Working, man

As you may or may not recall (because it’s been so long since I actually, you know, wrote something here), I got laid off back in May … and although I was courted by a Big Financial Services Company and briefly flirted with the idea of becoming the new Aflac duck, I passed on both of those opportunities in the hopes that something better might come along.

Prior to my layoff, Wonder Woman and I had already decided to move our family from the Boston area to the Philadelphia area, so the week I was laid off, I haphazardly fired off a couple of résumés to some Philadelphia-area companies, one of which was looking for a full-time web-designer/web-developer.

I was laid off once before, back in 2002. It was at that time that I bought a stack of web-design books and taught myself how to build one o’ them there website thingamajigs, because I had a hunch that this whole Internet thing might catch on.

The interview process for the aforementioned web-designer/web-developer gig involved roughly four phone interviews and a three-hour on-site interview here in Pennsylvania … and at no time during any of this did I feel like I was qualified for the position, and at no time during any of this did I have even the slightest intention of accepting a job offer if, in fact, they were foolish enough to make me one — both because I felt like I’d be getting in way over my head, and because, seriously: Who the hell would want to work for people stupid enough to hire someone as grossly under-qualified as me?

And yet, as the weeks wore on, and I focused on our relocation efforts, and did very little job searching, it occurred to me that I was probably going to need to have some sort of income once we finished moving into our new house. And when it turned out that they were, in fact, foolish enough to offer me the job, I decided I should seriously consider it.

Wonder Woman and I discussed it one night while driving from Boston to Philly.

“They’re willing to pay you [five figures] more than you were making at your last job to do something that you taught yourself out of some books you bought on Amazon,” she said.

Good point.

It was somewhere near the Tapanzee Bridge that we passed a work crew comprised of several men using jackhammers to bust up the road surface, and several other men whose job was to lift the massive chunks of concrete and rebar, and shuffle them onto a flatbed truck … at about 11 o’clock at night.

Suddenly, the prospect of earning a pretty damn good salary for playing on a computer all day seemed not entirely awful.

During that same visit to Philly, my father-in-law and I had what I didn’t realize at the time would be our last-ever one-on-one conversation. He had long been a major supporter of my writing career, and of my dream to some day earn a living from my own creative-writing endeavors, and he was well aware of how difficult it would be for me to give up my completely autonomous lifestyle and take a jarringly unexpected detour into a corporate cubicle for a non-writing gig.

“I get it, Jon,” he said. “And I’m quite sure you’ll find your way back to making a living as a writer. That is, and should be, the goal. In the meantime, this job sounds like a good opportunity … and you don’t have to do it forever.”

That last part really hit home. He was right. Up until that point, the thought of accepting the job felt tantamount to being slapped with a life sentence, and, for better or worse, felt like giving up on my dreams — dreams that, until age 40, I’d successfully managed to build a career around.

Eight weeks ago this past Monday, I, for the first time in roughly a decade, rose from bed at a time not of my own choosing, showered, shaved, put on business-casual attire, kissed my wife and kids goodbye, drove a number of miles away from my house, and set up shop in a fluorescent-lit cubicle where I have since spent 40 hours per week. And, yeah, I know: most people don’t have the luxury of working from home, nor get paid to go to a fairly nice office building, sit around listening to an iPod and code websites, so I should shut the fuck up and deal with it — and, believe me, I am … but it is a massive shock to my system at this point in my life to suddenly not be able to do whatever the hell I want to do whenever the hell I want to do it.

So now I am the Lead Web Designer (also, incidentally, the Only Web Designer) for a publicly traded corporation that employs 5,000 people … a job I landed with a résumé that basically said I hung with Van Halen for a couple years and then spent the past decade working as a music journalist. Go figure.

Of course, given that that’s the case, it should come as no surprise that I was having full-on anxiety attacks during the first week or so at my new job … because I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to do anything … and I was certain that, at any given moment, someone was going to call me on it, and tell me that they realized they’d made a massive mistake by hiring me, and would I please put all my shit in a box and beat it. So sure was I that things were going to end badly that I started fantasizing about walking into my boss’ office and telling him that he’d made a massive mistake by hiring me, and that I would presently be putting all my shit in a box and beating it.

