Writers’ Wednesday: A Saga – Part the Third.

The Saga Continues.

Picking up where we left of on the Tuesday Tune-Up piece of this saga and ignoring the fact that it’s Sunday, not Wednesday, we find ourselves staring blearily at Wednesday morning, June 12th. The night before I’d stayed up far too late again after working nearly 18 hours in various capacities.

I went to the janitorial job site and started work. I busted ass all day, and left later than usual because I did a couple of extra tasks while I was there. Then I gave a coworker a ride home – because when someone asks for help you help them if you can – then came back to my home office.

I worked on writing (both client pieces and this last week’s Mantra Monday until around 9:00, then I went to the gym, ran two miles, did some weightlifting, and got home around 11:30. My bed called to me shortly after and I was drawn to it as a moth to flame.

Then Came Thursday.

6:30 am again, and I’m rolling into work. The work was exceptionally hard that day, because there was an audit going on. I went home at three o’clock and canceled rehearsal for the private Plastic Saints gig that’s coming up this Friday. When I was settled in, I wrote the Tuesday Tune-Up piece for this last week. I finished that piece around 8:00pm and then worked another couple of hours on behind the scenes stuff.

The Writing Suffers.

There are a couple of reasons I’m doing all of these posts with the kind of “Saga” frame narrative that’s basically me recounting mundane details of my day. I know it’s not fascinating reading, so let me explain.

The first reason is literally because I feel very guilty for not being able to write this last week’s posts done on time. I want to keep my commitments both to you, the reader, and to me, the writer. Just as I’m committed to making my body as fit as it can be, I’m also committed to my craft, and becoming the best writer I can be. That means I have to exercise my fingers just as much as the rest of my muscles. I have to write. And write. And then write some more. It’s the only way any of us becomes a better writer.

The second reason is that I understand how boring reading those details would be. I’m therefore using that as a rhetorical device to contrast the awesome life that I live while writing and playing music and teaching with the monotony of manual labor. I’m also using it as a metaphor for how doing that kind of job for forty hours a week zaps all of the creative energy out of a person.

It’s Not the Work.

You’ll notice that I haven’t included any details of the job itself other than it’s janitorial, it’s at an industrial plant, and that it’s physically demanding. I haven’t described a single task that I’ve performed on that job. This is because it isn’t the work that’s the problem. I don’t mind any part of the job itself. I don’t even mind that it’s minimum wage. What I mind is that I’m expected to spend that much of my time doing it.

I’ve been over the monetary discrepancy between the two jobs – the fact that in twelve to fifteen hours of writing for my steady clients I make ten percent more than I make in forty hours of doing the janitorial job.

I also said before that writing must be a priority. The reality is, I’m going to be a professional writer for the rest of my life. I’m also going to be a teacher for the rest of my life in one capacity or another. I’m only going to do a janitorial job for a couple of months.

I Love Spectre…

“Roses are red / Violets are blue / I love Spectre…

Norther Winslow – Big Fish

There’s a scene in Tim Burton’s movie Big Fish, in which the protagonist, Edward ends up in a town called Spectre. I’m not going to be able to do it justice if I try to describe the scene to you, so you can watch it here if you’ve not seen the movie.

John August, the film’s writer said that Spectre can be compared to many different ideas. Most of the ideas August lists are religious or mythological in nature, but I never saw Spectre in any of those ways.

To me the key to Spectre is that everyone there seems to be happy and content, yet there are properties under siege by banking interests and nobody can leave. A very important part of this viewpoint is the character Norhter Winslow, played by Steve Buscemi.

Norther Winslow is a talented poet who leaves Ashland to make his name and do great things. Instead, Edward finds Norther stuck in Spectre, and despite working for years on a poem to describe how he feels about this “magical” place that he’d found, the talented poet could only manage the lines quoted above.

I see Spectre as a metaphor for what I (and many others) call “working for The Man.” You could also say I see it as a metaphor for the American Dream itself.

Spectre is a place where everyone seems happy, but they’re stuck there. They’re drowning in debt to keep up the appearance that everything is okay, but the town wipes them of any ambition beyond keeping up the status quo. It’s a place where nobody grows or flourishes. They get older, but they don’t get better.

I Hate Spectre!

I’ve been a teacher for the past six years and a professional writer for the past year. Neither of those professions are “regular” jobs. Teachers get well-deserved summers off, and writers get to work whenever they want.

If working at a regular job all last week taught me anything, it’s that I can’t do that bit. I’m not cut out for it. Unfortunately, just like Edward in Big Fish, though they really want me to be a full-time janitor and tell me I’m doing a great job, I have bigger fish to catch. I’m only in Spectre passing through. It’s dangerous here. It’s a goddamn trap.

I worked retail for five years. I spent a year working in a shipping and receiving department for a manufacturing company. Delivering pizzas didn’t work out well for me at all. Then came the seven years of terrible office work I did. I’ve done telemarketing, sold insurance, repaired heavy farm equipment, and maintained satellite communications equipment for the military.

I spent seventeen years after high school working jobs I hated before I finally earned my teaching degree. When I went back to school, it was after a particularly nasty end to an insurance job, and I told myself that I’d never work to directly put money in anyone else’s pockets other than my own again.

Yeah, But You Gotta Serve Somebody, Right?

I know, there’ll always be someone profiting somehow, but let me explain some of the situation that led up to that decision. My thinking may make a little more sense at that point. In that last insurance job, I was promised a promotion and a commission-based raise for about a year without any delivery on those promises.

I came in and worked extra hours, designed an entire protocol for the new department I was supposed to head up. However, I never got the commission structure I was promised, nor the hourly raise. I didn’t even get the employees I was to oversee. Finally, one day when my boss, a classic car collector who was already doing quite well, showed up in a brand new Mercedes, I lost it.

I’d been driving the same beat up old pickup truck for years and couldn’t get ahead to save my life. Then this jackass, for whom I’m positive I sold over a million dollars worth of business, shows up in a brand new Benz; I couldn’t take it anymore.

My work was not for me at that job. I was paid, yes. But I wasn’t paid equal to my labor, and I was powerless to change the circumstances in that situation without just removing myself from it. He would have kept blowing me off forever until I actually quit.

Yeah, But How Are Teaching and Writing Any Different?

As a teacher, I get paid to produce well-educated citizens, and hopefully most of them get rich, but that’s up to them. I’m not working directly to make them a monetary profit. As a writer, my clients make money off of my work, but I set the terms, so if I don’t feel like I’m being paid well enough for the work I’m doing, I can renegotiate or find new clients that will pay more. Also, because I’m a sole proprietor, the bottom line is mine, not anyone else’s.

I’m not responsible to a board of directors driven by profit as a teacher. I’m not beholden to anyone else’s policies or shady ethics as a freelance writer. If I must toil to earn my keep, let me do those things.

We’re going to leave the saga for now, and pick it up (hopefully later tonight) with Thoughts for Thursday. In that piece, we’ll discuss the employee/employer relationship further, as well as fair economics.

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