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Jobs I Have Done Instead of Writing

The following was written by American author Rick Harsch (who has lived in self-exile in Slovenia for nearly two decades): ‘Every subfamous writer knows it’s unseemly to bitch about having to work for a living, yet is all too aware that if he or she was a paid writer writing would be considered work, and so we subfamers are all in the horrible position of having spasms of acute awareness that in this unjust world in which we both continue to write and on top of that work for a living we are doing double duty while many a self-satisfied untalented schmuck is working about seven hours a week, living off a single novel that hit paydirt, muddling through an academic sinecure that requires an everchanging array of poses suggesting the suppressed pain that is art creation in times of distant tragedies and that worst of all human conditions, the human condition.

How do I handle this problem? Self-delusion is an absolute requirement. I must never fully realize the fact that my time has passed, that even if I were to become a wealthy writer overnight I am still too old to embark on the travels I’ve longed to undertake, and my cardiologist has forbidden me from even taking tennis lessons. And, well, shit, why not get this out in the open—though poor, I actually do live on the Mediterranean.

The other thing I do for this condition is work. I don’t mean writing, of course. Sure, I write, but we’ve already established that for me that isn’t work. So what I do and have done for the last forty years is whatever I have been able to make money. Strangely, the most outlandish work I did was before I had a family, kids and a wife, which is the point at which work becomes the most necessary. But that’s all to the good. I get published now and then, and I never ever want to see another book with my face on it and underneath “Rick Harsch drove a taxi…” Oh, how fucking exotic! Nothing wrong with it that a photograph wearing a sweater sitting with my Irish setter before a fireplace wouldn’t cleanse. I suppose what I want is “Rick Harsch drove a taxi and one time a guy named Earl shit his pants while in the back seat and Rick couldn’t get Earl out of the cab because Earl was built like a medicine ball with a lead core and it was the end of a lousy shift and he nearly had a stroke from the frustration and if that cab is still around somewhere it still smells like the Bowels of Earl.” Yeah, that would be okay.

All this arose in me, this writers at work business, from reading an interview on The Collidescope with Patricia Eakins, with her answering that potent question regarding what she did after her first book was published and reading about how she worked on some textbook that likely had little to do with anything she was interested in and likely because like all of us subfamers needed money and the universe did not care how she obtained it, or whether she obtained it at all. The utopian in me lives and was riled. I recalled the thousand injuries of Fortunato, my greatest enemy.

Today I was sitting with one of my ex-bosses talking scattershot and a memory somehow came back regarding probably the oddest day I had in recent years that had to do with making money, or rather attempting to. A friend of a friend had this sister, see, and she does film casting, and they were hiring extras in Gorizia, Italy, about 90 minutes from here and one thing led to another, and nothing led to money, but I spent a bizarre day with an extravagant dame in her 60s who had seen the world and half the men in it, still sized us all up and let us know the fit, told amazing stories about back in the days her ex, a sea captain, had her on board and all the engineers were in love with her, and Omar Sharif, or some other famous guy, tried to bang her that night in Piraeus.

So what the hell, here’s a topic: Jobs I Have Done Instead of Writing.’

Rick Harsch has told me, George Salis, that I’m too young to have any good stories to share (I’m paraphrasing). Having taught stints in Bulgaria, China, and Poland, I’d have to disagree. Additionally, I’ve had to teach Chinese children online in which I am a clown-for-hire as early as 5 in the morning, forcing me on more than one occasion to live on China Standard Time (CST), which means I rarely saw the sun, such a pale clown needs no white makeup. Luckily, I’ve been able to reduce the amount of online teaching I do by ghostwriting, which suits my introverted personality much more, to say the least. As for work-related stories abroad, the craziest come from China in which I was forced to wrangle multiple classes with about 50 students in a class, some of which hide special needs kids who are not getting the special needs they need. I’ll save such stories for another day, perhaps.

