The Upside of Ditch Digging

This would all be different if I dug ditches for a living.

Back in the heady days of 2004, I got a promotion.  At the time, I was a leasing agent at an upscale apartment community in Los Angeles.  Because I had shown some aptitude with computers, and a willingness to own our online related activities, I was made the E-business Coordinator for all the properties the company I work for owned in Los Angeles.  Over time, that role would expand to include not just all of California, but all of the Pacific Division of AIMCO -- I was the EBC for the AIMCO PD ROC.

You heard me.

Anyway, the expanded job came with, among other things, an assistant, or at least that's what he was called, as Matt was never really an assistant in the traditional sense.  He actually preferred being called the "Deputy E-business Coordinator," because we both liked the West Wing.

Matt was (and is) a screenwriter.  He likes baseball.  He has vast knowledge of meaningless things.  We got along great, which was good, given that we shared an office.

Now, it would be easy for me to downplay the work we did in that office.  Matt's then-girlfriend-now-wife lived a good drive away, so he and I rotated weekends so he was actually able to visit her.  Eventually, though, we realized that no one in charge was around on the weekends, so we just stopped showing up altogether.  In other words, if you had the weekend shift that week -- which meant you officially had Thursday and Friday off -- you more or less had Thursday through Sunday off.

One afternoon we just decided to go see a movie.  It was Sideways.

I should point out that my extreme weekend hooky was initially Nicole's fault.  Not long after we started dating she wanted to get lunch on a Sunday, but I was at work.  So I skipped out and met her.  And then we went to Ikea.  And the next thing I knew, I'd been gone the whole day.

We did work, though.  Our job performance was measured in time, and it was the rare hour that at least one of us wasn't by a computer, even when we weren't in the office.  This, I think, justified our lackadaisical schedule; we were almost always working.

Still, it was a pretty cushy gig.

As I mentioned, Matt was a writer, struggling to break in, just like I was.  I wouldn't say that we talked about the process of writing a lot, since we were coming at it from different schools.  But we did talk about the work involved, and how thankless it could be.

Every so often, we would talk about the fact that our cushy jobs were probably a detriment to our writing, because it made us comfortable.  We didn't have a lot of motivation to change our current situations, at least not the extent that, say, digging ditches for a living would.

My cousin is a writer, newly graduated and out in the real world, working where she can.  I told her that such jobs are great because they don't just provide material, they provide motivation.  Seeing what you don't want to do for a living is a great way of driving you towards what you do want to do for a living.

I don't think the average person realizes how difficult it can be to be a writer who doesn't make a living that way.  Writing is hard work.  It's a second job to go along with the first job that pays the bills, but also takes 40+ hours away from you each week.  And while that day job makes demands of you that you can't ignore because you like being able to eat food and you like having some place to live and you need to read books to keep yourself sharp, writing makes demands of you in ways that you can never escape.

I'm 36 years old and I have every reason under the sun to stop with this nonsense, and yet here I am.

I'm actually okay with my current job.  In fact, it only has one real downside (aside from the fact that I could probably afford to be paid more): it's not writing.  And that's the thing.  I could have the greatest job in the entire world and it would still be second fiddle for me.

I have never had difficulty finding the motivation to write; I don't really have a choice in the matter.  As exhausting as it can be, I'd have it no other way.