Wednesday, September 15, 2010

And Having Failed That...

It occurred to me yesterday that the ongoing dialogue in my head - the story I tell myself as I fiddlefart through my days - my life narrative, if you will, is loaded with the phrase Having failed that I.......

You want to run right now, don't you?  Oh, blast it, Harold, she's about to write one of those pity party posts.

But really, I'm not.  Run if you must, or hang tight.  Sit. Let me get you some peanuts and sweet tea.  I'll even make sure it's cat hair free.

As I've trolled the jobs websites like a mouthbreather looking at porn (it's a guess), I realize that part of why I failed at association management was because I lacked passion for it.  Oh sure, I didn't get fired or quit, I got laid off due to economic factors in the construction business, but the reality is that I peaked at age 31.  Or so.  I held a job - not just a job, but a good job -  in the largest membership organization this side of the Catholic Church. 

And I quit.

The reasons are ridiculous and laborious and embarrassing now, but I thought that job was a career dead end. I couldn't have been more wrong, of course. A dead end at 31?  Now there's a chilling idea.  Sadly, I did not inherit my father's Get a Job And Stay There Forever Gene for if I had, I might have some security and a retirement plan.

Live and learn, people, live and learn.

But back to the passion.  I liked what I did well enough, but I was a cog, nothing more than a tool used to get a job done.  After leaving that giant association, I took jobs with professional associations that catered to this niche or that, doing the same thing for different people.  It didn't matter if they were the American Society of Plumbers Without Cracks or the Institute of Time Mismanagement - they needed governance help, conference planning and membership dues.  These things, while I was not passionate about them, I knew how to deliver.  But somewhere along the way, I lost my ability to fake it, I think.

Not so with writing.  Every day, I want to write.  Even if I don't stick it in front of your face and shout "Read! Read!"  I write. I have so much passion for writing I could hump its leg. So why did it take me so long to remember this?  How had those years working and raising kids and outrunning the law robbed me of my passion?

It's a like Novocaine, this real life stuff.  It numbs you to the point where you're happy to just get through the day without telling someone to kiss your ass, your kids survived your parenting well enough to kiss you goodnight and you can fall into bed with the remote in your hand until you remember that you've got wet towels in the washer and the trash pick up comes tomorrow and did you remember to send the car payment?

So if you've never been encouraged to stop and think what you might really want to do with your precious days here in this life, it's pretty easy to find yourself in a passionless career.  Public Service Announcement:  If you are ever in a position to guide a young person, be sure to ask them what it is they want to do, what are they good at?  What do they care about?  Those are some very important questions to explore before one invests time and money on a future.  I regret that no one asked me those things and I didn't have the brains to advocate for myself.

I've considered this as I've been working on this manuscript, wondering if I might have succeeded more, done more, reached a higher level of command (and salary) had I been just as passionate about something like Strategic Planning, as I am about writing, creating, entertaining.  The way my job search is going, it's kind of like what the guy says in the Tootsie Pop commercial, "The world may never know."

I'm still praying to Philip Roth  that I won't have to some day say "....aaaaaand having failed at publishing anything, I ....."  

In the meantime, I'm working on my confidence.  I'm trying to convince myself that this is a When situation, not an If.  To that end, I want to concoct stories about how I wrote this little tale.  You know, little vignettes I can tell if I ever get to do a book signing.  Back in the Twilight series' first blush, we heard about the music Stephenie Meyer listened to while she wrote her novels.  Most of us have heard how J.K. Rowling went to a cafe to do her writing while she was a struggling single mum.

Not that I'm putting myself in that league, but if and when the time comes, am I really supposed to tell the four people who show up at Billy Bob's Fruit Stand and Used Books on Hwy 16 next to the Gun and Pawn Shop that while writing this thing, I was often inhaling the pungent aroma of the litter boxes?

What kind of discussion will that lead to?  The effects of ammonia on one's usage of the passive voice? Besides, that little tidbit, while true, hardly makes me unique.  I bet lots of writers have their desks dangerously close to a litterbox.

Or do I tell them that I edited this thing using Hart's wonderful plan, reading it aloud while sitting in a lawn chair in my bedroom?  I can tell them how I used my bed to spread all my stuff out so I could lose things in the shuffle over and over again. And, of course, again with the cats who, at some point or other, managed to sit, lie or wipe their butts on some of the pages.

I did not appreciate the butt wiping critique, but I was grateful no one horked up a hairball on my "masterpiece."