I look forward to hearing about the strange and torturous things you other writers have had to endure with equal parts sadism and sympathy.

Rick Harsch hit the literary scene in 1997 with his cult classic The Driftless Zone, which was followed by Billy Verite and Sleep of the Aborigines (all by Steerforth Press) soon after to form The Driftless Trilogy. Harsch migrated to the Slovene coastal city of Izola in 2001, just as the Driftless books were published in French translation by a French publisher that went out of business a few years later. Rick is also the author of Arjun and the Good Snake (2011, Amalietti & Amalietti), Wandering Stone: the Streets of Old Izola (2017, Mandrac Press), Voices After Evelyn (2018, Maintenance Ends Press), Skulls of Istria (2018, River Boat Books), The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (2019, River Boat Books) and Walk Like a Duck: A Season of Little League Baseball in Italy (2019, River Boat Books). Rick currently lives in Izola still with his wife and two children.

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books, 2019). His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThe Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on FacebookGoodreads, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.

Stay tuned: coming Monday, 13 Jan 20, RABBIT HOLE 3 Call for Submissions!

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29 thoughts on “Jobs I Have Done Instead of Writing

  1. I suspect most of us eat by the work we do rather than the books we sell. I earned more from writing as a freelance journalist (which I fitted in around farm work) than I do as a writer (still fitted in around farmwork)
    But freelance journalism has largely been killed by the web, so there’s not a lot of mileage in following that game

    Liked by 7 people

  2. I started writing a sci fi novel about 30 years ago, but couldn’t see a path to money. So I backburnered it to pursue my consulting. Over the next quarter century I wrote a dozen how-to books for small business, all the while looking over my shoulder at my sci fi. My biz books sold in the low four figures, but since I self published and sold from my website (or from public speaking), my profit was good. Most important, these books fueled my consulting practice for years.
    A few years ago I decided that if I was ever going to get my stories done in this lifetime, it had to be now. I’ve just completed a trilogy about a singer who comes into possession of an alien spaceship and gallivants into space—with her guitar.
    I’m now at the point where i must see if I can sell books, which scares the bejeebers out of me. But I love the writing. And I still keep my hand in the consulting.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Perry Palin says:

    My first job for money was picking rocks in a neighbor’s field. I worked on a farm. One bitterly cold winter I skidded pulpwood out of the woods with an old worn tractor, and I worked on a sawmill. For at least a little while I worked at each of landscaping, as a laborer on an agricultural experiment station, washing and gassing cars and doing auto body work in a police garage, sorting parcel post on a night shift and delivering mail on Saturdays, and trying to teach English in a blue color community that felt it had no need for formal education. That last one was tougher than the rest.

    I eventually worked into labor relations and stayed with that for many years, representing management in 100+ union contract negotiations and working in policy development, employment, dispute resolution, trying to train supervisors to do their jobs, correcting bad workplace behavior and when that didn’t work, running the bad actors off the lot. I was threatened with harm a few times and was kidnapped once by a union bargaining team. They knew that I knew they were kidding, really, and they let me go in the middle of the night. I quit that work and I now recommend retirement to everyone I know and everyone I meet.

    I have been writing short fiction for a long time and I have a novel that I will be shopping to publishers this winter. I never thought I would make any real money as a writer, so I haven’t been discouraged when one of my stories is published and the pay is small. I made a little money on two story collections, coffee money, I suppose, but not enough for coffee and donuts. It’s good that I had another way to get money.

    Liked by 6 people

    • You were kidnapped, Perry?! Jesus, that’s . . . that’s just nuts! Joking or no . . . (And how does one go about striking the proper attitude of strained-smile bonhomie with one’s kidnappers, I wonder. . . .)

