It’s difficult for writers to make money. I went out into the cold corporate world after college because I don’t like going hungry. Some days I hate it. I hate going to work. My fingers itch and all I want to do it use post-it notes on a wall and figure out the plot hole burning against the back of my face. It’s all I can do to look human instead of speaking inhuman tongues which have been tumbling around my tongue.
I took a part-time job in desperation when I was unemployed. Unemployment covered my car payments and gas, but that was about it. Thank God my parents had space and resources to support me during that time. But I loved the job. I like working customer service. I like balloons. I loved that my mind could roam across landscapes beyond the mundane while I stocked shelves. I loved the creativity of building displays. I loved that when I got home, my mind was energized instead of exhausted.
If they could have paid me a living wage and given me health care – I would still be working there. And that is a Truth.
But the store manager wasn’t allowed to make anyone who wasn’t one of the managers to full-time. We maxed out at 32 hours a week. No healthcare. The corporate world didn’t want to pay for it. So I had to leave a job I enjoyed for a job that would (a)pay my bills and (b)provide healthcare.
It was over the next few years as I fought to find balance with making enough money to support myself and writing that I realized just how angry it made me that I had to go seeking a “better” job. A minimum wage job couldn’t support me living on my own. Some corporate bean-counter figured out that [in retail] keeping people from getting healthcare “saves” the company money (the cost of poor health in workers is a different blog post!).
Now every time I go to McDonald’s or Walmart or wherever – I look at the workers there. Especially the workers who are clearly not teenagers anymore. I wonder how they make it work. I wonder who is supporting them. I wonder if they are living their dreams or drudging through survival. And I get angry. I get soul-wrenchingly angry. I am angry at the corporate tools who think cutting hours to “save” the cost of healthcare is acceptable. I am angry at the people who think only “lazy” people would ever work in retail or food service. I am angry that thousands or millions of people might have to leave a job they enjoy for a job that pays their bills – even if they hate the job they go to.
My dream job is writing and doing something with people part-time (retail sounds good!). That is my dream lifestyle. Because writing isn’t likely to make me rich (I’ll let professionals write about the “break-even point” and the long-tail of royalties). So I compromise my dream of writing more than working. What’s that about “the American Dream” then?