“Get A Real Job”

As you may know, REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY is on sale (a mere $2.99) — it’s been selling well and I’m up over 200 copies, which is just fine by me. The book features an autobiographical open which talks about my life and all the crazy shit that adds up to the writer’s existence — van crashes and strap-on-dildoes and lessons in profanity with my father and my father’s death and all that. It aims to be equal parts funny, sad, and enlightening all in one fell swoop. Anyway, I thought it might be best to give a taste of that intro (which is around a 10,000 word piece) as I think it’s one of the things that plagues most writers — this persistence that they should get a “real” job. I assume many artists and creative-types go through it. Regardless, here then, is a snippet of text from ROTPM. Please to enjoy, and please remember that procuring any of my e-books is what helps this blog stay in existence. And it’s what keeps me drunk and eating cheeseburgers on my office floor.

* * *

Writers will hear this a lot: “You need a real job.”

As if writing is a job on par with “unicorn tamer,” or “goblin wrestler on the Narnia circuit.”

Even still, you hear it often enough, you start to believe it. I got kinda beaten down after college. I’d written two crap-tastic novels. I’d been hired for a bunch of bullshit writing work that was as pleasant as a dildo violation or a van crash. I was starting a lot of work that I just wasn’t finishing.

I felt like I had tires spinning in greasy mud. Couldn’t get traction. Spraying shit everywhere. The dream of being a writer was fading—a wraith in the fog I could not grab and could barely see.

My father was one of the voices in the “real job” chorus. He got me a “real job” at the plant where he worked. Want to know what that job was? I stood in an abandoned wing of a dirty factory all day attending to a giant 20-foot-tall pyramid of file boxes. I would pull down a file box. I would take the thick-as-my-thumb files from within. Then I would run the whole file through a giant industrial shredder I named:

THE BITCH.

The Bitch chewed through these files like she was a wood chipper in a former life. GGRRNNNGH. GRRRAAWWW. VBBBBBBBNNNGGGGT.

All day long. Eight hours. That noise. Destroying documents that may or may not have been documents people did not want the EPA to see.

After one day of doing this work, I came home filthy and smelling like weird chemicals.

I knew I had to quit. But quitting meant telling the boss. And the boss was my father.

Desperate, I drove around that night, looking for something, anything, literally hoping that a job would magically fall into my lap. And lo and behold, it did.

I found a discount bookstore setting up shop about 10 minutes from my house. They were just opening and needed workers to unload and shelve books. Books. Books. Fuck, I thought, I love books!

I went in that night. Met the manager, old Greek guy from Philly named Pete.

He said he liked me. Hired me there on the spot.

He hired me as the assistant manager.

Now, here’s the thing. The bookstore was only going to be there for summer and fall and then close up shop. It was always meant to be a temporary thing, but fuck it, a job was a job.

And it was the best job I have ever had.

It’s not just that I was surrounded by books. I’ve worked other bookstore jobs and they bounced between “ehh” and “fuck this noise.” But this job was different.

This job had Pete.

Pete was, like I said, Old Greek. Built like a sagging brick wall, head like a melting lump of Play-Dough, Pete was not what you would think of as a reader. But he did read, and he read a lot: lot of crime, lot of thrillers. (Lisa Scottoline, I recall, was one of his favorites.)

This was not Pete’s first bookstore rodeo. In fact, this one was rather cushy because a lot of the discount bookstores he opened were in the city—often in shitty parts of the city. He in fact was once shot while setting up just such a bookstore, taking a bullet as the place was robbed—prematurely, as it turns out, because they didn’t have any cash on hand yet. Pete he was proud enough to lift his shirt in the store and show off the pair of bullet wounds on the front and back of his egregious trunk (the entry and exit wounds, respectively).

He took a bullet for books.

Because, he said, books matter. And he liked his job. Worth the bullet. Proud of it.

Fuck yeah.

