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In 1978 when I turned 16, I donned a lime green polyester uniform and began asking customers who walked into the local McDonalds; “Would you like fries with that?” Since that time, I’ve had a variety of positions in the food-service industry; from salad bar refresher at the Pizza Hut on Hilton Head Island, to sandwich preparer at Yogurt’s Last Stand, where I marveled over seeing my first piece of pita bread. I worked as a camp counselor for spoiled children one eye-opening summer. From there I moved to several illustrious positions in telemarketing; selling portrait packages for Olan Mills, then magazines for DialAmerica Marketing. It broke my heart when I’d get caught on the phone with some lonely old person who wanted to chat for a long time. I’ve sold cosmetics at Eckerd Drugs, advertising space in a local newspaper, done down-and-dirty garden nursery work, graded essays from grade-school to high-school for the state of Georgia, painted cheerful little pink and green floral designs (which made me nauseous after five thousand) all over picture frames for a mail order decorating company, sold lingerie at a shop called The Bare Essentials, and on and on and on.
Most of these were before I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1985 with a degree in Journalism (emphasis in Advertising). With diploma in hand, my career dreams led me to the big city of Atlanta where I shared an apartment with another recent graduate. We set out with our portfolios underneath our arms and big aspirations in our hearts. Sadly, I didn’t land that dream advertising job and had to take yet another telemarketing position to pay the bills. Eventually, I returned home to Athens, Georgia and began to sell printing for a large commercial printer. So much for that bachelor’s degree.
After marriage, then came the baby carriage. Three of them. While I was chasing children, I was designing greeting cards and selling printing for my husband’s print shop. Looking back at the string of sales jobs in my past strikes me as ridiculously funny because I’m absolutely NOT the salesperson type.
There was one constant in and among this hodge podge of positions. I have an obsession, maybe affliction is a better word, and am forever scribbling stories. Since I could string words together, I’ve been writing – on looseleaf paper, in journals, in spiral notebooks, on the backs of bank deposit slips. I can write anywhere, everywhere. While working on one novel, one short story, or one poem, I am already planning, taking notes, and collecting metaphors for the next.
Mama says I was born telling stories, and writing them is a compulsion I can no more escape than my shadow. It is a fire burning in my bones, and about ten years ago, by the grace of God in one of those situations I couldn’t have dreamed up, a publisher decided to publish one of my novels. Currently I am writing like crazy to meet an April first deadline for my sixth novel, Twang, set to come out this fall.
I love writing, but there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes with this career. The paychecks are erratic, I work for the most part in virtual isolation, and I’m constantly plagued with anxiety over whether I’m doing what I ought to promote myself and my books. Why in heaven’s name do I keep on allowing myself to write novels? To stay in a business which regularly does a number on a person’s self-esteem?
I sometimes think about running away from this urge to write. Of giving it all up and going after something with security, some fellow employees. To supplement my income, I teach writer’s workshops and I have to admit, I love certain aspects of this. I love teaching and encouraging and working with aspiring writers. This makes me wonder if I ought to follow in my Daddy’s shoes and become a professor. The hours look good, the steady pay even better. There are benefits and retirement and fellow-professors to hang out with. So, I guess the job I covet besides being a writer is being a professor of creative writing.
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