So here's your chance to help me out.  I've heard Hemingway wrote on the potty.  Some have said that Dorothy Parker wrote wearing only her pearls.  Rumor has it that Ray Bradbury uses only a Number Two Pencil.  I once heard that Danielle Steele won't write unless she's wearing full make up.  And did you know that while writing his memoirs, George W. Bush took writing breaks to watch The Housewives of New Orleans and reruns of Gilligan's Island on Hulu?

See how easy that was?  Your turn. What kind of stories would you tell about how you work?  Or invent some rumors for me, howboutit?  You'll have my undying gratitude and I'll even credit you when I'm out with the Hells Angels Book Club and Charitable Society. 

And having failed that, at least I'll have something with which to entertain myself  while I "rest" on the special floor of the hospital.  So thanks.  And hey, are you finished with those peanuts?


  1. First, thanks for this. Recently faced with small-minded organizational politics, I again imagined giving up the "safety" of this academic career for something (anything!) else. I know, I know...pampered, elitist academic. What else could I really do? But you know, working through graduate school no one ever said if you become a professor you'll have a hard time carving out space for your own work, what with the committees and constantly reading/revising/evaluating others' really dreadful writing. So yes, kids, don't just be in the moment -- try to see where it is likely leading.

    Second, I laugh out loud to realize I am not alone in having my desk at home next to the cat box. When we bought this house, this was really the only place for it. It turns out that having it here makes me much better at scooping it daily. You make me consider that the aroma of ammonia contributes something to my writing and doodling on a graphics pad. Inspiration? Surrealism?

    Finally, yes, I have my own writing rituals. I pace. Seriously. It's creepy. I walk back and forth, back and forth like a psychotic, mumbling to myself, until I wear myself out and have to sit down to write. Or I (repeatedly!) shoot out of the chair and take a walk to the end of the driveway, where I can look back at my study window and try to get a different perspective. I think my writing would be better if I could do it while walking (and no, I don't mean voice transcription -- I mean actually writing while walking). I've tried to write on a hike, to take a journal on a backpacking trip. That sorta works. But the real work happens at the desk, albeit after/before pacing the floor in my bathrobe, mumbling: "Stupid fucking comma, FREE WRITE ISN'T FREE, shut up shut up shut up you internal Nazi editor, ziplock, who? whom? whatever! no, yes, squirrel! stupid stupid stupid..."

    Whatever your ritual, keep doing it. I'd read your book. Seriously.

  2. What can I say about how I work? (You asked, after all.) All sorts of disgusting things about bodily excresences and how to handle literally demented people and ways of warding off death. It's always about "What can I do so this person does not die on my shift?" But I won't go into detail, because it's just too awful.

    So here's my most helpful tip on how I do my work: "Breathe through your mouth, not your nose." That's because their are no stink receptors in your mouth. You don't draw in deep-lung breaths, just shallow ones, but it works. I can clean up the reeking-est C. difficile poo or GI bleed melena with no worries. Don't smell a thing. Keep it in mind re: catbox duty.

    One more thing -- this bit about defining yourself by your work? That's such an American thing (actually, North American, because they're that way up here, too). "I work, therefore I am."

    The Aussies had a better attitude. Work was what they did to compile enough paid hours off so they could take glorious holidays. I say your life should be about what you do in your "me" time, not your "bosses" time.

  3. You won't fail at writing, getting published. Keep working on the craft and keep being you. It'll happen. You have talent. And plenty of life experiences as fodder.

  4. I keep coming back to the table. Again and again and again. It's not quirky or unique, but it's my master-plan. Just not gonna give up.

    Nor should you.


  5. What Deb, Barbara and Lola said. Except for the part about coming back. I don't do that, haven't in the last longest.

    But you should, cat buttwipe notwithstanding.

  6. I think you should stop "trying to convince" yourself that it's going to happen and assume it. I don't know how to go about changing a throught process - try a mantra. You're already taking the steps toward the dream. That's the biggest thing. You're doing it.

    I've had jobs I wasn't passionate about, and others I hated. Like you, that stuck me forever outside the job-for-life-with-a-pension club. I still don't love my job, but at least it lets me write stuff - it's not my stuff but it's something. Keeps me in the "mode."

    I write most prolifically, and most imaginatively and most intensely when I'm in public. Sit me at my nice desk at the window with my computer and my cup of tea, it's painful.

    Great post Lisa. Soldier on.

