Last week my dad gave me some career/life advice. It went something like this:
Dad: Honey, I’m real proud of your writing.
Me: Thanks dad!
Dad: How’s the job search?
Me: I’m applying, but there’s not much.
Dad: Well maybe you should think about switching fields…
Me: Well, like what? This is what I went into all this debt for, you know? It’s what I love.
Dad: How about Human Resources? Why don’t you look into that field?
Me: That’s not a bad idea. I’ll look into that. Human Resources… huh…
I’ve learned, after running after these intangible careers known as writing and filmmaking, how to handle these father-daughter conversations. It comes up often, whether it’s Human Resources or “the magazine business” or whatever. I used to get defensive, but I know better now. He means well. He’s super supportive. But trying to justify the fact that these intangible “artsy” goals take patience, time and blind faith to a born-and-bred Texas man who sells steel coils for a living can be tricky. I mean, you can’t get much more tangible than steel.
Hit the Jump to continue reading Bureaucracy for Breakfast vol. IX: Henry Miller, Snooki, Steel Coils and the CAA Death Star…
“I haven’t given up the alternate plan of getting sponsored by a fruity vodka and rolling around naked on a Vegas hotel bed with money flying all around the room…”
In a way, he’s right. Who am I to traipse on down to the coffee shop every day and write stuff, with the goal that soon this stuff will maybe turn out to be as necessary as a steel coil? Funnier though, I hope… unless you find steel hilarious, in which case… you need help.
Yes, for the moment I am taking advantage of my unemployment checks, buoyed by the babysitting money I get here and there (“under the table” is the most beautiful phrase to the unemployed) and using this time to focus and write like I’ve never written before. I mean I’m slightly obsessed. Sure there are those times when writing sounds about as pleasant as watching a Rachel Ray marathon on TV while Katy Perry and Lady Gaga sing a duet in the background, but for the most part I feel the burning desire to string words together constantly. I never had that when I was an office worker. Ever. And yes, there are times when guilt comes knocking and I feel bad living off my EDD checks but screw it! I’ve paid a lot of taxes and I’ve worked constantly for a long ass time, and plus countries like Ireland help their writers — I think — so, hell, I’m gonna take advantage for a bit. And I’m gonna embrace that fact. And write. Say what you will tea party people.
Writing. Unless you’ve got a Pulitzer under your arm or an Oprah Book Club stamp on your forehead, writing can seem… frivolous. And lazy. Writers sit in chairs and think and mentally torture themselves; they don’t operate forklifts or stock shelves or calculate obtuse algorithms for laser-guided technology or manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Granted, sometimes writers get up from the chair and pace back and forth tearing their hair out of their scalp, crumpling pieces of paper and dramatically tossing them into the “waste paper basket.” Remember those days? When we used paper? No? OK… But between all this frantic pacing, to write you have to sit in a chair of some sort, and sitting equals stillness equals laziness. This is what we’ve been taught. At least most of us in the US of A.
The last time I let myself indulge in this Henry Miller-ish writer’s paradise was when I roamed around Europe for three months solo, at a time when I was at my wit’s end about living in Los Angeles. I had just left a ridiculous job at the “Death Star” (aka CAA) where I worked in the Story Department in a job so insignificant there really wasn’t even a name for it. They had us stuffed into this windowless, broom-closet-sized room logging scripts and delivering them to red-faced, Armani-suited agents who would scream sweet nothings over the phone such as, “I’m gonna fucking blow up your department if you don’t get that script up here in five fucking seconds!!!” I wonder what they planned on blowing us up with? An illegal mixture of wheat grass, martinis and bile? We drew pictures of windows with yellow suns and clouds and rainbows outside of those imaginary windows and taped them to the walls of our broom closet, to keep any Hollywood peon-type panic attacks at bay. In fact, the first and only panic attack of my life so far happened in that room. I think that was the same day the head of the Story Department walked in to find me with one leg propped up on a table, stapling the hanging hem on the bottom of my pants together with a big-ass stapler. She completely ignored my compromised position, asked me for a script, turned, and walked out. I’m not sure she actually even SAW me. Welcome to the Death Star.
