Today's #wirehousedaily installment finds Luke ruminating on the woes of work life. The last portion of this sketch was published at Ploughshares, and we've paired the piece with a photograph by Gordon Parks.
SKETCH 3 // WORK
An unpublished excerpt from a work-in-progress:
B took his time with the cork and staging the glasses and finally poured the wine and looked outside at his view of the ocean and beach.
After awhile he handed me a glass and said cheers and disappeared down the hall and came back with a signed copy of his big glossy book about how climate change isn’t real that I later hid under a pillow in one of the guest rooms.
How’s your writing going? he said and looked at the red legs stretching down his glass.
I’ve pretty much quit, I guess, I said.
Again, he collects his face to suit our conversation and fit beneath his huge and perfect block of blond hair.
I’m a graphic designer now, I tell him. It’s actually pretty lucrative and it’s very flexible.
B has a few follow-up questions about getting clients, which are easy enough, and then that’s that. There’s nothing to argue or discuss, there are no future aspirations to analyze. It’s all they want from us, his generation, my parents’. They’re begging us to choose something so they can feel good about how they raised us and what they’re passing along. I figure it’s better to lie than to aspire to anything in front of them.
Here are some of the paid jobs I’ve held:
elementary school janitor
rolled quarters, like hundreds of dollars a week
data entry, Excel I think
Baskin Robbins, for a week
pizza delivery driver + mini-manager, whatever that’s called
summer camp worker
after school care worker
summer camp director
youth pastor + church janitor
high school English/music teacher
whole foods janitor
guitar/keyboards for touring worship band
shipping and receiving, whole foods market
grocery, whole foods market
receiver for prepared foods, whole foods market
coffee bean delivery, blue bottle coffee
receptionist at a hair salon
social media manager
teen music and podcast mentor, library
An excerpt from a post a friend and former student of mine recently put on Facebook
When you're expressing your employment woes with older adults and all they have to say is something along the lines of, "Well, just keep looking for a new job”… How nice it would have been to grow up in a time where a degree wasn't required to obtain a good career that could support yourself and your family. Competing against hundreds of people for an entry-level job that still prefers several years of experience isn't that fun, if you didn't know...
I also did an unpaid internship or two that mostly consisted of mailing t-shirts and lit journals to people.
I recently considered doing that again. At 33 saying, sure, I’ll work for free some more.
I remember listening to most of Swann’s Way while doing meat inventory when I worked at Whole Foods Market in Chelsea.
You finish a freezing shift in a walk-in, having counted thousands of pounds of beef, chicken, and pork, you’re soaked in the cold blood and meat juices and still have to subway home. You really hope this MFA thing is a thing.
It’s late now, for me. With a full-time, full-blown-adult job and a kid who wants to party around 6 or 7 AM, it’s time I finish this puppy and go.
I write most of the day, before work, tinkering on a novel-in-progress, and then at work on copy for ads and sites and things.
I remember falling asleep while driving one of those pizza delivery trucks. At the lights. That’s what killed me, when I had to stop.
Sometimes I set the E-brake and let myself wait for a horn to wake me up before having to go.
Working is hard, if not impossible, for some of us. And harder than that, I think, is finding a job. This next bit is a blog post I wrote for Ploughshares in 2014 about why you should hire a writer, or more broadly, an artistic person.
“Writers Do it Best”
I am a male receptionist at a hair salon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I sit at a too-small Ikea desk in an alcove that is best described as a display case, a section of windows that boxes out from the rest of the shop. There I feel more outside than in and am a kind of terrible advertisement for a salon with my unwashed, chest-length hair. Then again, it is Brooklyn.
All day I ask girls and some guys too if they want anything to drink. Wine, water, a beer? If the answer is wine, I say, what color? White or red is what I mean, and that usually gets a laugh, and I pour their drink and return to Twitter or half-reading some online flash fiction. I return to checking my Submittable submissions where nothing is ever In-Progress. I listen to everyone talk.
My training and near-degree, an MFA in fiction, have prepared me to be medium happy at this kind of menial job. I make some decent jokes, usually puns, and can talk books and music with clients if they want. I can say how I was really feeling this or that record. I can also explicate the hell out of each song if that’s your thing. Not every male receptionist in the world can chat Joyce, right?
What else? Why should you hire us?
Well, I don’t have other ambitions right now aside from writing, so I’ll probably stick around unless you fiddle with the schedule a whole lot. (I need my writing days to stay put.) Also, I have no other skills. I cannot fix a toilet or reroof a house. So I’ll answer your phone and mingle with the hipsters while they wait to get their balayage highlights or have the sides of their heads shaved.
I can proof your emails. I’ve even been known to draft an email from scratch and let you sign it.
And I can learn to be opinionated about anything. At the salon I’ve started to weigh in on leave-in conditioners and dry shampoos. I’ve been upselling salt sprays like I own the place.
Okay, I’m getting there, and it’s turning out that maybe this is actually all about listening. Maybe that’s all I really offer. Maybe your best MFAer is a professional listener, a listener before a writer or anything else, and that’s why you should hire him or her. It seems like, to an extent, a good writer is an empathizer—if for no other reason than that writing is hard and writing about life is difficult, because living it can be the worst. Life is traffic and broken big toes and gray hair.
The MFAer will make you feel better about how badly you feel by listening to you first, and showing you, second, that your life makes more sense than his does. He understands your hangover, your bad weeks and months, your back ache and loose teeth. He understands because he has to in order write about the tender and the terrible. And remember, his degree doesn’t work anywhere else.
(Written at work.)