  7. I hope everything finally falls into place for all of us.

  8. When I had a writing schedule (about 1000+ words a day) I ignored the clock and wrote and edited throughout the 24 hr. day until I met my schedule. Mostly it was during sunlight times, but not always.

    When there was a natural break in the process I found things totally different from the book for distraction, so I painted.

  9. Tell me about it. I had a job with a decent paycheck, good retirement plan.

    But the job sucked. I easily could have coasted to retirement at 55. But I couldn't see spending 20 more years at a job where I would have despised having to open my eyes for five days a week for the next two decades.

    I walked away in my mid-30s. No regrets. Regrets, after all, are futile, they change nothing. You are where you are, it is what it is and regretting a past, unchangeable decision accomplishes nothing.

  10. I must be the only one of your bloggy friends not trying to get published. It sounds really stressful. I know you'll succeed though because you're writing is wonderful.

  11. You can do it!! Keep at it!

    My writing philosophy is "Keep showing up."

    I write almost every day, usually 6 days a week. I like to write in the afternoon (3-5 PM) or late at night (after 10). It's good for me to have tunes on. And I write directly on my dear laptop--I don't excel at writing longhand (though I do jot down little pieces of ideas throughout the day in my trusty tiny book).

    You have so much to say, and your voice matters. Keep it coming!!

  12. You know, many of us breath through our nose when looking at porn. Don't stereotype.

    There's a reason I tell my kids to find something they ENJOY. Better to scrounge and dig the work then sort of pay the bills on time and loathe 90% of your waking hours.

  13. I right straight up. Meaning I don't rewrite. Never have. Even when I've written really technical stuff with tons of footnotes, I organize it on all my notes, assigning them numbers, work out an outline, then write. Organizing each paragraph in my head.

    Blogging is perfect for me since it's predicated on "off the top" thinking.

    It's the way I've always written. I write mostly every single day. Must use a computer. Couldn't do it otherwise. Have no talent for anything but very short stories, could never write a novel. Best at NF for sure.

    That's me.

  14. I haven't been able to write lately. As if the creative spark had been extinguished in my sleep or a spell cast. My inability to write seems to have begun when I realized I couldn't write a pitch/query letter or a synopsis. That was the point when writing became a job, not a passion.

    These days the best I can do is a pithy comment or tweet. My blog dies the slow death of inattention. And in some way this has coincided with my having been coaxed into (re)discovering facebook and agreeing to write on a deadline for Black Magpie. When it's time to start working on something I find myself staring off into the... void of my empty or churning mind, as the case may be. Maybe I'll write about this...

  15. I'm a morning person, but for some reason 10pm - 1am is prime writing time for me. While I'm working (I'm a photographer) I scrawl out notes and ideas that I will later have to decipher during my midnight caffeine-induced frenzy. Sometimes my husband wanders into the bedroom looking for love (because for some reason he thinks that's what a bedroom is for). He gets it of course, but more than once he's caught me staring at my laptop with lust in my heart. If I start moaning "Nigel, Nigel" there will be big trouble.

  16. HEY! Thanks for the nod! My nefarious plan is spreading!

    Seriously though... SO seriously... I have been at that 'lost the ability to fake it' spot--in advertising... I went back to school (waitressing for 6 years in the process, which was backbreaking, but at least required no brain, so the brain was fresh for school). The day job SINCE then... I like it okay. It's not writing, but I care about what we do. My POINT though, is I work with students... a couple a term... teaching them to do research. They are mostly doing this to get a notch for their grad or med school application. Do you know what I do? I advice EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM to spend a year doing something related to what they think they want to do. because ALL the grad students and SOME of the docs I work with that went straight through aren't happy when they get done. You never know until you try.

    As for my water cooler about the author: "She wrote this whole thing naked--in the bathtub! Just like JD Salinger!" *snicker* (I can only be me)

  17. How I work? I don't, I'm a government employee.

    Seriously, when I want to focus, I put on headphones to block out distractions and listen to music. I've got a podcast script to write this week, so when I finish procrastinating I'll listen to Native American flute music while praying I can figure out a way to make mass fever screening sound interesting.

  18. And I should add that I KNOW you can do this. It takes a lot longer than any of us think it should, but you will get there!

    I also think you should consider writing magazine articles for some cash in the mean time. You have a great voice for topical stuff.

