Must Be Nice.

Yesterday at a social gathering, a few people near me were discussing their similar careers and companies. After several minutes of this, one of them — someone I don’t know well but see a few times a month — turned to me and said, “Well, what do you do?”

I have grown to hate this question, and that’s really sad, because I love what I do with every fibre of my being. But experience has taught me that 75% of the time, the response to my answer is not something I’m good at dealing with.

I told this person I’m a part-time freelance writer/editor, and write novels from home, his response was the perennial favourite,

“It must be nice.”

In case you’re thinking he said this in a wistful manner, let me gently nudge you more toward sarcastic with a hint of judgment and a dash of superiority, as he looked around at the other two he’d been chatting with.

It must be nice? What must be nice? That I don’t work a 9-5 job with a respectable paycheck, therefore I live on some kind of perma-holiday?

What I wish people who don’t write or create art knew about those that do is its often thankless. We do it because there’s an overpowering desire in our heart — not for money, or prestige, and certainly not fame — and if we didn’t siphon things out of this well inside us on a regular basis, we would go stark raving mad. Or as my friend and critique partner Megan Peterson recently put it, it would poison our whole being.

“It must be nice” infers we sit around in our jim-jams watching Netflix and letting the laundry pile up around our heads while we’re chugging back beers and covered in biscuit crumbs.

Let me be the billionth writer to say, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

On top of this, his comment was, in a word, degrading. But I suppose if I stepped back from the situation I could say the question reflects on him more than it does on me, or any of us who choose to pursue something that garners very little acclaim or money or, in most circles, respect. For reasons like this — as if we twiddle our thumbs and play Candy Crush (I don’t even know what that is) all day.

Not as if I work my butt off, taking online classes, studying craft books or published novels daily, working with critique partners through their own manuscripts, researching, enrolling in bootcamps and shelling out bucks to get professional feedback as often as means allow.

Not as if I get my heart ripped out after putting it on the page and then having to light it on fire and start over again on a regular basis.

Not as if I get next to no recognition for pursuing this dream that I love and believe will matter someday, and maybe inspire one other person to dream and write and create worlds that they love as well.

It makes me wonder, what’s harder? Working in a field that will always need employees, is guaranteed a nice paycheque, holidays, and a retirement plan? Or putting your heart and soul into a misshapen lump — one that you hammer out day after day, with no one overseeing your work or making sure you’re DOING the work (or making sure you’re taking breaks for your physical and mental health), with no accolades, no guaranteed paycheque, no water-cooler socialisation, very little respect, endless assumptions and suspicions about how you spend your time and your “REAL” motivation, cyclical self-doubt, the desire to change one little word or one entire character from the moment you wake up until you finally fall asleep at night (usually quite late) — all with the hope that one day that lump will become a shining work of art that you’re proud of, grateful to have been able to construct, and hopeful will inspire others, whether through the imagination, the entertainment, or simply the craft used to cobble it all together. Hopeful that the work will someday make it all up to the family and friends who were your moral support from day one.

The answer? I don’t think one is harder than the other. I think people are best suited to one or the other. I’ve been on the 9-5 desk job side of things, with the decent, reliable paycheque and the retirement options and the healthcare package. I know that that is bloody hard work, and most times, work that you don’t actually care about but need to do in order to live.

On the flip-side, another person at this gathering who I know even less well and see maybe twice a year not only remembered that I’m a writer, but asked me how it was going, and encouraged me with supportive comments about my current (positive) set of circumstances. I wanted to hug her. These sorts of responses are few and far between, but I’m beginning to learn not to expect them. And again, that’s sad. But that’s life. What matters is I believe in what I’m doing. I am confident in what I do. I just wish I could come up with a better response in the midst of conversation to people who say, “It must be nice.”

. . . But then, that’s why I’m a writer. Because I can’t come up with this stuff on the spur of the moment as the words are falling from someone else’s lips. They form in my head and are put down on a screen, and edited, and critiqued, and polished, and torn apart, and edited again, instead of coming out of my mouth and lingering on the air, unable to be taken back or fixed.

If that’s my choice, I’ll take it.

And I suppose the best response to this comment is it’s more than nice (and since I’m a writer, I don’t use words like “nice”, right? *grin*). I am grateful to be able to spend the majority of my time doing a job that I LOVE, and will never grow tired of. A job that challenges me every day, and when I face a hint of sarcasm or judgement, it only works to remind me that despite what anyone else thinks, I’m not going to give up.

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It was a dark & stormy outlook…

Last night I went to bed proclaiming on Twitter how today was going to “totally rock”. It very well might be rocking, underneath the things I can see and hear, and maybe I won’t find out about that rocking until tomorrow, or the next day, or next month.

