Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Life from the Other Side of the Desk

Photo ©2009 NKZS via stock.xchng

In order to survive for long in this world with any sense of security, you need to work. That's a given. That said, not all jobs are created equal. There are jobs that are seen as glamorous. Jobs that are viewed as ignoble. Work that we strive for. Work that is beneath us. Employment that provides for all our needs. Employment that barely allows us to scrape by.

There is one constant I've come to recognize about how we view the work we do: with a few exceptions, one way or another, we're always looking for something better. Something that will allow us to do what we want, when we want, how we want.

Up until a year ago I spent my days in an editor's chair. I enjoyed the work, but I wasn't always a fan of the content or the long hours it required. Because I worked in the magazine industry my year was planned out 12 months in advance. I lived by the deadline, wished I had more free time at my disposal to write what I wanted, and joked about what it would be like to work a couple "easy" jobs that allowed me to interact more with real people on a daily basis (for the sake of having more material to work with).

This year, I've gotten to experience just that. After finding myself unemployed I had plenty of time to write while I looked for full-time employment, which I believed despite depressing job reports wouldn't take long. Nine months later, I'm still looking. In the meantime, I've had the opportunity to work a variety of temporary jobs which were by no means easy, and have opened my eyes to more than I can share in a single blog post. Here are a few highlights and insights:

I was a caregiver for two months for a family in which the husband was diagnosed with terminal liver failure the week after his wife was ran over by a Mack Truck (not even kidding!). While his wife was in the hospital undergoing nine weeks of treatments and surgeries to repair the leg tissue damage, I learned how to clean colostomy and catheter bags. I feed and tried to encourage. I fought a losing battle with dangerously high fevers from dusk to dawn. I administered enough meds to tranquilize a blue whale and still could see pain in his features. After he passed and his wife was finally able to return home, I learned how to care for someone still going through skin grafting proceedures. But mostly I was there for company during the long, lonely nights.

More recently I've been employed at a local seasonal lodge where I serve breakfast to guests getting ready to take multi-day trips down the wild and scenic Rogue River. I wash dishes, sweep, dust, scrub toilets, wipe down chairs, and show up the next morning before dawn to do it all over again. Before now, I never knew how much one's feet could swell and hurt by the end of an 8-hour shift. I never knew how frustrating it could be to be among people from across the nation and yet be practically invisible. And I never understood the concept of "working to reach the weekend" until now.

In all honesty, I doubt I've written any more than I did before. Instead, I've come to realize that it's not my situation that determines whether I write or not. It's my choices. I choose to come home and take a much needed nap. I choose to watch an extra hour of television with a family member or get coffee with a friend. I opt to surf the web instead of focusing on the blinking curser in front of me. And I've come to recognize that the idea of something better will always be just that — an idea — unless I actively work towards my goals. I can complain about my circumstances all I want, but in the end the only one holding me back right now is me.

Most importantly, however, like an actress who fully immerses herself in a certain lifestyle in order to better fill a role, I've come out with a better understanding of not just who I am, but of who others are. Each life has value. Each life is vitally important. And each life deserves respect, especially those who work the ignoble jobs.

This year's journey may not have been what I initially envisioned it would be, but because of it I can empathize with more of my neighbors instead of just sympathize. Though not perfectly clear, I have a better understanding of certain aspects of life and as a result when I sit down to write I will be able to portray my characters with the integrity and honor they deserve regardless of where society places them on the scale of success.


  1. Well said, Jen. It doesn't matter how much "free time" a person has (I'm not working outside the home, for example, so you'd think I'd have all day), there always seems to be a legitimate reason not to get the writing done. That pesky "life" that keeps getting in the way should be my writing companion, not my excuse. It is, after all, the strop that sharpens my knife. More often than not, I need to choose to write while the honing is still going on. Waiting for it to be done may make it too late.

    1. So very true, Terry. I hope going forward I remember that more often. I'd hate to look back with regret.

  2. I'm proud of you, Jen. I'm excited to see how the Lord uses all of these experiences and struggles to strengthen your endurance and faith. Your courage inspires me! :) Over the years, God has reminded me that life stretches beyond my computer. If I'm not living life to the fullest, which includes going through difficult times, I won't have much to write about. :)