Jobs they sucketh, but they're kind of important. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear the arguments. Having food and shelter is good. This year I've actually discovered that working for someone other than myself actually fills a vital friggin role, and I mean more than a steady paycheck.
I was a freak in college. Physics and English both called to me, and as I'm me, it's no surprise I pursued both doggedly enough to get degrees in them both. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Now, I realize there was no real alternative.
I can't go for terribly long without getting a science fix. I also can't go very long without writing or reading. I've tried, and I find that staying away from either of these too long leads to Dan=sad, sad, sad panda.
I need to be able to talk sciency things with sciency people. I need to explore, I need to wonder, I need to design experiments or slap together machines and cackle like a mad scientist. Writing fiction (and even, to a degree, straight up non-fiction) does not satisfy this need. Working from home, even as an Igor4hire, was like rubbing up against a smooth tree trunk to scratch an itch--it gave me a wee spot of relief, but that relief was short-lived. There's something to be said for interplay with people who think in like ways, a cross-pollination that just does not come about from interacting with non-science outlets. Do I need this all the time? Nope. Don't want it. I like emulating Whitman from time to time ("Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself! I am vast; I contain multitudes."). Howevah, I appreciate going to the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays (Job 1). I study biomarkers for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a topic I never imagined I would study back when I was a physics major ("Medical physics?" I once opined, "Why would I want to know anything about THAT?" Ah, how young and foolish I used to be...) Thursdays and Fridays, I love going to the place I've lovingly dubbed The Dirty-Dirty Factory and assembling both code and machines to automate a melanin extraction process for the creation of glare reducing/IR-therapeutic lenses (Job 2). I dig interacting with chemists and physicists (and at least one coffee enthusiast, oh. em. gee.)
The pay ain't so great, but it's bread. The mental stimulation and feedback is worth more to me than all the bananas in Ecuador. It's scratchin an itch I didn't realize I had.
And I told myself earlier this year: I don't want to write anymore. Won't do it. If I can just get steady employ, I can skip this writing crap. The pay is abysmal, I don't like what I doing, and there's other things I'd rather waste my time on.
So, I stopped. After finishing up a couple of revision projects and some work I promised to get in, I actually stopped. It was the mythical "last big score," from so many heist job pictures. I read a bit more, I played some tabletop RPGs, I hung out with people.
And then, a publisher contacted me about republishing some pseudonymous stories I had written for him over the years (dating back to about 2005) as e-books, and I thought "What the hell, why not?" So, I took a look at the stories, saw what he wanted to charge for them, felt rotten about the cost-to-length ratio (as well as the fact that one of the first offerings was a story the publisher himself hadn't really liked all that much), and I though, "Why not expand this one? Make it what I wanted it to be in the first place?"
So, I did. And wouldn't you know, I found I was having fun doing it. So, I expanded the second proposed story, too.
I have zero pretensions about these pieces. The stories started life as pure entertainments, and they remain pure entertainments (for better or worse). I can't say I saw the logic with his first release choices (the stories feature a series character, and while these pieces stand alone they come later in the series), but whatevah. The fact is, I had originally wrote the stories short, short, short. The publisher (Vampires 2 magazine) was offering token payments, and I wanted to keep my word count low to feel I was making a decent by-the-word rate. The results were punchy enough (true to their pulp roots), but there was always room for further exploration.
Well, this time I had a chance to try my hand at that exploration. The act of doing was more than fun, more than another payout (advance with royalties! Woot!). It fulfilled a need. I had found that despite my beliefs to the contrary, science alone can not sustain me. Assembling code and machines can not sustain me. I seem to have to assemble language, too. Sucks to be me, huh? I apparently have decided that a life spent doing way too many things, splitting my attention multiple weird directions and exhausting myself is the life for me.
So writing is Job Number 3.
What about number 4?
Well, that was data entry. The very definition of soul devouring. The weekly payout was variable (depending on how much material they gave me), but the high end was higher than anything my other jobs paid me. The low end was: some weeks I would get a check for $5 or $20. It was all a gamble, but it was regular. Doing the data entry was pretty mindnumbing. Lots of copy and paste, lots of google/amazon searches (my goodness, there is a hell of a lot of kitsch out there, and each piece needs to be cataloged and described and made marketable), lots of catalog copy written. I would finish up my day at UTHSCSA or the DDF, go home and work on data entry. I would pull all nighters on Fridays, sometimes. I would work Sat and Sun on this stuff. Burn out was inevitable, and burned out I got. Yet, I still debated actually quitting job #4. It was paying work, and money is a good thing to have.
What settled it was a tweet from a game designer I know named Matt Forbeck. It was a random discovery, actually. Not aimed at me, a response in the effluvia. He was replying to someone who asked about working as a freelancer with something along the lines of "Life's too short to do something you hate."
Revelations come via strange delivery systems, sometimes.
The job fulfilled a role--as my Mom has said, "Money is nice, more money is better." But other than a wage bump, the data entry served no real purpose. It killed time for very little payout. It paid me enough, as Marx once wrote, to keep me coming back the next week and not raise a fuss. It needed to go.
So, maybe I made a mistake doing it, but I parted ways with that job. I didn't burn the bridges after I crossed them. I've found it's best to keep things professional (until someone else makes it personal) because who knows what the future holds. However, the near future doesn't hold me working for them.
So here I am, halfway through month four in the Year of the Jobs, and I think I might've found footing to stand on. At least for a while.