I’m not kidding. It was a very fortunate thing that I had placed on the wall in my cubicle a picture of my family in order to remind myself of why I was making such a massive compromise … because there were several moments during those early days when the dread and panic and terror washed over me in waves so large that I literally was on the verge of standing up, walking out of the building without saying a word to anyone, getting in my car, driving right the fuck away and never going back.

Fortunately, I hung in there, and things seem to be going pretty well. The steady paycheck definitely takes some of the sting out of it.

The big challenge now, however, is finding some way of balancing this workaday-shuffle routine with the ongoing pursuit of my dreams — a major part of which involves writing for this blog on a regular basis.

Thing is, I know there are other bloggers I follow who seem to manage working full time jobs (The Muskrat and Dad Gone Mad, for example) and still find time to do plenty of writing. So I’m open to suggestions. If you people wanna see more writing around here, then y’all need to help me figure this shit out. Thoughts?

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  1. Posted November 18, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I grapple with the exact same rotten challenge: how to I maintain a full-time job teaching, while being a husband/father who’s actually, y’know, around… and still make creative writing a priority?

    The only advice I have is advice you’ve heard a thousand times, so forgive me in advance, but: Everyday. Do it everyday. Even if it’s only five minutes a day at first. Sitting down everyday to touch some creative writing you’re working on everyday. It’s pretty interesting how much you can get done if you just tell yourself the day isn’t over (or hasn’t begun) until you sit and write something that has nothing to do with work. Or blogging, for that matter. I’m one of your newer regular readers, and obviously there’s great, creative writing here on your blog. But if the kind of writing you want to do is different than what you do here, then blogging time doesn’t count as those five minutes.

    (Ok, yea, if you actually only spend five minute each day on writing, not a lot will happen. But before you know it, that time will go from five minutes to ten. To a half an hour. Once it’s part of your routine, it’s pretty interesting how quickly you’ll manage to keep writing near the top of your daily To Do list.

    See? I told you you’d heard this before. Sorry about that.
    Didactic Pirate´s most recent blog post: Movember- Day 17- Cower Before the GoateeMy Profile

  2. Posted November 18, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    My husband and I are facing a similar fate after almost two decades of self-employment. I actually got fidgety when I read: “Eight weeks ago this past Monday, I, for the first time in roughly a decade, rose from bed at a time not of my own choosing, showered, shaved, put on business-casual attire, kissed my wife and kids goodbye, drove a number of miles away from my house, and set up shop in a fluorescent-lit cubicle where I have since spent 40 hours per week. ”

    Anyway, back to you. So you say you have a commute, right? I do so much of my “writing” while I’m driving in the car. Could you use one of those thingamajig voice recorders and get your ideas down then?

    Also, I just enjoy your musings so much that I check-in regularly to see if you have anything new, and will continue to do so no matter how often you post.
    BuenoBaby´s most recent blog post: You say autumn I say suck itMy Profile

  3. JB
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Further to Bueno’s comment, I actually JUST downloaded “dragon dictation” app for iPhone a few minutes ago…it will transcribe what you say and then email it to you. Bonus, you never have to listen to the sound of your own voice (or maybe that’s just me who hates that). Good luck!

  4. Steph
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Some times the panicky feelings are best dealt with in a brief writing session. It would help with your goals, and burn some anxiety so you can focus on the paid tasks.

    BTW, I also check in regularly despite the slower updates. 😉

  5. Posted November 18, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who can BS himself into a well-paying gig, despite feeling totally sick and terror-stricken, surely can figure out how to find time to do what he really loves to do. I have faith in you, even if you don’t. Keep a notebook/journal with you and when the muse pays a visit, make notes. A muse visit alone will provide the impetus to find the time to elaborate on your notes. Commuting is a fine time to invite the muse for a chat.
    Gullible´s most recent blog post: The Thing about Being ShortMy Profile

  6. Jamie, Mom of 3
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    My suggestion… remember that you love it. Remember that you are good at it. It’s important to make times for the things you love. You do for your family don’t you?

  7. Posted November 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Huh. I had a couple of suggestions but they were blown out of the water by the excellent advice you’ve already received.