Because on the outside, today looks like one big giant slap in the face, and a reminder of all the impacts that preceded it.

This was taken around midday. Not today. Today’s actually sunny and warm and beautiful, despite the news. But it feels like this looks.

Some of you may know that I’ve been job hunting for a long time. I worked for about a decade before returning to university, and worked full- and part-time jobs around and during university, and volunteered. I graduated with a 1st class film BA, one of 3 on my year. Granted, I was a mature student and 31 by then, but I was really proud of my achievement given my stop-start cycle of university in the US. (My problem had been never being able to decide on which course to follow, because I was interested in so much; therefore, I ended up wavering and putting it on hold to take time off. Only a true miracle allowed me to financially return to university, and to do it in the UK, but that’s a story for another day!).

Despite London work experience in the film industry, and a work experience placement I scored at the BBC, as well as temp work in publishing, I have been applying for and looking at jobs nearly every day since early 2010. I’m still not on a career path.

My writing has totally FLOURISHED, though, with the amount of time spent honing my craft, learning from others, and writing going through the roof. I’m so grateful, in a way, for my delayed transition to a career because it’s given me time to do what I’ve wanted to do all my life.

And the unrealistic, stubborn side of me believes writing COULD become my career, as I can’t think of anything that would make me more content. But right now, I need to earn money, and I’d like to do it in a role that some of my education and work experiences would lend themselves to, in publishing, the arts, etc. You’d think employers would be keen to hire a more mature grad, but one of the many troubles seems to be they’re unwilling to consider us older folks because they assume we’ll require a heftier salary than a 22-year-old.

Today’s news was that an internship at a prestigious academic publisher in Scotland (where we plan to relocate to) has been cancelled. I was invited for an interview – my first interview in MONTHS – right before my birthday. The day after, I bought £155 last-minute train tickets to Scotland, and then the interview was postponed. I was told it would definitely be rescheduled, after Wednesday. 2+ weeks went by, my train tickets sent back to Virgin for a refund lost by Royal Mail, so I’m out £155, and I’d heard nothing about the rescheduled interview. (Don’t get me started on Virgin Trains or Royal Mail. Suffice it to say, “the customer is always right” is NOT a British sentiment.)

So I called and called. No answer. I emailed and found out the lady who was meant to interview me went on holiday for a month, and finally another woman emailed me back to say the internship was no longer running. How would I have found this out? Why didn’t they tell me before? Why is this all somewhat fishy?

Truth is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how I react. Immediately, I called my husband and began sobbing…not just because this seemed like the opportunity – in the right city, the right industry, at an organisation I respect – that I’d been waiting for, but because this is the last disappointment in a long, frustrating, difficult time in my life. I’m terrified that being 34 means I won’t be employable as a “recent graduate”. After calming down, I have to say that maybe this simply wasn’t the right opportunity after all. Something better could come along.

And while it’s trite to say that, I’d rather think and hope it then let bitterness take root. It has in the past, and it’s never done me any good. Has it for you? Some may call bitterness or disappointment “being realistic”. But if more and more studies show that worrying, negativity, and anger causes all kinds of physical maladies, then I would much rather choose the former. It is difficult – I had that initial cry and I’m certainly not jumping for joy right now (in fact, a friend on Twitter told me something good could be right around the corner, and my reply was, “Something good is; I’ve got a bottle of cab in the kitchen”). I’m just going to try to call this what it is: another turn in the road. I’m thankful God is in control, not me, because even if I had control I think it’s pretty clear I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Trying to change your outlook when you’ve had it all your life is incredibly hard, as any 10-step-program follower can probably tell you. I fall prey to disappointment and usually let it point out all my flaws, what I could’ve done better, etc., because that’s what perfectionists do. But this time, I’m calling myself out on it. The positive from all this is that I was offered the interview in the first place. I rewrote my CV from scratch, got feedback on my cover letter, and bam, first thing I really wanted, I was called to interview for. So rather than holding onto my disappointment that the role doesn’t exist anymore, I need to, as Eric Idle so helpfully reminded me during the Olympics Closing Ceremony, always look on the bright side of life.

(For the record, the Spice Girls, Eric, and the Who were my favourite bits of the evening. 🙂

Whatever you’re going through right now, in your long wait for good news, I challenge you to try to approach it differently than you always have in the past. Because if your way didn’t make you happier in the past, maybe it’s time for a change.

“A man is not hurt so much by what happens, as by his opinion of what happens.”
-Michel de Montaigne

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