It started to get me riled up about writing books again. Here’s a guy who took a bullet for books. Here’s a guy who was not dismissive of me being a writer but was in fact excited by it. To top it all off, every once in a while if Pete and I were on shift together he’d tell me to go around the store, pile up a single box with books I wanted, and then quietly go out to my car and ease it into my trunk. “I’m the manager,” he said. “You’re the assistant manager. It’s fine.” He let me essentially steal boxes of books from the store. Just wander away with them and take them home. Like so many lost puppies.

That summer I read a epic fuck-ton of books. It was glorious.

But Pete, man. Giving me all those books. All that storytelling energy, and there I was at its nexus. I bought all the Gaiman Sandman run. I read lots of obscure horror. I bought scads of weird reference materials, all of which I still own and still use (Dictionary of Phrase and Fable? Lawd’s yes). Pete took a bullet for books.

Because stories matter.

Holy shit.

Suddenly, I started writing again.

It was good to emerge from that low place. Once again another lesson lurks in the weeds: writers will often have these moments of doubt, and you need to find your way out of that. You need to march your doubt out into a field and put a .357 round in the back of its head. Let its death soak into the earth, grow the wheat, make bread from its blood. Because, for real, fuck doubt. Fuck doubt right in its wax-clogged ear.

33 comments

  • Honestly, this part is probably my favorite in Revenge. Books matter. Stories matter. It’s something I’ve been trying to keep in mind lately, because my head has just not been in to writing for some reason of late. It might be my general mood, or just a slump, but either way it needs to go away. After all, stories matter.

  • Every time I hear that I want to rip the balls off of a toad. So many curse words could be said. But I won’t go there. Not when I could mention that my ‘real job’ is being a legless dancing super hairy hobo monkey fair butt plug tester astronaut. That shit is so cash, man. You don’t even know.

  • Thanks for that preview. ROTPM was on my “to-read” list anyway. I sometimes questioned the value of my English degree as an undergrad. I guess I always knew, deep in my heart, that stories *matter.* But in the hubbub of life I sometimes forget. Stories do matter. The stories of our lives, through fiction or autobiography or even oral histories, make a difference in this world.

    Well, maybe not Snooki’s stories. I dunno.

    Looking forward to ROTPM!

  • Thank you for this. I know from experience how hard it can be to break away from one of those dry spells where the “realjob” chorus takes hold. Sources of inspiration are few and far between, while stupid, self-reassuring distractions are legion. Gods bless Pete.

  • I spent years in those low places, soul dissolving chemicals and noise like a jet plane (although QA/QC was always a “better” job than most of the unfortunate workers). I got silly to survive, or maybe I survived because I was silly. I told funny stories and made people laugh.

    I can see you didn’t get a silver spoon and I respect your opinions even more because of that.

    Hell, yeah, Pete should be in a book!

  • What if you already HAVE a “real job”, that’s crushing your soul, but you can’t quit because then your wife who has diabetes wouldn’t be able to afford her insulin and the writing thing is seeming more and more like a dead end and your life is turning into a spiral of self-loathing at being such a complete failure?
    You know, hypothetically.

    • @Albert –

      The thing to remember is that my journey to being a full-time writer was a long one. The key, I think, is less about quitting outright and more about:

      a) Maybe finding a day job that works and doesn’t crush your soul

      and/or

      b) Ensuring that you’re putting in that extra work that allows you to claim some measure of your independence further on. Freelance is a good path to this.

      – c.

  • @Albert Berg: Take notes. It’ll help you keep your chin up until some free time comes along. Tell water cooler/lunch room stories. Listen to your coworkers, especially the goofy ones. You can mine that gold later.

  • Agree with Josin, Pete needs his own book, and every writer needs a Pete.

    Fantastic story. Very encouraging. And for me, this week in particular, very needed. It’s not even other people that can bring you down sometimes. Sometimes, it’s just life.

    I need this on a t-shirt: “Books matter. Pete took a bullet for books.”

