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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Monday, August 29, 2011

One Foot in the Real World: Some Thoughts on the New Job

When people asked me about my restaurant job, I'd say, “I like to keep one foot in the real world.” It’s a response to my family’s heckling, itself a response to their inability to convince me they know what they’re talking about on a range of topics. School, where I spend the rest of my time, when I’m not reading or cranking out calories on the elliptical, isn’t real. At best, it’s a pseudo-reality built up of vain attempts by vain professors to capture something from an impossible distance. The only reason to take the charge of unreality seriously is that they pin their entire case on it, their entire violent dismissal of all I have to say. So I work in a regular, salt-of-the-earth type of place too. You want to see real? Listen to the problems my fellow servers go through—excluding the ones who just graduated from Homestead High School and are working to keep their rich parents off their backs.

I sat taking notes about an email marketing project I’ll be working on at the new job and I was slightly shocked, mostly delighted, by the way it operated. I needed to be brought up to speed. They needed to coordinate their ideas for where we’d be going with the project. Me, two guys, one a Battle-of-the-Bands veteran younger than me, the other a management type with a kind face and a polo shirt with the company logo, and one woman, pretty, assertive in a way that suggests she never had to deal with severe dismissal, the four of us sitting around a table in an office throwing out ideas with only the whisper of top-down control. What would it be like to work at a place where you hardly ever, if ever, eat shit? I don’t know about this real world everyone likes to talk about, and I’m pretty sure the people who talk about it, to a one, don’t know about it either, but I do know that a hell of a lot of people’s jobs consist of eating shit all day, every day. I’m left wondering what I can say about my feet now that I have this new gig.

Twenty hours a week, and most of that time will be devoted to writing copy. At that rate, it won’t take long before my copywriting has overtaken any other writing I’ve done. Are there measures I can take to avoid getting trapped in that style, at once condescending and wheedling, straining to be colloquial and simple while working secret magic on the minds of hapless, bored, or desperate readers with fancy titles and impressive investment portfolios. “Connect with their pain” is the first step in the sales technique I’ll be learning. People are motivated not by promises of gains but by threats of losses. So find out what people are afraid of losing or how they’ve already experienced loss and dangle a way to avoid or restore it in front of them. I have no qualms about selling to “C-Level” people. But what will it do to my writing? My outlook?

Twenty hours at work, then there’s my thesis with its high academic, acid-free prose. Between school and work then I’ll be writing in a voice far removed from what anyone might recognize as genuine or authentic. Of course, I have my suspicions about the use of those terms, but you can’t explode what you haven’t mastered, at least when it comes to conventions of communication. The work you do becomes a part of you, and so you can’t just say this place has a great atmosphere, decent pay, no dealing with moronic disrespectful customers. You also have to ask, who will this job turn me into? Who will I become after I’ve adapted to this place, begun the inevitable social jostling and taken on a role, climbing or otherwise?

I console myself that I’ve spent lots of time eating shit, that people who eat too much shit eventually lose the capacity to arrive at perspective, and I’ll never acclimate as fully as my coworkers in their early twenties. Plus, white collar work is what most of the oblivious conservatives actually mean when they talk about the real world. So maybe I’ll discover some key to the lock of their oblivion. It’s something new. It’s an opportunity. And I’m not the type to forget where I came from.

1 comment:

Leigh said...

I guess the trick is that, no matter in what world your feet fall, you remember to be in the world without being of the world. Luck!