"Why are you working at Walmart?"
I get this question a lot. People find out I have a couple of college degrees. They find out I used to be a teacher. They find out I used to be an opera singer. They find out I am a published author. They find out .... well, you get the picture.
Apparently there is a model for Walmart workers. GED? Yes. College degree? Not so much. Able to speak English without sounding like I belong on Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo Boo? Again. Not so much. No real discernible job skills? Yes. Experience as a high school teacher, college professor the night manager at a funeral home, a toll bridge manager, officer manager of a temp agency, veterinary technician, and full-time opera singer in some of the most beautiful opera houses in the world? Again. Why the hell are you working at Walmart?
The answer is fairly simple. I even have a fridge magnet that sums it up perfectly.
Why I Work
A short essay
I like food.
I was forced to contemplate this subject recently after dealing with a customer at the bakery. My cake decorator was having trouble understanding what a lady wanted written on her cake. The decorator asked me to speak with the lady, who had a thick Russian accent. I was able to understand her and we took care of her cake. When she thanked me for my help I told her "you're welcome" in Russian. One thing you must know about the Russian people. They LOVE it when someone learns their language, no matter how little or how much the person has learned. (The French, on the other hand, despise it no matter how perfect your accent.) She and I began to converse in Russian, much to the surprise of my coworkers, and the lady asked the question. "Why are you working here?" I said "It's a job." She said "But you speak Russian." (Don't get excited. It has been years since I studied Russian and mine is terribly rusty. I wish I had the time to brush up on it.)
Trust me. There are days, weeks, even months when I ask myself "Why are you still working here??" I hate my job, but I do it well because that is how I was raised. I hate most of the managers as they drink at the company kool-aid fountain and tend to work from the "A**holes R Us" Management Handbook. The job is an 8 hour a day, five day a week soul-sucking, monotonous descent into hell for anyone with even an ounce of creative yearning in their body. And there are days I come home with no desire to write because I have allowed my day job to deaden my passion for it.
At least once a day I tell myself if I had any guts at all I would tell Walmart what to do with their job, cash out my meager 401K and spend the next six months writing like a fiend in the hope I can parlay my skills into a full-time, able to feed me and the furry kids job. Sounds like a great idea, right? It does to me too, until I look at the ledger I keep of the bills I have to pay every month. Reality is a big, fat, Bertha Butt, hairy *itch when it comes to launching a career as a full-time writer. And there are days I ask myself why on earth I am even bothering to try.
Are you depressed yet? I sure as hell am.
And then I look at the framed picture of the cover of Christmas Revels hanging on the wall. I look at the framed certificates from all of the contests in which I have finaled. I look at the framed photo of the Holt Medallion Finalist banner on my wall. (Because yes, I am really that lame.) I look at the stack of index card boxes - each one containing a book idea and all of the little bits and pieces about each story I have jotted down on index cards. Those are my stories, given to me by the people in my head and if I don't tell those stories nobody will. I look at the old Smith-Corona typewriter my Nana gave me when I was nine years old and told her I wanted to be a writer.
I have printed out every nice comment from contest judges, every nice review, every nice thing anyone has said about my writing. I have them all in a notebook so I can read them when I need a boost. Lame? Perhaps. Helpful? You have no idea!
I've been doing this for nearly eight years. I've published exactly one novella. There are days I sit in front of the computer for hours and don't get more than a sentence written. And still I refuse to give up. Even when my mind tells me I write too slowly and too inconsistently and too whatever else. (If I ever catch that heifer that lives in my head she is in for an All-Day-Alabama-A**-Whoopin' !)
I was reading over my pages from a few days ago and this little passage struck me. I didn't really remember writing it. Now I believe I wrote it for me and for anyone else who struggles with the "why bother's" of life.
Courage isn't always about facing death, my lord. Sometimes it is about facing life. Knowing you will rise to a day of misery, or abuse, or being ignored or having tiny bits of yourself torn away by the cruel words of others. Knowing it because every single day is the same and has been as long as you can remember. Knowing it and getting out of bed anyway. A dull sort of courage in your eyes, perhaps, but courage nonetheless.
In all of this rambling (yes, I know I'm rambling!) I have discovered a few things I want to share with you in case you get to that "Why am I even bothering with this!" stage. If you are one of those writers who never gets to that stage please tip-toe away quietly so the rest of us are not forced to duct tape you to a bed and shave your head. (Not that I'd know anything about that sort of thing happening at an all girls college in Alabama mumble mumble years ago.)
1. The only person who can stop you writing is you. Success or failure, readers or no readers isn't
always in your hands. Sitting down day after day and putting words on the page is.
2. There is no one on earth who can tell your story in your voice. The story is given to you to tell
in your voice. Doing so is never a waste of time. It is the fulfillment of a promise.
3. Do not belittle, berate or beat yourself up. There are people lined up to do that. That is their job.
Your job is to write. Leave the other crap to someone else.
4. If someone does belittle, berate or beat up your writing the response is the same whether the person
is in your head or posting on Amazon. Do. Not. Engage. Ignore it. Leave it on the side of the road
in a brown paper bag and watch it grow smaller and smaller in your rear view mirror until it is out
of sight. And, Don't. Look. Back.
5. Allow yourself to write for no other reason than the sheer joy of doing so. Write it all down. Get it
down and revel in the fact you are creating something that has never been seen before even if no
one ever sees it. Remember, for all intents and purposes Michelangelo was painting the roof of
some guy's house. He created something unique because he could and because he enjoyed it. He
had no idea he was creating THE Sistene Chapel. Harper Lee had no idea she was writing one of
the greatest books ever written. To Kill a Mockingbird was simply a story she had to tell. Tell your
stories because you have to, because it is in your heart to tell it. Do that and trust me, the readers
will know it.
6. Every now and again read some books on craft that are more than just how to write conflict, or a
great scene or great sex. Read something that makes you think about what writing means to your
soul. Those books will come back to you like a favorite song when you are down and those words
will lift you up and plop your butt back into that chair. Some of my favorites are :
On Writing - Stephen King
The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell
A Writer's Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Writing is not a career one chooses. A great deal of the time, the writing chooses. It is rather like the Hotel California.
You can check out, but you can never leave !
How is it that birds can fly?
They can because they think they can.
Every single one of us has had days, weeks, months even years when we did what we had to do to survive. Some of us are still doing it and trying everything we can to keep our writing alive. With all of the inspiration of great words, and all of the help of fellow writers, and all of the support of friends and family - ultimately it is still the writer and the words sitting together in the dark making magic, joining a long line of human experience, and making something immortal out of lives meant for mere mortality. Words, like love, are stronger than death.
How do you survive those "why bother" days? Or, if you have reached the stage where you are a full-time writer, what did you do to keep going? Do you still have those "why bother" days? Please share your tips for going on when that heifer in your mind starts talking smack!