Freaking Out Squares

Monday, November 06, 2006

Work Ethics

I've been working for the past week in a commercial real estate office on Park Avenue in the 50s. I can think of few things more soul-crushing, mind-numbing, brain-draining, and a whole host of other synonyms for boring than commercial real estate, and yet as a temp job, it's not so bad as far as these things go. For one, I don't have to interact with panicky Upper East Side mothers calling in and demanding their son's Lamcital, so that leaves me a lot of time for spacing out and constructing Walter Mitty fantasies in my head. Two, it's only three days a week, so that leaves me time to "write," except I've been using that time I should ostensibly be using to further my so-called career as an excuse to stay in bed and moan about how awful a writer I am, and how when I was ignorant of my ignorance, I could easily and arrogantly dash off twenty nonsensical but lovely-sounding pages and call it a short story. No more. Now I have to work at it, and I'm not sure I know how to.

I've never been much of a worker, unless I knew that I would succeed at whatever I was working on. When I transferred to a college preparatory academy in sixth grade and the straight A's I'd plucked like strawberries in elementary school suddenly stopped falling into my lap, with the encouragement of my classmates, I declared myself stupid. When I discovered that the cello required talent and effort far beyond my childish capabilities, I decided it was pointless to practice unless under threat from my mother to throw me out the window. I've never minded working at acting, because even in the darkest of times in the worst of productions, I somehow knew we'd all pull together in the end--or at least I would, and to hell with everyone else.

It helps, too, if I don't particularly care about the work I'm doing. That's the beautiful thing about temping--no one expects you to care, dammit, they just expect you to do the job well enough that it gets done and no one is killed or maimed along the way. But I do care about writing, almost too much, if there is such a thing. I care about it so much I can't even look it in the face and say, yes, this is really, really what I want to do with my life. It scares me to work on a piece and then have to chuck it because it's the complete opposite of what I wanted to say, or because it ended up coming from a place so far removed from anything in my particular human experience that I can't bear to let anyone read it, because it must be a truckload of bullshit and apple butter.

When I was a teacher, I cared a great deal. I was teaching mostly black and Hispanic kids from the inner city at a two-year college, and I wanted to do the proverbial Right Thing. I came home physically and emotionally exhausted every day, terrified of being exposed as the fraud I was, a messed-up kid with an MFA. What did I know about life, or literature? What business did I have inflicting myself on these kids? They'd already been through the worst in education NYC has to offer; they didn't need me in there fucking it up worse. When the layoff came (due to budget cuts, not because of anything I did), I was at once dismayed and relieved.

Two members of my acquaintance have recently declared their desire to become college professors. I envy them that. I don't think I could go down that path again. I either need to find a job that doesn't bore me to death but in which I'm not emotionally invested, or somehow get over this fear that I have no business putting myself out there. That's where I'm at right now, straddling this line between curling up in my bed and hiding for the rest of my life or throwing myself out there and risk getting hit in the face with an axe and I tell you, I can't think which is more terrifying.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, i was looking over your blog and didn't
quite find what I was looking for. I'm looking for
different ways to earn money... I did find this though...
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound like you're at the same place I am when it comes to writing. If it's not going to be perfect, why write at all. We both need to get over that.

9:54 AM

 

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