One of the girls I know from the apartment complex was in the gym this morning — neither of us had been at the gym much since Thanksgiving, so we had a bit to catch up on. I don’t mind chatting, as long as it’s not for the entire hour I’m there — I enjoy using my gym time listening to audiobooks for review or working out the next scene in whatever short story or novel happens to be on my plate at the time.
Happily, we only chatted for about ten minutes before I turned on my iPod and got to work. She asked after my novel, which was sweet. We spoke a bit about the frustrations of losing weight…she said something about other people’s perceptions of her, to which I replied bluntly, “I really don’t care what people think about me.”
Because I don’t.
I know what it’s like, though, because I used to. For a very long time. It starts in grade school and takes the rest of your growing-up life to get over. Some people don’t get over it at all. I am very lucky with all the crazy adventures I have — magic and misery and all — those made me realize how beautiful and amazing and self-sufficient I am. (Because I am pretty awesome, you know.)
And then, right as our conversation was dwindling to an end, she said, “Oh, I’m so glad there are other people who don’t work during the winter.”
This whole issue of perception over a”normal job” has haunted me my entire life. I started working at the movie theatre when I was 16 and had become relief manager by the time I was 18. All through college I was an assistant and promotional manager, pulling down 25K a year, salaried with benefits and winning regional promotional awards, along with a courseload so full I graduated in three years. Granted, on any given day my schedule could be 11am until 4 in the morning, and my parents loathed the fact that I was still asleep at 10am on a Saturday (the time at which Mom inevitably turned on the vacuum). I had zero expenses and probably more money in the bank than they did, but it wasn’t a Real Job.
Fast forward to now. I am currently self-employed. I don’t get a check from someone once a week who takes 30% out for taxes, and I don’t have all those lovely benefits. I don’t drag my butt out of bed and go to a place I hate and pretend to fill a job description from 9 to 5 every day.
BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN I DON’T HAVE A JOB.
I sold my last novel for more than I made in a year of being a librarian, yet I still have close friends who make thinly-veiled snide comments about my “lack of employment.” Even the maintenance guys who come to fix the dishwasher say things like, “Gee, must be nice to have Mondays off.”
No, I don’t have Mondays off. I don’t have ANY days off. I just don’t punch a clock and I don’t hate my life. I don’t fit into your box. I never have. And I’m not sorry.
There’s a scene in Bright Star where Mr. Brown explains to the new tenants that if they see him or Mr. Keats staring off into space, that doesn’t mean they are doing nothing; it means they are writing, and they are not to be disturbed. I’m like a turtle who carries my job on my back, everywhere I go. Even when I don’t have something to scribble with, I can always be working, any time of day or night. And I NEED to be, or I can’t afford all those lovely things I used to splurge on when I was being paid by The Man. (Like Dragon*Con.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get down this new plot line I came up with at the gym, sometime around the 45 minute mark. God willing and the Creek don’t rise, this will be the next novel…fingers crossed!