      Liked by 4 people

      • Perry Palin says:

        Carl, the unions were my professional adversaries but I always got along with the leaders on a personal level. One of the union teams got me alone in a roadhouse and said they would let me go when I agreed to their bargaining demands. It took until the middle of the night to convince them that they weren’t going to get what they wanted, and I told them my wife knew where I was and would call the police at 1 am to come and get me. The part about my wife and the police was fiction of course, but they didn’t trust that it wasn’t true. If that hadn’t worked I would have told them fishing stories until they threw up their hands or fell asleep. We settled the contract the following week on my last offer.

        Liked by 6 people

  4. Re: I get published now and then, and I never ever want to see another book with my face on it and underneath “Rick Harsch drove a taxi…” Oh, how fucking exotic!

    I hear ya, brother! I served my time in hell in a suburban cab: 80+ -hr. weeks trying to make enough scratch to pay the $750-a-week lease + gas + tolls + licensing fees, only to fall short–every damn week! Nightmare. Modern-day indentured servitude.

    Shall I tell (the rest of you) about:

    — The rage-aholic passengers who get into a cab, state that they have no desired preferred route to their destination, and then spend the entire drive muttering under their breath because (they explode at ride’s end) “You didn’t drive the route I expected!” (Nevermind the fact that my gps is audibly calling out the fastest route to the stated destination the entire time of the trip.)

    — The vector-challenged, passive-aggressive passengers who state they DO have a preferred route to their destination, only to become hopelessly confused en route when I attempt to follow their directions, then sit back in white-lipped seething silence as the gps saves us from further muddled meanderings.

    — The approx. 400-lb., reeking, cootie-infested, wheel-chair bound man I attempted to help who got into my cab (with considerable straining assist from Yours Truly) only to state, once ensconced therein: “I need to be driven to Florida.” From Illinois, mind you! (Getting him out of his wheelchair and into that front seat took a good half-hour. Removing him from the cab took another hour–after I called the cops. They knew the guy; it was a bit he routinely pulled. A broken front seat and fumigation of creepy-crawlers took me out of action the rest of that day. The cab smelled like him all week long. Did I feel pity mixed with revulsion and horror for this wretched soul? Of course. But what’s that got to do with anything? The rent money is due . . .)

    — The times I spent chasing down elderly women– “She’s somewhere around that Walmart entrance, I know it,” (reported numerous sons and daughters) and getting these wayward mothers (with their numerous shopping bags) safely back home. An hour’s work. Rate paid? $5 or $7 bucks. (Our company offered “flat-rate” coupons for senior citizens. Great idea! Unless you are the one going broke doing the work . . . Still, these were amongst the best experiences I had driving a cab–the “white-haired set” were truly appreciative and grateful. “You are so nice to help out! Sonny would if he could, you know, but he’s so busy with work and his own family now . . .”)

    — The well-dressed, lucid mental patient who attempted to pay me in Monopoly money.

    — The young couple who got into my cab one night and ordered, “Drive around somewhere dark and deserted–we want to make love in the back seat. We don’t care where you go; just drive around for a half-hour or so.” (They tipped well.)

    –The colorful element who order you to ill-lit destinations, hop out, and call over their shoulders, “Wait here; I’ll be right back.” (Sometimes they return with others. . . .)

    –The smiling, upper-middle-class types who get into your cab and immediately start in: “Boy, I’ll bet those Uber and Lyft guys are giving you stiff competition, huh? Stealing your passengers right and left, eh? Boy!” When I would point out that I am re-licensed and background checked by the police–every three months ($250 each time), as required by law–and that ride-share drivers don’t have to do this–these idiotically beaming, stalwart hucksters of free-market capitalism would invariably chortle and shriek, “Competition is good for the consumer! It’s put you guys on your toes!”

    And many into their grave.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/06/taxi-driver-suicides-are-a-warning/561926/

    Ah yes, you haven’t lived until you find yourself driving down the street and screaming at the top of your lungs after an 18.-hr. shift in a suburban cab . . . and $42 earned dollars in your pocket for that day’s work. (Minus gas. Minus tolls.) Remember, in a suburban cab you typically don’t pick up people off the street–you drive to your assigned zone and wait for dispatch to call you. And wait. And wait. And wait . . . . (Sometimes for six hours or more. Then you get called upon to service one of those aforementioned five- or seven-dollar voucher rides, then it’s back to the fast-food parking lot for more expectant waiting. . . .)

