I’VE been writing full-time for six years, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually told anyone I am a writer.
The jobs of wordsmith – writing, rewriting, editing, selling, waiting – have occupied so much of my time that I have gone through two (diminishing) eyesight diagnoses. If I was a Hipster using a real typewriter, by now I’d have RSI…
But what I do carry is a certain amount of shame about my vocation.
“All-you-can-eat free popcorn is not a great deal after all.”
I know exactly why this is. Firstly, I have not had any of my major works published or performed (yet). Secondly, I still suffer from the illusion that it’s one’s day job – that which you get paid for – that is the only acceptable answer to that most difficult of questions for anyone who has not chosen a safe career: “So, what do you do?”
Day jobs are those employment periods you undertake to survive while keeping dreams alive. The Queen of day-jobbers was New York writer Helene Hanff, who floated her writing on the greatest number of day jobs I’ve ever encountered in a creative.
I’m proud of my day jobs. They’ve saved me from hunger and homelessness, and given me great inspiration for writing.
So, here it is – my ‘other curriculum vitae’ – another way to look at what I’ve done with my life.
Male applicants considered
When I moved to London a friend lined me up with her employment agency, who leapt at the chance to have a man on her books. I only managed to type 36 words a minute (40 was the minimum), so was sent to walk the halls of HarperCollins publishing in west London as a mail trolley boy. Most annoying moment: being so close to real publishers on a daily basis, but having nothing to submit. Career defining moment: deciding I was meant to start writing seriously.
Catering experience essential
If you can’t get a traineeship with the BBC, and you weren’t in the Cambridge Footlights, you can still have a career in London entertainment if you start as a post-production runner. Like ‘sandwich artist’ is designed to net desperate creatives, so ‘post-production runner’ entraps desperate media wannabes… it’s basically catering for the fabulous people. Most annoying moment: not having enough ciabatta to serve lunch to a hungry media maven. Career defining moment: resigning in order to find a job making programs instead of catering for them.
Good screen presence preferred
Ushering is the staple income of performers – it’s so close to the stage and the screen you can smell it, yet it’s far enough away to keep you driven to find your break wherever you can take it. South of the Thames in the genteel village of Greenwich I took to ticket collecting and didn’t look back. Most annoying moment: realising all-you-can-eat free popcorn is not a great deal after all. Career defining moment: seeing movies so many times I came to understand they’re full of the kind of mistakes media students routinely get shamed for.
Vegetarians need not apply
I came home from England, came out, and landed in career no-man’s-land. When the applications went nowhere, I went to the local Coles supermarket to work in the delicatessen. Refreshing the grey surface of trays of liver has never been as exciting. Warning for shoppers: deli staff give you nick-names based on your lip-licking, hungry-eyed facial expressions. Most annoying moment: having to hide in the cool room to avoid my high school classmates and teachers. Career defining moment: my Food Handling and Hygiene Certificate.
Willing to travel
It got me out of liver and shaved ham, but the travel industry was undiscovered country of its own. Daily struggles with brochure sorting, accounting systems, and fakey-fake customer service saw me come undone about the time I was let go because they only needed someone to cover the pre-Christmas rush. Most annoying moment: having to remind the boss that giving discount deals only to straight people was actually illegal. Career defining moment: seeing the new girl with the Ivana Trump hairdo go to lunch and never come back.
Mature outlook a positive
Suddenly widowed at 34, career dreams down the toilet, I joined the ranks of return-to-work mums and the recently redundant, caring for older people living in their own homes. Most annoying moment: when I realised the system was so stacked against many older people there’s almost nothing you can do to really help them. Career defining moment: it’ll come to me one day.
Good night vision a plus
Taking punters’ tickets at the door, playing with sound and light in enormous accoustically-perfect caverns, telling stories with drama and comedy, and often getting a round of applause… well, cave guiding was a distracting day job and fitness program in one. Most annoying moment: the petty jealousies and power trips of the public service… can’t pick one. Career defining moment: fooling entire Ghost Tour groups into believing we were completely lost.
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.