  19. Career decisions are so crazy stressful. I want to stay home with my currently non-existent children someday, but I also really enjoy teaching and I know it will depress me to leave it- but it probably won't depress me as much as not staying home with those invisible babies. Hard call. Best of luck with your publishing adventures. WHEN you are successful, you'll wonder how you could have ever doubted.

  20. Randal Graves said...
    You know, many of us breath through our nose when looking at porn. Don't stereotype.

    But would you breathe through your nose if you were PARTICIPATING in porn? Because I reckon it must smell pretty damn funky in the middle of that chit. ("Pong" is the word they used for bad body odour in Australia. They have an extensive slanguage down there.) Of course, since pornformers' mouths are often filled, I guess they gotta use their schnozzes.

    Two thoughts: commenting on blogs is writing. You generate words, which are read by humans. Except it's kinda like masturbating, since you're doing it alone and you don't get paid for it. Somewhat satisfying, though.

    Do writers ever worry they're burning up their best lines here, instead of on their meaningful work? Stop this right now! Get into something real.

    Lastly, in my previous career, I was a newspaper reporter for 10 years. That was professional writing. Glad I got that out of my system. Not much desire to do it again, because when I look back at all my heartfelt words, all the work I did to expose corruption and enlighten the public, I realize it was mainly for naught. The murder trials? The political chicanery? Human interest features? Long forgotten. When I'd meet readers, they often mentioned that they bought the paper for the grocery ads or the baseball box scores, no the news. All my pearls before...

  21. I have total confidence in you and the fact, yes FACT; that you will be published. I can't wait! :)

    As for my work, I cook. That's it. I just go into this zone and throw flavors, textures and aromas together and it usually turns out pretty good. Never the same twice, though because a recipe is just a guidline.

    Just keep on writing, because I love your slant on life. Love, love, love it!

  22. I am not a writer. I have to write papers and when I do I feel pain at first as I try to figure out what in the hell I am doing/researching and then the paper gradually comes together and I spit it all out as fast as I can. Then I let it sit for at least a day but I prefer several days and I come back to it and rewrite it all out again. I try to make everything as clear as possible. I try not to write in a passive voice. I try to pretend I enjoy what I'm writing but that is not always the case.

    I love my work. I love books. I love people who write books. Books, books, books!

  23. I was trapped in a passionless career for seven years in the commercial insurance industry. Thankfully medical issues got me out of there and I was able to find my real passion again.

    "Every day, I want to write. Even if I don't stick it in front of your face and shout "Read! Read!" I write. I have so much passion for writing I could hump its leg."


  24. Technically, you are published. I'm reading your blog, after all (as are the others). I edit for a living (not fun editing, legal stuff), and I used to have to write it. How I got myself to do it was easy--I had a deadline every effing day. It works. Of course, it was strictly the facts writing, not particularly creative, so perhaps that made it easier. As for your story about your writing habits, why not combine a few of the stories you heard (i.e., I wrote my book on the john, wearing nothing but pearls...). Just a thought.

  25. I admire anyoine who has a passion for something and pursues it. It is amazing how many people become successful after making many changes in their lives, thay try this and that and then it happens. So write here or there and take a little job and then another one and it will hopefully fall into place. And if it doesn't, at least you were going after something you wanted instead of just standing still being bored.

  26. You and I apparently were in the same boat. I never had passion for the job - yes, actually career - I managed to eke out in Corporate America. But I always felt I was faking it and eventually couldn't do it anymore. I was lucky enough to be such a stick in the mud that I did stay at the same company forever and got some benefits out of it. But I always knew that if I left that job and went anywhere else doing the same type of job, it would just be equally soul-deadening, frustrating and boring. So luckily I stayed put as long as I could and got something out of The Man.

    Now, however, like you, I am at a loss. I realized too that my talent is more for writing (in my case, factual writing, not fiction) but one of the problems of changing careers (even back to one you actually went to school for) is none of your last 30 years' of jobs had anything to do with what you now want to do. So I know just what you mean.

    However, you are younger than I am and I have full confidence you will definitely find your true passion and either publish a book or write creative stories for magazines or some other way to express your writing talent for MONEY, the key word. I know it seems impossible right now but you are right to cross out your "ifs" and put "when." Because believe me, you will do it, and do it well.

    As for writing rituals, I can't write or do anything really serious unless I'm sitting at the computer at a desk. I seem to have problems writing on my laptop because the next thing you know I end up playing some stupid Facebook game. However, when the cat sits on the desk in front of the screen, it does cramp my style.


And then you say....

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