    In quiet moments, make a list of all you’re thankful for. That’s all I got. Hang in there.
    Madiantin´s most recent blog post: What is my motivationMy Profile

  8. Posted November 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Hanging in there with you, Jon! Seriously, you could probably write about eating sandwich in your office and it would be funny. Just remember, we are all applauding at our laptops when you post.
    Meg at the Members Lounge´s most recent blog post: NaNoWayImOuttaWineMy Profile

  9. Krista T
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I would highly suggest you get to be internet buddies with Trent at Dig around about his past – super consumerism for most of his life until his personal finances collapsed, then, through living frugally, he was able to save up enough money to quit his dayjob, throw himself full-time into his own blog and family, and earlier this month, he said he was going to start in on a novel. In Trent’s world, it’s all about priorities. Whatever is important to you, DO IT! 🙂 Your 9-5 is just that, only 1/3 of your day. Devote another 1/3 to sleep, and maybe 1/6 to eating and other human necessities, and you’re still left with FOUR HOURS every day of whatever is important to YOU.
    Congrats on the job, too! 🙂

  10. Posted November 19, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I got nothin’ for ya. Except, use your lunch hour at your cubal prison and write.
    It is a challange to find the time…but YOU can do. I will continue to read your stuff no matter how infrequent. Love your humor and sarcasm.

  11. Posted November 19, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the input and support, peeps. 🙂

  12. Anna
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    When I was working on my dissertation, my advisor told me to touch it everyday. Read what I had–notes, paragraphs, whatever–every day. It did help me get the damn thing done.

    I also want you to know that I still continue to think of you and your family. I lost my daddy very suddenly, too, and this time of year is just so hard, even 7 years later. Continued thoughts and hugs to you and yours.

  13. Posted November 19, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Hey, thanks for lumping Danny and me together as examples of what SHOULD be done for a change! I’m not accustomed to such.

    I used to write every weeknight, but then when I became self-employed and nearly doubled my hours worked, I dropped it to once a week. So, I guess that’s okay and all, but I don’t consider it doing well, and I miss telling stories regularly like I used to do. As far as how it’s done, however, I just decide that on either Monday or Tuesday nights, instead of doing work on my MacBook, I’m going to write a blog post. I’m already in the habit of being on my computer every night anyway (unless I’m out “networking” at a bar), so it’s no stretch to do something fun for a change. As an aside, however, I don’t watch any TV but college football on Saturdays, so when most folks are staring at a box on weeknights, I’m online. Also, we put our kids to bed about about 7pm. And finally, my wife teaches classes at night, so she’s gone from 6:30 to 10:30 2-3 nights a week. So, my suggestions are these:
    1) cancel cable/turn off the TV
    2) kick your wife out of the house for an hour or two in the evening
    3) put your children to bed early.

    As an aside, I would think it’d be tough to write full-time if you’re cooped up at home all day anyway. Being out in the real world provides stories, dialogue, character sketches, etc. I think I read that in a writing book or something. So, you’re doing it right.

  14. Posted November 20, 2010 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    I hear ya, Jon. Here’s me, at this point in my life, a denizen of a cube farm working for a large employer on a job at which I’m self-taught. I’d never have predicted this.

    I too have a non-work interest that I determined to spend more time learning more about, and then actually working with it. It’s not been easy, since a lot of nights I don’t get home till about 9PM, but I can do a little bit every day. Once you get into the swing of things on the new job, you’ll be able to do that with your writing too.

    Meanwhile, we’ll just be over here, eager to read whatEVER you write next. 🙂
    Jan´s most recent blog post: the dark side but with lasersMy Profile

  15. Posted November 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    You are incredibly talented and can do anything you set your mind to, but in the end only you can make yourself do it. I guess you have to decide how much you want it. We are rooting for you.

  16. Posted November 20, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Well, I don’t even work outside my home, but my kids and my part-time gig keep me plenty busy. So I decided that, if I wanted to have time to write, something had to give. I didn’t want it to be my family, and it couldn’t be my work or the laundry (drat) so it was…TV. I literally watch 1 show a week now. No more America’s Next Top Model…which just about killed me, because Tyra makes me guffaw…but I like writing more. So writing wins. I don’t know if it’s as simple as something like that for you, but I keep checking back all the time here to see if you’ve written (though this is my first time commenting. Because I’m shy. A shy blogger.)

