In Defense of Not Making a Living: a genre writers manifesto

15 02 2010

People often ask me, “So, what do you do for a living?” For many years I actually told them what I did for a living, which was inevitably just as disappointing to them as it was to me. During the metamorphosis of my last several years in which I stopped considering “what I did” the same thing as “what I got paid for” I have been able to tell people that I’m a writer. They would usually press me on this proud point with either, “Wow, what’s it like to make a living writing?” or if they were a bit more savvy (cruel) they might ask, “Fine, but what’s your day job?” This latter tack sending me into the depressive depths plumbed in the years when I didn’t even bother making distinctions between “what am I,” and “what do I do.”

Then everything changed for me in one stupendous moment of life bending, wizard bomb explosivity- I lost my job! Finding yourself without your job, your company vehicle, health and dental,  and with a healthy dose of mutual loathing between you and the human pig of a boss that worked your sorry salaried ass an average of 90 hours a week with no overtime and a tooth in desperate need of a root canal, forces you to take an honest appraisal of what you really are. Jobs come and go, but you will always be a writer.

Fine, writing pays nothing 99% of the time and that’s generous. Eventually you will face the sad and lonely place where replying to the question, “what do you do?”  with, “oh, I’m a chronically depressed, over-skilled, unmarketable, sack of unemployed manflesh thinking about signing up for a nineteenth century style foreign military body so that somebody will fix the tooth that is now in three broken pieces in my jaw and likely going to kill me like Ramses the 2nd when the infection gets good and bloodborn. What do you do?” But if you aren’t quite there, here are a few good replies for the unpaid genre writer to throw out in those awkward situations.

1:)  I’m working on a study of how people behave toward those less fortunate than themselves. We’re trying to determine if the spirit of giving is dead, and who is responsible for the corpse.

2:) I’ve been doing a thirteen step program. It’s taking forever!

3:) I’ve been doing work for the CDC’s contagious pathogens working group. No, as a subject.

4:) I’m leading a campaign to bring back crystal Pepsi. We’re called the People’s Front for Cola Purity.

5:) I’ve been appealing my banishment from Florida.

6:)… or Alabama

7:)… or public schools

8:) I’ve been coaching a lacrosse team of mismatched misfits with nothing to loose and everything to prove.

9:) Oh, you know, a lot of church…

10:) …or ab exercises.

The original Chomsky Honk

11:) I’m writing a guide to gorilla media called the ‘The Revolution Will be Televised.” Have you read much Noam Chomsky?

12:) Blogging.

13:) Focusing on my music.

14:) Writing my memoirs about growing up in a culture of plural marriage.

15:) I’ve been experimenting with making mead!

16:) or candy….

17:) or human life…

18:) I’ve been putting terroristic threatening statutes to the test! Stupid snooty C-SPAN.

19:) I’ve been watching C-SPAN.

and finally:

20:) I’ve been fixing up the house.

Now that last one I must admit is true in my case and has been my pat reply for awhile when I can’t bear to talk about the divergence of my chosen being and my self sustaining being in seeming perpetuity. Most people don’t really care what you’re doing to your house. They just smile and nod politely. Other than my friend Lynn, I really can’t remember anyone that asked what I was doing and didn’t get a glazed over look when I told them. As an answer and an end statement it has the added advantage for me of being true. I put bamboo on my bathroom ceiling two days ago.  See, your scrolling down to the ‘sexiest men’ post already.

There are several ‘non-verbal’ or at least non-conversational methods you can undertake to keep people from asking you what you’re doing at all. Here are a few sure-fire ways to figuratively hang a “Danger, I’m a wing-nut” sign on yourself. Try and guess which ones I’ve engaged in!

1:) Shave your head

2:) Shave… something else.

3:) Create a cantankerous personality for your small dog. Insist

My Dachshund, an evil imperialist you need to talk to.

that others only interact with the dog persona whether the dog is present or not. (you must believe this, so technically you’re not speaking)

4:) If a man, grow out your fingernails and keep them trimmed to sharp points. Pick your teeth with them.

5:) Floss constantly

6:) Cleave to people you don’t know well and insist that you are so frightened of public spaces that you will have a breakdown without their reassuring presence. Cleave closer… closer…. CLOSER…

7:) Eat obscenely gassy foods in obscene quantities.

8:) Find the other Monty Python fan in the room. You know what to do next.

That is the science of unemployment.

Take care my babies, don’t quit your day jobs and if you do, let me know.

Next up: The thing that was supposed to be up next last time before I got distracted with a blend of fear and insecurity. The best part about that is the split lips and blood in my vomit. Take care!

…and I am guilty of 1,3,5,7 and 8. The knights that say-




2 responses

18 02 2010
Maggie Jamison


18 02 2010

Oh squid, what does that mean?

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