Free Sandwiches, Holding On, and The Best Job Interview I Had This Year
I’d guess I’ve applied for somewhere around 80 jobs this year. My two main writing contracts ended in 2023, so I’ve been looking for a new day job to make up the difference. At first I looked for other writing jobs, which went nowhere relatively quickly; eventually I expanded into related fields and later not-so-related fields. I also began to feel anxious, as the year wore on, about relying on writing as my sole source of income, since that income varies significantly from year to year, and thought it might ease my anxiety (as well as my freelancer tax burden) to find a wholly-unrelated day job.
I made it to a phone interview on three occasions, easily the best of which was with a semi-new butcher shop just a few subway stops from where I live that a friend of a friend had put me onto.
I thought I’d make a pretty good butcher’s assistant for a few reasons: I like working in food service (especially behind a counter, where you can ritualize your interactions and test-drive the possibility of calling people “boss”)1, I find meat interesting, I don’t have any back problems yet, I enjoy wrapping things carefully in thick white paper, and I like working in a cold environment.2
If I’m honest, I also enjoyed the affectionately skeptical affect of my first phone interview:3 “We’re really looking for people who will stick it, and no offense, but most of your work history involves a lot of sitting down.” This was a pretty fair cop, since the last time I worked at a restaurant was around 2012, but eventually the manager agreed to let me work a trial shift, with the understanding that they’d probably hire somebody else, if anybody with more relevant experience applied.4
Even though I didn’t get the job, I still think I came out ahead. After a single shift I ended up with a free beanie, a free sandwich (and a very good sandwich too, it wasn’t just good because it was free), and cash in my pocket, which is more than I can say for just about every other job interview I’ve had in the last ten years. I had the chance to chat with other people at work, which is something I’ve sorely missed as a writer-from-home for the last decade,5 and got to wrap patties in caul fat, separate a shipment of chicken hearts and livers, carry dripping chandeliers of freshly-ground sausages on meat hooks down to the walk-in, and make batches of chicken salad. I washed my hands thirty or forty times in an afternoon. I enjoyed feeling useful and the abeyance of panic; I was sorry not to get the job but could hardly blame them for hiring somebody who had more to offer than inexperienced enthusiasm.
It is very difficult not to take job-hunting personally, not to extrapolate after every missed opportunity and assume that the future is going to hold more of the same until disaster takes over. I’ve seen what I think must have been the high-water-mark pass for a number of online industries, and am not quite sure what being a professional writer looks like for me in the future — but on the other hand, how remarkable that I was able to make a living exclusively as a professional writer for more than a decade. What real and remarkable luck that has been — and nothing can keep me from continuing to write even as I have looked for a new day job.6
The other day I made it to the in-person round and had occasion to take my own advice about accepting the offer of a free drink (I had some water and enjoyed it very much). This time things went a little further; I’m moving ahead to an orientation and will be starting contract work soon.
It’s non-medical work in the broader field of elder care; I liked the people I interviewed with very much. I hope to be useful here. I think it’s work I’m likely to enjoy, and to do well; it should still leave me plenty of time for writing, but provide enough of a foothold elsewhere that I don’t have to rely on intermittent royalty checks, which is ideal. I tolerate uncertainty and precarity a lot less well than I did a few years ago, for what i think are some pretty straightforward reasons.
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Recently I had occasion to test-run a “movement test” for a professor friend of mine, and one of the activities involved repeating certain gestures in a room full of people after the following prompt: “Think about whatever makes you feel safe and secure when you’re walking around in the world; now imagine that it’s gone.”
I found this pretty easy to do; coincidentally the exercise fell with a few days of the four-year-anniversary of the last time I spoke to a member of my family. The loss of those relationships was of course itself quite painful, but there were other, associated losses that came with it, like the loss of the belief that I came from a stable background of mostly-decent people, whose lives I believed were generally good, and whose memories would be worth preserving. That is a bad loss.
The upside of this is that I have a correspondingly-stronger sense of internal resilience, a belief that adjustment is not only possible but inevitable, that if I can bring myself to be spiritually reconciled to the necessity of change, that change will serve me well. It is admittedly a cliche of recovery to substitute gratitude for resentment, but it’s surprisingly effective against bitterness:
For example, what real and remarkable luck to have loved my family in the first place, to have had ideals that were capable of being disappointed, and to have been able to interrupt their damaging conspiracy. How lucky to have a nice new hat now that the weather is finally turning cold; the memory of a fine sandwich and the knowledge of how to recreate that sandwich at home; how lucky to be able to replace lost things, to find new sources of safety when the old ones collapse. Thanks for considering my application.
.Any kind of job where I might have occasion to acknowledge an entrance by saying something like “Hey, boss! The usual?” or “This guy!” or better still, “They’ll let anybody in here,” really.
I also liked the idea of developing a new kind of physical expertise, and I’m certainly not above the allure of certain types of machismo!
I can’t imagine I’m the only writer with fantasies of winning over a gruff-yet-whimsical butcher with my stick-to-it-iveness and cheerful gusto.
This is exactly what happened; I am not writing to you as a newly-minted butcher’s assistant. But them’s the breaks!
It’s hardly a global phenomenon, but where there are whole-animal butcher shops, there seem to be an awful lot of trans employees, which I found very charming.
I think the phrase “day job” is very charming. The job of the day! It bears the same cheeriness as soup du jour. Today has a special soup in it, and a special job, and the night remains yours to do with as you like! There’s also the bonjeur du jour, which is an eighteenth-century style of lady’s writing-desk that was particularly prized for its lightness, such that it could be easily moved throughout a room or apartment during the day.