Lately, I’ve been having this recurring ephiphany: I don’t like to work.
Let me be more specific – I don’t like doing anything that feels like work. This is hardly unique, I know. But what it’s led to is an almost freakish resistance to do anything unless it’s creatively satisfying in some way. Because actually, I love work. Work that is fun and challenging and creative. I’ve had a lot of different jobs – from running a theatre camp to working as a glorified photocopier in the Stanford libraries, to art directing a bunch of magazines in Boston, to temping for the world’s most depressing and depressive foreclosure attorney.
Ed S. was my first meal ticket in LA. I was living in a small guesthouse with two cats and my thoughts, which made for a lot of hairballs, both literal and mental. I managed to get a temp job with a boss who didn’t mind if I went on auditions during the day. Initially, I was hired to input a pile of check data into the computer, a job that I was told would take three weeks and ended up taking three days. This wasn’t due to any genius on my part, let me be clear – but rather, the adulterated timetable that those in a lifetime of administrative work come to live by. Because what I learned very, very quickly, is that it really doesn’t pay to get things done fast. Literally, doesn’t pay. But Ed S. liked my gumption and I was kept on, in an airless side office, to gaze at the computer and occasionally answer the phone. And then at the end of one day, he called me into his office to have a chat.
I went, slowly, taking a legal pad with me for protection.
Ed S. is (I assume he continues to be, at least) a tall man with a stoop. If I cast him in a movie, Stephen Tobolowsky would be perfect. What I remember most is his mouth, which never seemed to have enough energy to stay entirely closed. His lips would work their way around his face and his eyes strained against heavy lids. He was cast out of the “Beuller? Beuller?” vocal mode, and I made sure to sit up straight so not to appear unwilling.
“Long day. Long day,” he droned, twirling open the blinds and settling behind his desk.
“Yup,” I chirped, pen at the ready. I was dying to take notes, some sort of notes.
“I think I’m getting divorced,” he said next. He took off his glasses and my entire body felt like it was in a cast. I held my breath. “We fight a lot. I’m not happy.”
“Well…that’s not good,” I said lamely. Dear god. I’m a freaking temp.
“No, it’s not. We’re no good together any more. But my son, you know.” Ed S. flicked a hand toward a photo of a kid who looked like he was in high school. Good looking kid. Half-asian, it seemed. I squinted at the photo and nodded, turning my lips in sympathetically.
“You mentioned that you’re living in a guesthouse,” he said, with sudden energy. “How much longer do you think you’ll be there?”
I blinked. “Um, I’m not sure. Until my husband joins me in LA, I guess.”
“Well, I’d like to take a look at it. Might be perfect.” Perfect for what? A midlife crisis? Yeah, I guess it’s pretty perfect for that. One room with the TV in the closet, a corner kitchen with a two burner stove, and a decent-sized bathroom.
I sat there, nodding like an idiot. “Well, you let me know when you’re about to head out,” he said, and I was confused about whether he meant today or in the future. “I’ll sign your timecard.”
I worked for Ed S. until I couldn’t stand it any more, until I began to come home feeling clinically depressed. The little guesthouse became peopled with the various ghosts of his life…his wife fussing over the stove, his kid parked in front of my closet TV, Ed S. lounging on my futon wearing ratty slippers and an old college sweatshirt.
What I also felt for Ed S., besides a kind of crippling pity, was impatience. Impatience and disdain. Jesus Christ, the guy had a beautiful house in Rancho Park, drove a really nice car, had a good-looking kid and (unfortunately for his clients) a thriving practice. So what the hell. Get it together. In or out, man, but don’t rain on the ever-dwindling parade of your temp.
Here he was, Working, and faking most of his life. Whether or not getting a divorce would have made him happy, I have no idea. But looking through stacks of paper didn’t seem to make him happy, either.
Don’t get me wrong – I love making money. I love making lots of money. But no way no way would I trade the freedom to pursue a creative urge for a house in Rancho Park. That’s way too high a price. Right now, C and I have a small, but happy home, shared occasionally with the antics of C jr. We have a lot of bills, but also spent an inordinate amount of time laughing our asses off. I get stressed about money sometimes, have decided to torture (or inspire) myself by getting regular emails from a realtor featuring homes for sale, and have been known to writhe over our financial future.
But I’ve yet to ever yearn for a “real” job. I’ve had that, and ultimately, it drove me crazy. Miraculously, I’ve managed to find myself working in a profession where retirement seems like punishment. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, emotionally, physically, psychically, but also, the most rewarding. I bust my ass as often as I can, and occasionally, I win the lottery.
Some of which I take to the bank, but most of which I spend on my life, the creative life I fight to live every single day.