I’ve found the conversation starter “What do you do?” to be more than a little annoying. For the most part I’ve said “I’m a tour guide,” and left it at that. I don’t like introducing myself as a writer. After all, if someone waits tables and occasionally acts, they are not an actor. They are a waiter who acts. You’re an actor when you do it full time. In an attempt to be honest or humble, I answer “What do you do?” with my day job, as opposed to the job that I find truly rewarding. I am not a writer. I’m a tour guide who writes. You’re a writer when you do it full time.
In 2012, I’ve found that this perspective is unproductive and self-defeating, especially because it’s become more and more not the case. I’ve spent a good part of this year as a freelance contributor to the Portland Mercury, the awesomest alternative weekly in the U.S. I reviewed books, movies, and television, blogged about video games, history, and a conceptual art museum, wrote a few long-form features, and interviewed several interesting people, including mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith on election night. When not writing for the Mercury, I also did a bit of Portland-centric travel writing and ghost wrote some marketing copy. In 2012, I wrote more than I ever have before, and I loved it. On top of that, I started doing regular history lectures at downtown Portland’s Jack London Bar, which has been a blast. I am a tour guide. But I’m a writer, too.
However, gnawing at the back of my mind is the pessimistic fact that I’m playing catch-up. I’m thirty-two years old (young yet, I hope) and I still don’t have a full-time job. I’ve made things work, stitching together my part time job with several freelance assignments. I’m able to pay for rent, groceries, all that. But, I don’t have a steady position inside of an established institution. That gnaws at me. I would give up quite a bit to have a full time job. Ideally, I’d want something in the fields of publishing or communications, but I know those are dying industries- newspapers will probably not last the decade. However, being a crew member of a sinking ship seems better than never setting sail at all. Realistically, I’ll probably get a position in marketing firm somewhere. If I were ever given a chance at any kind of regular editorial job, though, I would learn how to do backflips specifically so I could do them in celebration.
I also acknowledge that if/when I do get a full time job, Future Me will look back on this time like it’s some kind of idyllic Bohemia, and long for the days when I lived in a studio apartment, worked for tips, and freelanced for a publication that let use swears as much and as often as I wanted to. 2012 has been good. In some ways, very good. I have no anxiety whatsoever, for example, about my personal life- I have a fantastic girlfriend and a wonderful social circle. I’m glad that all of my angst is connected to professional matters and not more intimate affairs.
If 2013 is like 2012 (but moreso) I will get somewhere. If 2014 is like 2013 (but moreso) I will get somewhere. And so on. However, opportunities for meaningful employment are not as numerous as they were in previous decades. We can climb, we have to, but the summit is shrouded with clouds.