In addition to the panic attacks and stapler fiascos, during the Death Star era I was allowing myself to fall for an artist who enjoyed the occasional hit off a crack pipe and who liked to ash his cigarettes into the front pocket of his torn flannel shirt. So… I truly had to get the hell outta Dodge. Once this realization hit, I waited many tables, slept on a friend’s floor for three months, and saved up enough to hop on a plane and just… go. Away. Far away from L.A. On this little journey I wrote constantly, in a Henry Miller/Anais Nin kind of haze. Don’t worry; I didn’t ever don a beret. I smoked a lot of cigarettes, scribbled in journals, read books, and went on dates with Belgian dudes with names like Bobo just… well, just because I could. Bobo ended up being slightly psychotic, but whatever – I got a great story from that experience.
Back then the idea of sitting in a park, reading, staring around and writing never felt indulgent or lazy. But times have changed. Trips like that are out of the question at this moment in the Dimension of the Unemployed. I always have my iPod headphones shoved into my ears or my Blackberry beeping or my laptop gleaming. There’s always some sort of something stimulating me, and as an office worker I got used to that energy. But to write I think you gotta sit still. And be quiet. This is a new lesson for me as an unemployed chick who had gotten used to the busy bee nine-to-nine life and to the limp excitement of free bagels on a Friday.
I always love reading about the little minutia of writers’ routines. Do they have coffee or tea or gin? Before or after they start scribbling? Do they write at night, or at dawn? Do they wear pink fuzzy bunny slippers while penning classics or do they wear a suit and tie and fedora? A robe and a dunce cap perhaps? I think these little tidbits are fascinating, revealing. Maybe to you they’re dull as a doorknob, just like numbers are invigorating to a mathematician, yet to me numbers bring back all kinds of third grade math class trauma (Mrs. Peterson should have tea with Kim Jong-il — they’d love each other!) and I mentally check out as soon as I’m confronted with a restaurant bill or a jar full of jelly beans that says, “Guess the number!” It’s like an assault on my soul. If that sounds melodramatic how about this: It’s like a tiny assault on my soul. Better?
I bring these routines up because I remember reading that some poet or other would wake up, write for three hours, have tea, then go on his “daily constitution” to get the blood flowing, and then read, take a nap, and finish the day meeting friends for drinks. Lazy? Hard working? I’m sure if he were a contestant on that show where Trump yells at suits around a conference table most Americans would deem this poet a total loser lazy ass. What woman or man would want him? Get a damn job! Sheesh. But I’m slowly learning that Poet had the right idea. Getting out of a nine-to-five or eight-to-eight or whatever job is a little like getting out of a very long relationship. You become institutionalized, and it takes a while to deprogram yourself from what you’ve gotten used to and remember. Now, if you are laid off and you’re an accountant or a lawyer or something way smarter than being a writer this deprogramming may not apply. You’re probably thinking, “What a lazy ass, self-indulgent lame-o this chick is, wanting to write for a living. Boo-fucking-hoo.” But I’m not talking about the laziness of, say, Floyd with his honey bear bong. Floyd’s funny, in the abstract, but if I dated him — once the initial butterflies and cartwheels wore off — I’m pretty sure his kind of stillness would soon just look sad. If I had Brad Pitt stuck to a couch 24/7 versus Ricky Gervais mobile and making me laugh, I’d take Ricky any day. Hell, I’d take him anyway.
What I’m learning is that stillness does not necessarily equal laziness. There’s a difference. And for any of you experiencing this same thing, having been laid off from a busy, “safe” job and wanting to take the freaking plunge and do what you truly love, it’s kinda OK to be still for a few hours a day — but the hours when you’re not sitting still you gotta run like a maniac. Unless Floyd is your avatar.
Meantime, I haven’t given up the alternate plan of landing on a reality show, getting sponsored by a self-tanner or maybe a fruity vodka of some kind, and rolling around naked on a Vegas hotel bed with money flying all around the room. I read an article recently in Rolling Stone about the Jersey Shore cast and no joke I found myself grabbing a pen and circling a few of Snooki’s quotes, like I was reading Mark Twain for the first time! Some of what she says is kinda smart, like: “I don’t care what people think about me. If you like it, we’re friends. If you don’t, you’re my enemy; peace out. That’s how everybody should be, otherwise you’re going to be depressed all the time.”
I’m not quite sure which is Plan A and which is Plan B at this point… they’re both on my radar. Human Resources? That’s on the backburner.
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