[image credit: Augapfel]
Ever since I knew that adults needed jobs, my chosen career has been “writer.” Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a stable, decent-paying profession — so I’ve worked elsewhere for necessary income. This means for as long as I’ve been old enough to work, I’ve held at least two jobs, sometimes three (with one of them like the internship from hell, where you put in long hours and hard work for the hope of someday being offered a professional position).
I started in the Wonderful World of Work while I was still in high school. A friend of mine worked at McDonald’s and promised she could get me in, so I made sure I had my working papers ready and set up the interview for the day after I turned sixteen. I started working the next day. That particular job came and went from my life for the next 15 years, at three different stores owned by the same man.
If I had any sense, I would’ve gone to college right after high school and gotten a degree in something useful, so that by now I’d have had a stable career and maybe I would’ve been writing on the side. But I was a hopeless dreamer, completely convinced that writing was my thing, and I was going to be a novelist. Also, by the time I made it through my own particular hell of high school, I didn’t want to see the inside of a classroom or any other students again any time soon. So… I enlisted.
No, I didn’t join the service. That probably would’ve been smarter than what I actually did, which was to sign up for AmeriCorps. This is a volunteer program for youth with year-long terms that required 40 to 60 hours a week of work, and paid a stipend of $100 a week. No, I didn’t leave off any zeros. For a year, I made around $2 an hour.
I actually enjoyed the work. It was all volunteer-type stuff, so I worked in the Rescue Mission soup kitchen, the Salvation Army daycare, and the Vera House shelter for battered women. I helped put together a system for the furniture distribution program at the Rescue Mission, and worked at their free clothing store. I worked with Habitat for Humanity, did a few massive park cleanup projects, and spent a few weeks working at a shelter / safe house for runaway teens.
The downside to AmeriCorps — besides the low pay — was the “group pride” activities. Every morning, we’d do PT (physical training) which was mostly jumping jacks and lunges. Now I’ve always struggled with doing group exercise (gym class was the scourge of my existence in high school)… but this was so much worse. We did our PT in the middle of downtown at rush hour, so everyone heading to work could see me making a fool of myself — all red-faced and sweating and awkward.
After the AmeriCorps experience, I decided that I’d better get a degree of some sort. So I enrolled in a community college and earned an associate’s in Office Technology. I learned how to use a computer, and that was about it — but that part of my education has been worth more than anything. Still, it didn’t land me a career. I worked part-time at various jobs throughout college, and then headed right back into odd jobs that didn’t take me anywhere when I graduated.
For example, I worked at:
The Scotsman Press, a small newspaper, where I was in the advertising layout department putting together ad pages. Back then, it was literally cut-and-paste — we’d print out ads, cut them out, and tape or glue them onto newspaper-sized sheets of paper to fit them around the articles. I was excited to be working in a field that was close to what I wanted to do with my life.
I got fired for being too creative.
The Post-Standard, the biggest newspaper in the city. I acquired this job through a temp agency, and my job was to feed flyers into a machine that inserted them between the appropriate sections of the paper. The Post-Standard never hired anyone permanently from the temp agency, though.
Other jobs I worked through that agency included phone answerer and glass bottle sorter.
Syracuse University…sort of. What I actually did was work for the events department at the Dome. Whenever there was a game or other event, the group of us would meet at the adjunct shuttle location for the Dome and be assigned a job for the night. Sometimes I was a parking lot attendant. Other times, I was in charge of counting the people that got on the shuttle buses, using a little manual click-counter with rolling numbers.
These days, I’m a freelance writer — which is also not the greatest way to earn a living, though I’m grateful to work from home so I can participate in my son’s life. I suppose it’s not too late. I could still go back to school, get a “real” degree, and have myself a full time career and financial stability and maybe even benefits.
But I’m a writer. So I guess I’ll just keep writing my books, because that’s what I’m supposed to do — and what I want more than anything.