    Perhaps, sometime during your shift, you turn on the radio and catch some multi-millionaire, right-wing Republican Congressman mid-rant prattling on about the lamentable follies and failures of the working class who are no-good layabouts soaking the rich for undeserved tax breaks and exotic vacations and free drugs and food and cell phones and movies and . . . .

    https://www.theverge.com/2017/3/7/14841736/chaffetz-says-americans-must-pick-between-iphones-and-healthcare

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/24/food-stamps-billionaires-nutrition-assistance-bernie-sanders-rashida-tlaib

    Driving a cab is but one of the many fun, informative, character-building jobs I’ve had as a writer.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. Well, gentlemen, I’ve never driven a cab or worked on a farm or negotiated with unions or kidnappers — all of which seem to me as exotic as teaching in foreign lands, and worthy of at least a decent short story apiece from each of you. I’ve always written, but never with the idea of selling what I wrote, until half a lifetime ago.

    Before then, after earning a degree in Dramatic Arts, I held a prestigious Box Office Scholarship one summer at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, which paid $45/each 40-hour week, followed by managing the box office and publicity full-time for a 32,000-student university’s Dramatic Arts Theatres (Main Stage and Experimental). At 23, after two years and my mother’s death, I gave nine-month’s notice because it occurred to me that I was always going to be surrounded by 18-22 year olds whose main concerns were:

    1. I have a paper to write.
    2. I have to study for a midterm.
    3. I have a rehearsal.
    4. Where’s the party?

    And at that point, I was adulting. So I took what I believed would be the last Summer Vacation of my life, and eventually sought a Civil Service job.

    I was fortunate to be offered the Auto and Radio Shops’ Office Manager position on the Cleveland National Forest (in San Diego, CA), which placed me on a piece of Government property in the middle of a 9 mile by 9 mile scrubland inhabited by bob cats, rattlesnakes, scorpions, and rodents. (In what might be misinterpreted as an early, doomed attempt at cloning, I did once find a dead mouse in the copy machine.)

    Transferring to the Regional Office in San Francisco, in pursuit of career advancement, I spent my first year and a half there as a human wastebasket. Life improved marginally with a sanity-saving conversion to what they called a “professional series”, and after six months, I was again fortunate to avoid exile to Alturas or Yreka, and returned to San Diego. (The two years I spent in San Francisco were the longest 11 years of my life, and only endurable because of the weeks over that time that I was able to spend in fire camps providing materiel support to fire fighters and staff for camps that frequently housed up to 5,000 people.)

    I was also fortunate that the FS paid for 2/3 of my one year in law school. My plan was to leverage contract, property, and maritime law into Space Law expertise, thus positioning myself for a trip to the International Space Station at the very least. My ultimate goal was to be the first lawyer on the moon when we began colonizing.

    But the singular attraction of single motherhood proved too magnetic to resist. And that led to 22+ years of raising other people’s children, costuming 40+ children’s theatre productions casting 62-73 children in each, and my first paid writing project: a musical version of Hansel and Gretel, titled “Gretel and Hansel”.

    It also blended into my current career as a self-employed Seamstress, which isn’t nearly as lucrative as one might wish, considering its excessive manual labor aspect. But it has also provided a paid creative outlet. I have designed and built many costumes, including a sea urchin, a Harrier Jet, and a girl who bursts into flames, as well as prom, ballet, bridesmaid, and wedding dresses. I still sew for one or two professional theatre gigs a year, and I was working for union wages (obscene money) for 5-1/2 weeks sewing for the San Diego Opera when the economy crashed in 2008.

