Register Friday | September 21 | 2018

So, What Do You Do?

"So I quit and at 25 went back to pursuing what I have been interested in since I was a kid ..."

Spent today in Brooklyn, running errands, cleaning my apartment, and just procrastinating in general. Or rather, relaxing. Sunday I woke up and strapped on my rollerblades, heading out of Brooklyn Heights, over the Manhattan Bridge and up 3rd Avenue to Union Square.

Brunch for 1 at Union Square. When I was younger I hated eating any meal alone, now I fucking love it. I read and had some eggs, bacon, an English muffin and some coffee. Put jelly on one muffin, add a little bacon, top it with the egg, break the yoke, apply pepper, repeat with the other muffin half, knife in my right hand and fork upside down English style in my left. I mainly read and people watched as I ate, then headed over to Barnes & Noble. I’m a huge, huge reader, and very particular about what I read. You can call it snobby if you like, and you’d probably be right. Walked out with Guerrillas, Lost, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. After that I met Bob and Geebs in the park and we rollerbladed over to Todd’s (a friend of Bob’s from a past job) apartment. He has a tiny studio on 27th, but it’s on the 1st floor with an outdoor patio space.

I knew most of the people, but Stacy, another friend of Bob’s from work, brought her boyfriend, and he brought a friend. Generally, our group is pretty crap at accepting new people in any situation. I think part of it stems from knowing and caring for each other as much as we do, and part of it probably stems from the fact that like attracts like, and we all have a little asshole somewhere in our psychies. Some bigger than others (my friends would probably say I am close to first with Bob for whose the biggest), but the boyfriend’s friend got a warm reception. (In our defense, the numbers were down due to absences, we were drinking and eating and listing to music. It was a weak moment.)

The newbie was okay. Midway through he cornered me with the conversation I hate having. “What do you do for a living?” he asked. It ticks me off for its unoriginality as much for the fact that he had successful Wall Street banker dude written all over him. Generally when you tell someone that you are an editor and writer* they are either impressed (“Wow!”), annoyed (its in the way they respond, you can just tell), confused (sort of like a “People actually do that?”), or just downright dismissive, like substitute teachers. “That’s nice,” as they pat your head and wonder how much longer they have to be there. I told him what I did when he asked, told him what my job entailed when he pressed further.

“Fuck,” he said. “That sounds so exciting.” And then I bit my tongue. Yeah, it’s real fucking exciting. When I first moved to New York City after college I met a thousand writers, or actors, or poets, and it intimidated the hell out of me. There were already so many here, how the fuck was I going to make a dent? I bowed out for a bit, took a job as a speechwriter and press officer for the City of New York/Parks & Recreation under Mayor Giuliani’s administration. I was promoted into the First Deputy Commissioner’s office, basically as a stopgap or trouble shooter or long term project manager. We organized the physical side of maintaining the parks. Its amazing work, but the longer I was away from writing—working 12 to 16 hour days, 6 to 7 days a week can put a crimp in any hobby, let alone a calling—the more miserable I was. It was a claustrophobic space to be in; I looked down my imagined future and got depressed.

So I quit and at 25 went back to pursuing what I have been interested in since I was a kid and would write quick ditties for my mother and father. When I looked around at other kids I knew who wrote they split into three categories: 1) Full of shit people who talked about writing, but never actually did the thing they said they did. 2) People who worked freelance (contract writers, if you will), and 3) People who edited and wrote a bit. But the odd thing about these groups is that for people who say they write, 80% probably fall into the first group, the next 20 exist in the last two, to varying degrees of success. I edit and I write. The things I write for magazines and newspapers are rarely my strong suit, I’m rarely thrilled with them. But, I took jobs to learn how to edit so I could tackle my own personal stories. I took a job to learn how edit to be around people who thought about writing, to hear what they thought. I took a job to learn how to edit because I wanted to see what the people who might control my future were interested in.

When I talk about my job I feel self-conscious. I fear at times that I’m a bragging, hubristic lout. Mostly, though, it’s because I’m not quite sure how to define myself. I may be an editor, but much of my selfworth, much of my pride and sense of accomplishment comes through what I put down on paper, and I have a hard time figuring out what that is. Do I write? Yes. Do I get paid for things I put down on paper? Yes. Does it pay my bills? Yes. But for the past 2 years I’ve had a book, a play, and a screenplay all in the back of my head, and haven’t done a damn thing to get them out. Part of this is deliberate: I want to know I can pull off the stories; I want to be confident that the words will be up to the layout in my head and will be told in a way that people want to read. I don’t give a fuck if it hits the NY Times or not, but I want to walk out of a bookstore feeling like the baddest man on Earth. The other part of this is an accident: Anyone who writes, anyone who does anything creative for that matter, is probably a PhD in the Art of the Put Off, of Talk Around, of Do Anything But. I’ve spent the last few years writing sketches for these stories and putting words down onto glossy pages. Until I actually sit down to write this fucking book which has waited patiently in the waiting room in my mind, I don’t know how much of a writer I really am. There’s solace to take that very few people who want to write, who are interested in writing, last as long as I have and gotten where I am. But it’s a high fucking ladder and I stand closer to the bottom than the top.

Unleashing that inner beast on some poor fool who was just being polite is unfair, to say the least. I just have to smile and nod, however they respond. And in reciprocating, in listening in kind to what they do for a living, is akin to Japanese. I don't speak the language. I don't have the vocabulary. I don’t get it. I can’t understand it. In the end, if I fail at this writing thing, I’ll tackle it, sure, I’ll try it out, whatever “it” is, but it will feel like a daily handjob when what I want is a job that fucks my brains out. That’s what trying this is like for me. It’s damn hard (the money sucks, the hours suck, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah), but I don’t want to pursue something that doesn’t help me with this nagging thing in my gut and in my head.

After I was done giving the newbie equal time I strolled into the kitchen, grabbed a spoon, split a pint of ice cream with Bob. Around 11 we all bounced out, Tony and I to see Man on Fire, Bob and Geebs back uptown, Pablo to his apartment and the 2 rookie call ups went off to whatever a high paying job can afford. They can keep it. As my dad likes to point out, I’ll try the rough way around.

Hope you all had a happy, safe, and healthy holiday. Welcome back to our lives.

*Note: The one caveat from my day job for this blog was that I not write about work. It’s been a bit like running with handcuffs not to include something that takes up 95% of my time, but there are ways I can write about what I do for a living without including the J-O-B.