    Don’t give up.
    Courtney´s most recent blog post: In This Strange- Shrinking World…My Profile

  17. Julie
    Posted November 21, 2010 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    I am not going to try to top the advice already given, it sounds great. But I have to tell you, as a graphic designer you just described my first experience at work to a T. I even have a fancy Bachelor’s degree, but they left one part out of the curriculum-web design. It doesn’t matter if you were self-taught or not, very few people know what the hell they are doing those first few weeks at a new design job. They might use different versions of software you don’t know or have their computer networks completely rigged and crash, and lose hours of work. That type of work is not black and white, it’s different every place you go.
    If it’s any consolation, your boss and coworkers probably have no idea if you really know what you’re doing, or if you’re just figuring it out as you go. If they did know how to do those things they wouldn’t have hired you. I have been laid off twice in the past 3 yrs and right now its been over 6mo since my last real job. So if you could please email me the names of those books you used to teach yourself html coding I would be eternally grateful! 😉

  18. Posted November 22, 2010 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    You’ve gotten some pretty good advice already, so I guess I’ll just offer support. My job is at home because I’m caretaker for my darling guy, 14 cats, and usually 4, but right now 5 dogs. (Why on earth did I decide to foster a St Bernard?) So, I’m probably not the right person to turn to for advice anyway, since it’s taken me weeks just just BUY the paint for our living room, let along actually paint. (Maybe next week.)
    Michy´s most recent blog post: Im in a Posty Mood!My Profile

  19. Posted November 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Pay for someone else to do the housework. It’s what I do. No, it’s not, because we can’t afford it, but you do it so I can live vicariously.
    Sarah M´s most recent blog post: Going to Cape TownMy Profile

  20. Posted November 24, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    All I can do is mentally send you vibes of commiseration and support. It’s hard to write when you’re dead from starvation (as I have recently discovered, having died from starvation and then trying to write. It’s difficult). Stay strong, earn a stupid amount of money, take care of the people who need taking care of, then blow everyone’s mind with your writing.

  21. Posted November 24, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Write every day on your lunch hour. Take your laptop (or paper if you are old school) and write. Don’t socialize, just eat and write. That’s all there is to it.
    You have to choose your priorities. You can either have lunch buddies and waste those hours of your life, or you can write.
    PS – Its only a waste of time to go to lunch with friends if writing is still that much of a priority. If its not, then its not. And that’s cool too.
    sara´s most recent blog post: Glen Beck- When honor and attention mean the same thing…My Profile

  22. Sandy
    Posted November 27, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I have a friend who’s trying for a creative writing career, but who’s frequently jerked out of her familiar environment by her husband’s moves (he’s a low-paid minister) and forced to find new employment to make ends meet. Oh — and they have a 20-year-old son with Down Syndrome and other mental illness problems. Not to make your problems seem insignificant, but she’s dealing with the same problem as you: time. She found herself a comfortable chair at a used furniture store and turned it to a corner wall in a tiny house. Managing to convince both husband and son to leave her alone was more difficult, but she usually can get in 30 minutes or so a day at her laptop. Maybe something like a “Dad’s writing corner: do not disturb” sign?

  23. Posted November 28, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    My blog went in the toilet once I started working my FT job again…so if you find the answer…..I’d love to steal it and make it all my own….

  24. Posted November 28, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    No idea. I have not had a job since I started my blog just a few months ago. Mostly my own doing (it would seem that you have to actually *apply* for jobs in order to be offered them. I don’t find that convenient.)

    I get the dread and panic over the prospect of interviews and starting at a new place. I also would prefer to write full time, but I need an income and writing cannot provide enough of that at the moment (at least the sort of writing I was hoping to do…)

    I sometimes wonder how I will feel when my future coworkers/employer find their way to my blog…not too sure how I feel about that…no idea how I will balance full time work, parenting, I study part-time as well… ?

    So…afraid I have nothing to offer, but on the bright side at least you don’t have to wake up tomorrow and sit down at your home office desk with the dawning horror that you don’t actually know HOW to find a job (in the past it tended to happen through contacts…most of which are now retired.)

    Colleen McCaffery´s most recent blog post: My YouTube video debutMy Profile

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