Saturday, May 28, 2011

What we do for money.

You load 16 Tons, whaddya get? Another day older and deeper in debt...

So goes the song from the 1940s that my Dad used to tongue-in-cheek sing when he returned from a week of work on the cranes. The perception of writers used to be that once they were published, there was nothing else for them to do but put their feet up, tend their gardens, raise their kids, and oh, ya, write more novels. The reality though is slowly getting out. I heard a great show on 'Writers and Company' on CBC radio a few weeks ago that comes to mind in which Eleanor Wachtel interviewed writers about their 'day jobs', and it was fascinating what people do to support their writing habit.

I've done many things myself. Planted trees and operated cranes, as already mentioned in this blog. I've also cleaned houses in Montreal, bartended in Bowmanville and waited tables in a gay club in Saskatoon. I've answered phones in English for T-Mobile, and in French for Dell. I've supervised in a call centre, and taught customer care, as well as run a department in a Future Shop, selling computers. I've sold encyclopedias door to door, and bent sheet metal into troughing and siding, dug holes for pools, assembled trophies, given out iron rings to University Alumni, and administered a certification exam for Medical Radiation Technologists. What was my line of work? Whatever paid the damn bills so I could write.

I am among you, building your hospitals! Mwahahahaha....
A few weeks ago also I heard tell of a parent teacher association outside Toronto that wanted to suspend a teacher in their high school because on the side, under a different name, she wrote steamy romance novels.

Had this been my school, I would be congratulating her. What better person to teach my children about writing than someone who actually has gone through the meat-grinder of publishing, and has come out successful!

I was incredulous. Only in North America could publishing a novel put someone on the stand to defend their actions. 'How dare you put your ideas in print and influence our children!?' they say. I say 'How dare you question what someone does on their own time?!'  Only in North America is writing seen as a sort of inaccessible ivory tower pursuit, something for gonzo unemployed crackpots or professors with lots of money and their head in the clouds. It makes me not want to tell anyone in my 'real life' what I do in my spare time, for fear of sounding elitist.

This is my office last week.
The result of that is writers stay underground.

There are enough of us. Think of all the movies you've ever watched, the books you've read, the articles in magazines, the poems, plays, TV shows, the commercials within those shows, the ads in print, the local news, and the websites ... all of those had someone sit down and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard to make it happen. Not to get all red scare on you, but there are writers in your neighbourhood, teaching your kids, cutting your lawns, cleaning your houses and offices, flying your planes, standing there in your park, riding the bus with you, and sitting in your local coffee shop (actually I'd put money on that last one).

Perhaps we should have a writer/blogger/artist movement, in which we take to the streets and show our solidarity for doing what we love?

It would never work, I know. Writing is too solitary. But maybe we could start breaking down this odd stereotype of writers as being disconnected from society. From my perspective, they're the only ones ensuring that our culture is recorded and passed down. So if I find out that one of my kids teachers has been published? Please, teach them the skills, too.

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