  • What’s the other side of the story. When you came home and told your dad — your boss — you were quitting to work in a book store?

    I wish I had a Pete when I was younger. Too many voices told me to “Get a real job.” I did, and I feel like I wasted 20 years.

    • @Ron –

      My father was fine with it — the “assistant manager” title held enough work-worth that it was no thing. It’s not like he anticipated the shredder bitch job would be permanent — but I knew I couldn’t quit without having something else lined up.

      The rest of the fatherly tale is, of course, in ROTPM. :)

      – c.

  • I had similar job where I sold discount books at the ass-end of a near abandoned strip mail, set in the economically depressed taint between Bradenton-Sarasota. Alone, I tended thousands of books and when the day got slow, I read Sarte (did understand it, though), a whole bunch of Greek plays, minor novels by great writers.

    My Pete was a middle aged, athletic Canadian who speculated property, but ran the bookstore a side-venture to cover expenses. He stayed in town a couple of months, then moved on. He encouraged me to do whatever the hell I wanted, but not be too proud to have a day-job.

    I dream of walking into my boss’s cubicle, dropping the NYT bestseller list on his desk with my name circled on the #1 slot, then humming the Vaudeville exit music while dancing out of the building. I know I’ll always have a rent gig. Yet, it’s not such a tragedy. I don’t write about depressive New Yorkers. I write about everyone else, y’know, people with real problems.

    Great story. Yacka dacka dacka…

  • I enjoyed Pete, but I adored your dad in ROTPM.

    Now working my way through “250 Things.” Just encountered underoos & transformers all in the same chapter. Can’t ask for much more than that.

  • I’m a bartender and I’ve been a bartender for over fifteen years now. I chose this occupation very deliberately when I very deliberately decided that I’d be a writer. I believed that bartending would best facilitate my love of literature. I wasn’t wrong.

    Still, it is a job — by which I mean: the hours are extraordinarily long, the work is grueling, and it all requires huge chunks of time, so that writing is often relegated.

    Upon the other hand, I often feel that I’m really putting the cock back in cocktail, so I guess I can’t really complain.

    Just incidentally, you’re absolutely correct: stories do matter — they matter very much — and I’ve recently written about that very thing in some detail:

    http://journalpulp.com/why-do-stories-matter/

  • I’ve faced this problem a lot, though it’s a slightly different version when I’ve already got a career that I spent a lot of time in school for, and the idea that I’d not just want to do that every day for the rest of my life seems to make certain people recoil in horror. Or yet another variant where it’s only a real job for real writers, essentially, and since I’m not real writer material (so they’ve decided), why would I want to entertain such silly notions?

    However, I just use it as further fuel for my fire to eventually be a published author. Or published beyond an adventure I wrote for a webzine in school (back when they called them webzines), which I got paid for in RPG product. But that doesn’t count, not a writer, no!

    Not bitter, really!

  • October 1st is the 25th anniversary of my first delivering pizza. Since then I’ve had almost a dozen other first days at other places. I’ve worked for dozens of managers, with hundreds, maybe thousands of people. I’ve fired many. I’ve hired still many more. And I’ve worked in over 30 different locations for a handful of companies.
    The thing that got me through the dark times was this:
    “Christ in a wobbly side-car–I better get a story out of this.”
    Having life experience gives our writing realism, credibility, and grit.
    I hope.

  • I have a PT job working at a local yarn shop as in knitting and crocheting. I like it. I’m not your ordinary yarny, though. I sport armsful of tats as well as a full back piece. Sends the prims and propers in a tizzy when they see me but they drop the attitude when I talk them around their stitches. This job provides the bucks so that I can buy books and pencils. And the occasional new tat like the one I have on my right forearm of a pen stabbing me in the wrist with blood spurting along the back of my hand.

  • The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my option to learn, but I really thought youd have something fascinating to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you would fix should you werent too busy in search of attention.

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