Monday, April 02, 2007

Confessions of a Day-Job Liker

Conventional wisdom suggests that most writers dislike their day jobs. It makes sense, since they work other jobs out of necessity--writing alone (or creative writing alone) generally doesn't pay the bills. Waitressing, copy writing, temp work, teaching or bar tending does. It also makes sense that writers would harbor at least some resentment toward these more remunerative endeavors, which inevitably encroach upon their writing time and sap their energy.

For many, the disjunction between the pay-the-bills work and the do-your-thing writing fosters conflict and anxiety. It's a conflict that essays and movies about writers often fixate on: the day job as obstacle to be overcome, or counterbalance to the interiority of writing time, or uncanny source of inspiration.

What you don't hear about so much is the inverse of this conflict: what happens when the writer's day job is equally appealing/rewarding as the writing itself. Maybe that's because this conflict isn't as interesting ("I like doing this... but I like doing this too! Woe is me!"), but it's one that I've been dwelling on lately.

The problem is, I like my job a lot. I'm lucky enough to work for a well-run national nonprofit organization that engages me in work I care about and feel proud of. Like any other job, mine has its share of frustrating days and can become tiresome, but for the most part I'm happy with it. This summer I'll have been with the organization six years, making me one of the more senior people on staff, and over the last two years, especially, I've been closely involved with some of its most important research initiatives and played a major role in writing policy briefs, book chapters and editorials. The fact that my employers are letting me take time for A Writing Year is just one more reason I appreciate working where I do.

So the conflict for me is not so one-sided; that is, it's not all about finding a way to work around my day job in order to write, but truly finding a balance between my writing and my career (with the recognition that, for now and the foreseeable future, they will remain separate). AWY has been an incredible experience because it has finally allowed me a significant amount of time to devote to my poems. However, there are also days when my other work is equally engaging. I had not anticipated a time when I would be as eager to get to work as I would be to get to my writing, but that has certainly been the case on some occasions.

Although this conflict (balancing time and energy between two occupations I enjoy equally, or nearly so) sometimes makes me feel indecisive, I think it's also liberating. If AWY is a failure, I won't be unhappy going back to my other work on a full-time basis. Frankly, I may need to anyway as my wife and I start thinking about having a baby, which I hear can be expensive. On the other hand, maintaining a balance between these two sides of my life is precarious, and I'm not sure if I can keep it up indefinitely. It can be frustrating not to dedicate myself fully to one or the other, and exhausting to try to do both.

Well, for now I'm not giving up on either, and I'd love to hear from others out there who are struggling with the same problem. Do you secretly love your job? Jot down work-related notes when you're supposed to be writing your play? Let's hear how you handle it.

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