One of the more unpleasant parts of meeting new people is explaining what I do – or don’t do – during the work week.  I have always dreaded being asked what I do for a living.  Saying “I am a writer” is too mortifying for words, and what’s more, in Los Angeles, I have to further explain that no, I’m not a screenwriter.  (Stage director, train engineer, doctor of philosophy – someday I’ll tell my children to never take a job that requires them to constantly say, “No, not that kind.”) 

No one knows what writers do – hell, I don’t even know what writers do.  In the last decade I have written corporate memos, software instruction manuals, trivia questions, travel guides, and crafting how-tos.  I’d call myself a hack, but I think hacks get paid better. So when someone asks me what I write I try to answer as vaguely as possible.  These days I mostly do “creative” writing, a phrase which puts listeners in mind of grade school essays written on that paper with the two solid lines and the dotted line in the middle, but when pressed I usually say that I write comedy and then immediately regret saying that.

Now that I work only part-time and stay home with my two children, I have to further explain that my job is to write comedy for free only some of the time.  If there’s anything that makes you sound lazier than that, I’d like to hear it.  The very worst part about working from home (besides the lack of free coffee) is that no one will ever believe you are actually working.  “Working from home” is treated as a polite euphemism for “sleeping all day,” when in fact trying to meet a deadline while locked in a house with a two-year-old and a three-month-old is like trying to pick your handcuff lock from the inside of a submerged steamer trunk. 

Judging from their comments, what people envy most about those who work from home is that they can “wear their pajamas all day,” a lifestyle boon we share with infants, in-patients, and, I suppose, professional pajama models. Personally I associate wearing pajamas past noon with times of great emotional or intestinal distress, and am more likely instead to put on something much too nice and then trump up some flimsy excuse for wearing it (Oil change? That calls for pearls!) but then maybe I’m just too spoiled from sleeping all day to appreciate the freedom that comes from dressing like your dog just died.

I used to work in a fancy office with elevators and cubicles and glass-walled conference rooms and people you see for years without ever saying hi to, and I felt very grand.  But often these jobs were in publishing or in technical writing, where the work required access to expensive printers and dual-monitor computer schemes, whereas now all my job requires is a laptop, an internet connection, and a total lack of human dignity.  Best of all, I had coworkers, people with whom and about whom to gossip, people you could eat lunch with and join for happy hour and invite to your home for a dinner party and watch mix awkwardly with your other friends. 

One might ask why I choose to work from home when I clearly miss the old days of fancy clothes and free Nature Valley granola bars.  The reason is simply that it costs more to pay for full-time daycare than I can earn as a writer, which anyone who has both read my writing and met my children will agree is totally fair – giving the world a 500-word musing on “What If Chaucer Wrote For Gawker?” simply does not equal the effort of cleaning 16 ounces of Greek yogurt out of my daughter’s hair.

Like many freelancers, I’ve combated the pajama-wearing blues by taking my laptop on the road.  These days I do most of my work from coffee shops.  Working at a coffee shop keeps me on my toes: I can’t afford to eat as many pastries as I would at home; I’m too afraid of random violence to sleep in public; and I feel like people notice if I go a long time without typing something.  Sometimes I’ll type something, lean back, and murmur approvingly, just like I used to do back in the old cubicle.  Occasionally I’ll laugh quietly to myself, shake my head in fond disbelief, and give a little shrug that says, “Can you believe the stuff she comes up with?”  The “she” in that sentence is me. 

Someday when my children are all grown up I’ll be back to water cooler gossip and structured waist bands.  After years of working from home, I can’t wait to jam the printer and chat in the break room, but I don’t know if I’m responsible enough anymore to be around all that free coffee.

It’s been six months now since my latest root canal was started, and the painful procedures, the crowning of the tooth followed by its de-crowning, followed by an endodontist’s re-evaluation and an encore performance of the root canal, have proved more disruptive and distracting than even the upstairs neighbor’s teenage kids playing Rockband all afternoon.

Work

By Angela Tung

Rants

Il faut travailler. – Louis Pasteur.

I want a job.

It’s been six and a half months since I quit my job to write full-time. It’s mostly been a dream. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do what they love most in the world, all day, every day, with a significant other’s financial and emotional support? Mostly I love it, but you know what? Just between you and me –

I’m starting to get bored.