    Now I would give up all of that just to spend time writing things to sell — or at least have validated by contest recognition or publication. Tomorrow, for instance, I’ll learn if my story quarter-finalled in the ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest. But the professional reader feedback makes entering worthwhile, regardless of placement.

    In the meantime, there are the WIPs to finish and other contests to enter. I’m looking forward to Rabbit Hole 3…

    Liked by 6 people

    • Re: In what might be misinterpreted as an early, doomed attempt at cloning, I did once find a dead mouse in the copy machine.

      Lol, Sue! It’s been quite fascinating learning behind-the-scenes details about the various writers checking in here. Where’s Studs Terkel when you need him?!

      PS. Good luck to you with your submissions: both to the SCC-SSC and The Rabbit Hole vol. 3.

      Liked by 4 people

        • @Sue: I don’t know about channeling former Renaissance men, but I have been known to get blinding drunk and begin babbling in Elizabethan dialect to a close circle of back-pedaling, wide-eyed friends. Mind you, we are talking godawful, vaudevillian hambone, Shakespeare-in-the-park as performed by a soused Adam West channeling LCD’d-out-of-his-mind William Shatner imitating a concussed Al Pacino bad faux Elizabethan dialect here . . . a true crime against humanity.

          :::shudder:::

          The horror; the horror. . . .

          PS. No worries, though. My new go-to, imbibing-in-public drink is . . . diet 7-Up.

          Err . . . What were we talking about again?

          Liked by 3 people

          • Do you know if he performs séances? Perhaps he had contacts on the other side. Maybe he could invoke Studs Terkel.

            Thanks for the link, GD. I just checked Sci-Fi Lampoon and purchased a print copy I am now eager to receive. I try to keep my ego on a short-ish leash, but it thinks “Sci-Fi Lampoon accepts dry wit” smells like an invitation. Please forgive my ego if that wasn’t your intent, but I might let it take the lead on this one, lol.

            Liked by 3 people

  6. “Mind you, we are talking godawful, vaudevillian hambone, Shakespeare-in-the-park as performed by a soused Adam West channeling LCD’d-out-of-his-mind William Shatner imitating a concussed Al Pacino bad faux Elizabethan dialect here…” OMG, Carl — what a brilliant vision! Though an LSD’d-out-of-his-mind William Shatner might make a bit more sense, lol.

    And now, as I wipe laughter tears from my face, you’ve made me remember . . .

    While I endured in San Francisco, my boss’s boss was a man who had practiced marriage and divorce the way some practice bingeing and purging. He had been through the cycle five times before I met him, and I quickly learned what all the 20- and 30-something singles came to know about him: He loved fine dining and hated to eat alone. And he drank. If Lee invited you to lunch, you would not be returning to work after you poured him on to BART and sent him home to Hayward.

    Because I was 27-and-single and lived in The City because I couldn’t afford to live outside The City and commute in to work, I was often the beneficiary of Lee’s culinary largesse. There was a restaurant — The Ben Jonson’s (now reduced to photos on Flickr and postcards on eBay) — in which every waiter introduced himself as Ben Jonson. (It pains me to report that all the women waitstaff were mere wenches. Not an Anne Hathaway or Good Queen Bess among them.) Anyway, at some point during the meal, our personal Ben Jonson knelt beside our table and recited a soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet. It was the most conversational Shakespeare I’d ever heard. “Shakespeare In Love” was not yet a glimmer in Harvey Weinstein’s eye, but I did fall a little bit in love that night — with the waiter.

    You would almost have fit right in.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Because I mentioned the ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest here, I would like to follow up. My short story, A Different Life, did advance to the quarterfinals. That gives me the opportunity to submit an updated version for another professional reader’s feedback (with all new scores) before the next round of judging. Then I’ll wait for the semifinals announcement on February 12th.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Thank you!

    You seem to have figured out, at a very early age, the advice one published author I know gives as part of his writing curriculum: Once your story wins anything, keep working on it and keep submitting it.

    Liked by 2 people

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