonizing but that I never grew tired of, that felt like the rightest and most correct labor I've ever set my back to. Therein was the key for me. It felt right. It felt like this was the work I have always been supposed to do, the work that I can throw my whole heart into. The work that will help me set my little dilettante mind at ease, because yes, there is a career out there for which I was intended.

Thus far the only thing I've enjoyed for hours on end has been leisure. All the work I've ever done, I've watched the clock and conserved my efforts. But this work - writing - I will do until I drop, until my back is wrecked from sitting on the couch with my laptop all day, until I'm so hungry I'm shaking and don't even notice, until I look up and my husband has gone somewhere and the leaves are suddenly off the trees and is it actually still 2011?

The problem, of course, is that you have to get more stringent permission to write for a living than you do for...yeah, most of the other professions I can think of. I've already written about this, but even two weeks ago I still wasn't sure that writing was The Career for Me. More that it was the dream career that I'd try to do if all other circumstances fell into place. But now, after this week of tragedy and triumph, I am certain: this is the thing. Writing is what I have to do to live.

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