Which Pile of Shit Should I be Eating, Exactly?
The chief thing I’ve learned is that up till now I’ve lived a pampered life. Not Paris Hilton pampered, of course. (And—side note—could there be any worse example of unearned power and prestige than Paris Hilton? She first became famous for being fabulously wealthy, ignorant of reality, and blithely uncaring about it because people think she’s fun to party with. Every move she’s made since has confirmed that her willful ignorance will never hurt her, because she’s surrounded by media people who manage a form of “reality” for her that gets spun off into every show or appearance she does. We get the celebrities we deserve, and I can’t imagine a celebrity more fitting for the Bush era. It’s so depressing, I think I need a new paragraph.)
(Pause while my dander ebbs.)
Okay. What I’m saying is, I’ve been lucky. Up until now, every job I’ve ever held was given to me. I lived at home till I was about 20, and didn’t need a job before then. I got my first job with the PREVENT program because my parents sold the house, I needed a job desperately, and I was dating the boss’s daughter. Got my job at Hallmark because they came through Tucson, saw my work, and hired me. (They even paid for my move.) Went to Florida State because the second I applied I was offered a scholarship and a teaching assistantship. Those are the only jobs I’ve ever had. My other creative work—puzzles, short stories, etc.—have never even paid the utilities. I’ve been in the Atlantic, World’s Best Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Mirth of a Nation, but after some quick math it seems the sum total of my freelance earnings comes to about $9500 since 1990.
Maybe this is how most people do it, and I’m not as pampered as I think. But I do know that starting from zero and attempting to get the attention of an entire city is completely new to me, and developing the skill to pound on doors and get a job is like learning a new language: it’s absolutely exhausting, and I can only get about half as much done every day as I expect. I’ve been sleeping a lot, and I don’t think it’s depression—it feels very much like a protection against nerve-shredding stress. Even when I’m looking at job postings, it’s very easy to psych myself out. I’ll have the skills required, but they’ll add a line like “Some knowledge of Spanish would be helpful,” and I’ll think, “Well, damn. My skills meet the minimum, but what are the odds there’s someone else in this city who meets or exceeds that minimum and also speaks Spanish?” Or I’ll see an “entry-level” position, and I’ll think, “I bet that means they’re expecting a college graduate fifteen years younger than me.” And then I can actually agonize for up to twenty minutes wondering whether it’s worth going to the trouble of applying. Multiply this by fifty, and then I only send out about five queries, none of which I'm particularly optimistic about. Then add the irony that I'm agonizing, strategizing, and using all my fighting dander to think about a series of jobs that I really don't even want.
This slowness of mine isn’t quite as stupid as it sounds, because I have some form of attention deficit disorder that makes this particular kind of work—the proper filling out of many many forms—much more stressful than it is for a normal person, like writing with my left hand. In fact, when my friend Jen recently suggested that I might get a performer’s license, I brightened, because busking sounds a little more in keeping with my tendencies. (No forms! Oh wait--except for the license.) But then there’s the additional problem: what do I actually do? I don’t play any instruments. I’m not a particularly skilled singer. I can’t break dance. I’m a friendly comedian type. If you sat and talked with me for ten minutes, you might find me charming enough to toss money my way. But comedy takes more time to present than people have when they’re moving from the A to the E train at 42nd Street. And I suddenly can’t tell: is this realistic thinking or am I psyching myself out again? I have no idea because I have nothing to compare it with.
Hey, I just thought of something: I could lead tours! I’m personable, entertaining, love to teach . . . And as soon as I thought of this, I thought, “And I’d be competing for those jobs with every goddamn actor in town.” And my next thought was, how many jobs like that are there? What’s the competition like? Am I good enough to make the effort worthwhile, or should I save my energy for something that’s less of a pipe dream? And would it pay enough to make rent? And then—you didn’t see this—I started pacing the room, thinking about it, wondering how to even get the answers to these questions. It could be half a day of research before I even figure out that it’s not worth the trouble. This paragraph has taken me fifteen minutes to write. On the plus side, it feels like I'm doing something instead of waiting around for no one to call me.
(You know what job I’d be good at? Bestselling humor author. I don’t seem cut out for much else. So where’s my agent? Aargh! )
Anyway, I just thought I’d share a little bit of what the process has been like. Those of you who read this blog and have been through it might be able to tell me what parts of my thinking are wise and which I need to learn to ignore. (P.S. Jen—your letter came yesterday. Thanks!)
While I’m at it, I have to add something else: my computer connection sucks beyond the legends of sucking. It was my roommates’ bright idea to give us a wi-fi network rather than running a splicer and sending acres of cords into every bedroom, and I guess I can see the value in that. But in practice, it has meant that my signal is so intermittent that I can literally print only five words at a time before the system pauses to think—and it pulls the same wait-twenty-seconds crap EVERY TIME I fill out a single entry in a single form. So yesterday I went on Monster.com and jobs@nytimes, and although I spent all day going through their resume process, I only actually managed to apply for five jobs, and spent at least ninety minutes of that time just waiting for the damned computer to unfreeze. The rest of the time was spent clicking through to various sites, reading every job in depth, clicking to another site, etc. . . .and with my shitty connection, the whole process took about four times as long as it needed to. Very frustrating. Would it be worth it for me to go down the street to UPS and use their $3-for-ten-minutes connection instead? Again, I don’t know. Pile another quandary on the heap and watch as I circle the whole thing in helpless madness like Hobbes’ ass, unable to choose among twenty identical-seeming options. (And that’s how bad it is—I think the “Hobbes’ ass” reference is an error [I was thinking of some famous ass that died because it was given two exactly equal bowls of food and couldn’t decide which one to eat; death by abulia] but I can’t even justify spending time to double-check the reference when there’s jobs to be hunted down. How un-Davelike!)
All of you who know me know that I’m basically a sunny cheerful person, and I hate to be depressed. And I’m trying like all hell to be conscientious, send out my resumes to all and sundry, and spend hours every day hunting opportunities down. I’ve sent my applications to ten employment agencies, and in over a week none of them have even asked me to come in for a skills test. (Is that normal, or is that I sign I should stop trying that area?) And weekends are the worst, because I’ll think of someone I might want to contact and then think, “Oh, wait; they’re probably closed till Monday.” (Or do publishing houses, for example, stay open all weekend? Heap . . .) It’s not even a question of swallowing my pride. I’ve been a t.a. and a comedian; I haven’t had pride in years. The question is what to swallow it with, in a town with a million restaurants. Sigh.
P.S. I’ve checked. They don’t have any greeting card writer jobs in New York City. At least, not on the web.