Monday, April 16, 2012

Everything Is Illuminated

Last week I went in to Bookstore to turn in an application. I went kicking and screaming, against my own will, because--spoiler alert!--I don't want to go back to work. (Work away from home, whatever, you get my drift). I happened to get the manager. I mentioned that I had worked at Other Bookstore before and we had a chat. We had common acquaintances and co-workers, all good omens and signs. He gave me a sort of impromptu interview. Hours later, I was summoned for a real interview. Everything was swimming along just swimmingly. They needed someone to shelve books--my favorite thing, no joke--during the exact hours I wanted to work. Let me say: I present well in interviews, or at least, I think I do. I've never gone to an interview and not been offered a job. At first, I didn't entirely want the job, but by the interview's end, I did. I started to want it very badly. I want Noah to not have to work weekends anymore. He often works twelve or fourteen days in a row with no day off, did you know? He's getting tired.

Then a week passed and I was not offered a job. Instead I got a postcard informing me thatunfortunately Bookstore does not have a position to meet my qualifications at this time. I would like to blame the fact that I asked for an hourly pay rate that was above minimum wage.We pay our employees seven-fifty* an hour, they informed me. If I'd had coffee in my mouth, I wouldn't have spit it at them. I'd have taken my mug, walked across the room, and poured it over their heads. Seven dollars and fifty cents an hour. I'm not in prison. I am not sixteen. Neither is anyone who works there, how the hell do they do it? Full disclosure: I told them I could not work for less than $8.50 (I shame myself. It's a low stress job, ok? I'd asked for $9.50 on my app and they'd offered me bird seed, I had to capitulate some). I like to think this is why they didn't hire me. That or they had some friend apply. I hope you enjoy your seven bucks an hour, supervisor's bestie. I am unemployed but if we meet for coffee, it'll be my treat.

This is Bookstore we're talking about, and I did describe a time when I provided excellent customer service, so that might be what did me in.

Anyway, we had, in our minds, counted tiny chickens before they were worth more per hour than a 30-year-old freelance writer with a Bachelor's Degree and a passion for the job. I was bummed, and Noah was disappointed though valiant about it, all Mr. Fitzwilliams or whatever, saying "now now" and "there there" and "hail-fellow-well-met" and all that.

But we were discussing it after dinner, putting away the dishes and drinking free company beer and wondering what we are going to do now. And I realized that I still have this stupid idea that one day everything is going to work out. I thought I had moved beyond this fantasy after my financially disastrous 20's, but no. Despite all insurmountable evidence to the contrary, some stupid bird in my heart keeps chirping that one day, it will all come together. One day good fortune will smile and everything will be illuminated and my life will shine like sunny spots and copper pennies.

And I wonder when I'm going to wise up.

I'm not speaking out of depression or bitterness here, I'm just starting to wonder when brainless optimism runs its course. The ship does not always come in. Most people work very hard all their lives and I don't know why I think so highly of myself. Why I think I'll be the one to sell the book, strike the gold, win the millions, so to speak. Why should my ship come in when so very many ships don't? I'm not talking about Bookstore job, that is not a ship, but these dreams I have of making money off my writing. Of the two of us somehow making enough money to maybe keep some chickens and travel to Europe without me having to sell my soul to an office job. There are so very many writers who don't make money, and I don't know but these days I feel silly and stupid and gauche, pressing on with these ridiculous delusions about myself, the dreams of Paris and Spain, of book deals and raises, this idea that if I keep following my dreams one day I will catch them.

Don't worry. This is just a place I land sometimes. I probably won't be here tomorrow, but here I am today.

*corrections made to reflect Bookstore's actual pay grade


  1. Yes, I look forward to the day I can think about my finances without my heart starting to race out of sheer panic.

    You're a phenomenally talented writer, and - it may take a while - but eventually, some publisher is going to realize how much money you can make them...and hopefully they'll share some of it with you too.


  2. Sometimes I feel like you are able to so valiantly put into words what I am thinking in my heart. I have felt weary of chasing the dream lately. I wake up worrying about agents, deadlines, literary trends..can I catch this one? What will happen to Elly? Will she just die? I also feel like one day there will just be a magic moment where we don't have to worry about money anymore. I'll sell the book and make money off my words. My deepest fear is that whisper...what if it never happens?

  3. Federal minimum wage is 7.25 an hour...sounds like they are a bit...unethical in pay.

    Sorry about not getting the job :(

  4. Matthew, thanks for the encouragement. I have faith you'll find your ship as well. I have so much faith in everyone else.

    Colleen, I know. I know.

    Sarah M, maybe she said 7.50. Is there a difference between seven and seven fifty? I don't see it.

  5. I don't think there's any such thing as "brainless optimism," but maybe that's just me.

  6. Listen, you are so very young, and you have PLENTY OF TIME for "things to work out." When I was thirty, I had Sophie. I didn't write for a decade after I had her, and then I began to write again. While my financial situation is not great, I fell into several writing gigs. I've been earning money for the last seven years or so doing it (and writing creatively on the side which will one day, I hope, be a book, etc.) and I NEVER DREAMED my life would take this form seventeen years ago (I'm now 48). I guess what I'm saying is that you should keep writing, keep dreaming, keep living, keep plugging along, send stuff in, etc. etc. It's never, never too late.

  7. Oh, and I ADORE shelving books -- did it all through college and post-divorce, pre-second marriage.

  8. Elizabeth, your words mean a lot to me. Thank you. I know I am young, but I have so many damn successful young friends. I know I shouldn't compare.

    And I'm glad I'm not the only one who loves shelving books. That would be embarrassing.

    M Half, I do hope you're right.

  9. I worked at Borders and LOVED shelving books, especially the paper back mysteries because they were all the same size and had big long series to organize. The entertainment section was a nightmare and I don't think I've ever recovered from helping a co-worker with the children's section. Go ahead and quit writing. I am certain you'll get all itchy in about 36 hours and you can return to writing knowing that it is more comfortable to keep plugging along and dreaming than it is too stop. You've passed the halfway point! More painful to turn back than to just keep going! Besides you're a brilliant writer.

  10. I also wanted to add that I bought "The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982" hardcover originally priced at $29.95 at The Dollar Tree this week. Yes, a dollar. You are in good company regarding dismay, confusion, pricing and publishing.


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