Work Life Writing

Working to Write

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I work to write.

It became clear at CRST Logistics I couldn’t combine writing with a career the way William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and every college teacher who took ink to paper did.

I transitioned to being a purveyor of writing and speaking. It has been tough to consistently secure enough income to support the new métier.

Yesterday I finished the season at the orchard. Freelancing for the newspaper slowed down. It is time once again to set writing aside and work on that necessary task – generating cash to pay expenses.

What do I want to do? Whatever I can to cover ongoing expenses, pay down debt, and enable my writing.

While not a neophyte in the art of the job search, I have a lot to learn. The work I’ve done in retail and as a correspondent may not be around the way it has been.

A recent article at Business Insider lists jobs that are at risk of being automated. The list includes not only retail salespersons and newspaper correspondents, but loan officers, receptionists, taxi drivers, security guards, fast food cooks, bartenders, financial advisers, and musicians. These are all position I might have considered. Suffice it this job search must identify more sustainable work than what these professions offer.

“A significant factor in the decline of the quality of jobs in the United States has been employers’ increasing reliance on ‘non-regular’ employees,” Steven Hill wrote at Salon, “(It is) a growing army of freelancers, temps, contractors, part-timers, day laborers, micro-entrepreneurs, gig-preneurs, solo-preneurs, contingent labor, perma-lancers and perma-temps.”

I embrace such a lifestyle, yet creating a sustainable portfolio of such work has been challenging. Careful attention to budget and managing expenses is essential and is the easier part of the process. What is hard is recognizing the life-cycle of a specific engagement and properly planning for a continuous revenue stream.

“Where I landed after a career in transportation was with a portfolio of activities, some paid and some not,” I wrote in a presentation for the Solon Public Library, “I value all of the work I do and have to make choices on how I spend my time. My life is a systematic and thoughtful process of continuous evaluation and improvement.”

I need to get better at it.

The transition of newspapers, like what is happening at Gannett, is ongoing and incomplete. More and more, the local paper has articles written by reporters further up the organizational structure, blocking out space for freelancers. I enjoyed a good run writing for the Iowa City Press Citizen, but there hasn’t been a story offered in a month. The lesson learned is it is okay to take work to build experience, but as a freelancer the thread to the newspaper can be dependent upon a particular editor. Mine left a while back.

In a world where companies increasingly do away with full time employees using apps and algorithms to manage a pool of part-time workers, being a fulfillment person in such a system has its vagaries and downside. To make such jobs work requires a personal infrastructure to take care of basic needs separately from companies who offer employment. For many years this was exactly what companies wanted – a flexible, variable labor expense that could be ramped up during peak demand and ramped down during the slow times in a business cycle. I developed a support structure where part-time or temporary jobs can be plugged in, but underestimated the continuous need for business development.

During a recent interview for a retail sales position, I was asked my salary requirements. I need between $20,000 and $24,000 per year to pay expenses and may have priced myself out of the job. The reality is we must make our own opportunities or subjugate our lives to what has become a new form of indentured servitude. Instead of booking passage to prosperity in a new world, today such workers struggle to get by in a society that seems interested only in making a buck from you’re here today, gone tomorrow labor.

I worked for great people during much of my working life. Going forward, knowing my potential manager before taking a job will be an important consideration. This learning came from constant experimentation and reflection on the jobs I’ve held since re-purposing in 2009. It’s no secret a significant reason people leave jobs is they don’t get along with their manager.

Yesterday I multi-tasked at the orchard, something we do when the end of season draws near. In addition to helping customers find apples to pick, I prepared samples of eight varieties of apples. Customers, other employees and I had many engaged conversations about apples, their parentage and uses – it’s great work if you can get it. It was the last day of the season and my manager invited me back next year.

Since I work to write, I said yes.