When I worked as a cashier at a drugstore, a position I held for longer than I’d like to admit, it fell to me to restock the candy aisle. Because of the candy aisle’s close proximity to the cash register, cashiers were supposed to grab boxes of candy from the stock room, set them up in the aisle, and replenish or rotate bags of licorice, chocolate bars, bags of chips, and Bridge Mixture, which is only a suitable candy if you hope to put the recipient to death. Years on from that job, I can say now, with no fear of reprisal, that I never, ever restocked the candy aisle. It wasn’t a difficult task, but it was something so tedious and self-defeating that I would rather stare into space, doodle on register paper, count money in the till, or staple my fingers together than actually do it.
In maybe the best book I’ve ever read, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, a middle-aged woman takes a job in a grocery store after her husband walks out on her and her children. Every shift she works, she leaves her hat on suggesting, she hopes, that she just popped in to help out, not that she actually worked there. This is not what the book is about, by the way, it’s a riveting character study about generations of a family, but the fact that Pearl leaves her hat on always returns to me, because it reflects how I often felt as a cashier. “This is just my job, I’m not working here.” That’s a shitty and elitist attitude, to be sure, but it helps explain why I couldn’t and wouldn’t stock the candy aisle. I’ll stand there and help customers, but I’ll be damned if I fill my off time with anything but boredom and self-loathing.What I don’t understand, however, is why I’m treating more and more things in my life like the damn candy aisle. This blog, for instance, is missing quite a few weekly entries in the last couple of months. A project that I started earnestly with a friend has stalled for no reason. These are things I really believe in, things I wish I had more time to do, but yet when I have time, I don’t do them! What’s the deal, here?
Dream: Be more productive.
Goal: Achievable. Beating myself up doesn’t accomplish anything, but a public record of one’s own laziness can occasionally be a motivator. Maybe proclaiming my uselessness publicly will get me working again.Plan: Take the advice we give people about work and tailor it specifically to motivate me. For instance:
Find out what you love to do, and get paid for it. Everybody tosses this ice cube into your soup, but I’m afraid I have to call bullshit on it. I’m thrilled to be getting paid to write every day, but writing is hard fucking work (not as compared to coal mining, parenting, surgery, prison guard, janitor, but you get my meaning). Writing is not something I love to do. I love sleeping, eating bad food, and having sex. Who is going to pay me for those things? Besides, find out what you love to do and get paid for it is a very white, upper-middle class conceit that many of us were lucky to grow up with and take advantage of. But a lot of people pump gas for a living their whole lives, or work in a factory, or make ends meet by any and all means, and I think they’d chafe at being told to just “do what you love.” I think we ought to change the expression to, “Find out what you’re good at and get paid for it.” I’m good at writing, and I’m also really good at running a cash register (in spite of what you might have read earlier). Obviously I’d pick the former over the later for a career path, but both jobs keep the bills paid, so I’d be stupid to never take a retail job again in desperate times just because I didn’t “love” it.
Don’t compare yourself to others. I hear this in regards to creative people, especially. Yes, realizing that so-and-so is doing better than you doesn’t make your situation any better, but it doesn’t make the fact any less true. When I hear that a contemporary (by which I mean someone around my age) is doing better than I am, I bitch and moan, sure, but it lights a fire under my ass. If I didn’t compare myself to others, I might avoid reading the writing that my friends do, and I might hinder my own development by not “borrowing” whatever I can from them. I don’t mean that I steal ideas from others, exactly, but that I’d only be hurting myself by not using their best techniques. For instance, I know of a writer I really respect who decided to stop using anything but “said” when referencing what a person said. In other words, she might write:
“You don’t love me!” Bill said.But she wouldn’t write:
“You don’t love me!” Bill cried.
She believes that what a person says should be enough for the reader to make their own determination. If she writes, “Bill cried” instead of “Bill said”, she’s telling us how Bill feels, instead of having Bill reveal his feelings through further dialogue or action. Isn’t that badass? If I stopped seeing my own work compared to this woman’s efforts, if I wasn’t jealous of her abilities, I’d stop evolving as a creative person. What’s the point?
You have to believe it to achieve it, and similar. I hope this one is true, but the trouble with advice like this is that it always comes from someone comfortably ensconced on the other side of what you define as “success.” Motivational speakers who failed at their professions don’t get hired on the lecture circuit, and nobody asks a failure, “How did you do it?!” But people who are successful offer platitudes like, “You are the only thing standing in your way” and, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Does it? A positive outlook is important, sure, you’re more motivated and pleasanter to be around, but I know many of people who believe in themselves that might not see the return on their investment that they are hoping for. I’m lucky to be friends with all kinds of creative types continuing to plug away in saturated fields, many of whom seeming to equate fame with success. Fame is not success, but recognition doesn’t hurt if you’re trying to book stand-up gigs, land auditions, get published.I’m from a generation that believes everyone deserves a trophy, but I’m also of a collective age group in a terrible economy and job market. Reconciling the two suggests spending less time blogging and more time filling the candy aisle. At the moment, though, I know what’s truly hindering my creative endeavors is plain old laziness and fear. The projects that don’t guarantee any return in the form of money or opportunity can feel like distractions. The ambitious longshot that is an unsolicited manuscript, unproduced webseries, unfunded theatre company might not work out, but there’s no chance at all if it’s not attempted in the first place. If I stopped blogging, for instance, or playwriting, or undertaking fun possibilities so that I might leave my work email open for a few extra hours a week, what kind of return on investment is that? Creative paycheques might be limited, but creative possibilities are endless. I hope I can find that balance between doing what I’m good at, doing what pays the bills, and doing what I love so that I can grab and sample everything I want, feasting on the endless options before me, like a kid let loose in the candy aisle.