Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 over a six-year period while he worked at an advertising agency in New York. Every day he got up, put on his suit, and went to work like everybody else; but every night he worked on that enormous novel whose character timeline he’d painstakingly laid out on his desk blotter. He had rent to pay, plus a family to support; and he managed to finish such a huge project at the same time. I wonder if he ever came home after being belittled by his bosses, overwhelmed with too many assignments, or frustrated by bureaucratic nonsense, and found that work had drained him of the energy necessary for writing. More importantly, I wonder what his attitude toward his job was.
Some nights I also come home too exhausted after shouting out pronunciation and answering grammar questions to do the things I’d like to do. Other days all I can do is lay down on my bed and stare into space because some nonsense order from an invisible superior has left me so bitter and frustrated with Japanese offices that I want to shout in their faces that all their regulatory nonsense is a misguided waste of everyone’s time. On those days I can’t do much at all. I especially can’t write.
In that respect, my job fails me a small but significant percent of the time. When I envision my ideal job, I of course imagine something that would challenge me, stimulate my thinking, and would give me pure satisfaction at the end of every day. My second choice (and a more reasonable option for the present) is a job that is not at all stressful or mentally taxing; supplies the necessary income for food, rent, and student loans; and leaves me mentally free to do my own work after I’ve clocked out.
My brief stretch painting houses was the closest I’ve come to the latter scenario. Every day I drove to Hillsborough to touch up windows and coat walls while listening to NPR, and came home still energized enough to write the bulk of the Carcrash Parker script (it just didn’t pay enough to let me move out). If I were disciplined, I know I could work a day job purely for the necessary sustenance and focus my main energies on writing. Keyword being if.
My current job strikes a tenuous middle ground between these two extremes. It’s interesting enough to stimulate my creativity and allows me to live on my own, but the stress interferes with my free time often enough so that I must mention it here. While it’s true that I’m not working on a novel, and most of what I write can easily be described as hack work, it’s still important to me to keep at it. I have an adventure game script to finish, Japanese to study, kanji to learn, and observations that beg to be written down.
It’s a challenge anyone with aspirations outside of their job has to face, and one that is especially pronounced in all us twentysomethings with lofty dreams set adrift in the Post-College Abyss. I can’t force myself to write on the bad nights (though some sources tell me I should try), but I can work on the good.
If it’s any hope, I will say this: I’m writing this entry on a weeknight after work.