Not bored of writing. Being really into a piece is the best feeling. Struggling with one doesn’t feel great but it’s not boredom. Struggle is good. But everyone needs a break, even from what they love. So I run, do a bit of yoga (though perhaps for not much longer, you’ll see later), tickle the ivories on our electric keyboard, talk to my friends, and read. But do I, dare say it, want something more? Some other kind of work? Do I want a job to take a break from my writing?

Writing is all I’ve ever wanted, since I was twelve and decided, according to my diary, “I think I know what I want to be when I grow up. A novelist or something like that.” I’ve been struggling my entire working life to get to a point where I can write all day. Ten years, a nest egg, and a generous boyfriend later, here I am.

So what if my mother doesn’t think of writing as real work? “I worked all afternoon,” I told her recently, and she perked up.

“Work?” she asked.

I knew what she was picturing: a tall shiny building and her daughter, possibly wearing a big-ribboned blouse, typing away in one of the tiny windows. “I mean,” I said, “I wrote.”

“Oh.” I could hear the hiss of her deflating fantasy.

Six months later, I’m the one fantasizing about being in that tall shiny building. In an office. Possibly wearing a big ribboned blouse.

Yes, an office, with desks and cubicles, and people saying, “I wanted to give you a heads up,” and “Keep me in the loop.” An office where I’ll wear something besides jeans and Gap T-shirts every day, where I’ll talk to other people besides my boyfriend, the baristas at my favorite cafe, and the other regulars at the gym. Where I’ll get paid to do something completely stupid like add up columns in an Excel spreadsheet or make something in PowerPoint, or file papers, or stamp invoices PAID. From where, after a long trying day, I’ll come home and in great relief sink into my couch and turn on the TV.

Right now there is no relief because every day is a relief, and I’m starting to feel like I’m sink sink sinking to the bottom of my couch.

I know: I’m a big fat whiner. If only everyone had it this good. But would the weekend be as great without the work week? Would you want to eat your favorite food every day? The best massages are equal parts pain and relaxation. Pleasure is the absence of pain. What if there is no pain? Is pleasure possible? What if your life is one long, never ending weekend? What would happen?

Messed up ear crystals, that’s what. You heard me. Messed. Up. Ear. Crystals.

Let me explain.

In addition to constant casual Friday and near isolation, I have no health insurance. I could have health insurance. I could have opted into COBRA, but plopping down almost $700 a month for coverage I may or may not use, especially when I have no income, wasn’t too appealing to me. At least when it was coming directly out of my paycheck, I didn’t really notice, and therefore completely took for granted that I could get my teeth cleaned, my eyes checked, and a physical every year. Any unexpected problems, check. The cough that wouldn’t go away (allergies), hives (allergies again), and a UTI over Fourth of July weekend (a surprisingly quick E/R visit which cost me $200 out of pocket, with coverage, but at least my meds were free).

I thought I’d be fine without insurance, at least for a little while, though I did wonder, as I crossed the street, what if I got hit by a bus? But why would I? I never got hit by a bus in New York, jay walking like it was going out of style, the whole time I had insurance. Why would I the moment I had none?

Case in point. Patient X works at home, and has a lot of free time on her – or his – hands. Or at least a lot of flexible time. He – or she – can work whenever and wherever he wants. So this leaves a lot of opportunity to go to the gym, take yoga classes, and, what the hey, do even more yoga at home.

Yoga’s good for you, right? It stretches and strengthens. It increases flexibility and calms you down.

What they never tell you is that if you do it a lot, and, let’s say, do the bridge for the first time since you were 12, and then do a lot of sun saluting and downward dog and all that jazz, and if unbeknownst to you, you have a sinus infection brewing, and you’re getting older (goddammit!), maybe, just maybe, the otoconia, those tiny crystals in your ear that control balance, may slip into the wrong canal, so then when you, say, get up in the morning, your head starts spinning like your house is a giant merry go around, and you have to lie back down. You think it’s dehydration, but then it happens again when you’re doing yoga (damn you yoga to hell!).

From sleuthing on the internet, you’re pretty sure it’s the otoconia thing, and not a brain tumor (fingers crossed!), but you don’t know for sure because you don’t have insurance and therefore you don’t have a doctor, and so you try the “therapy” at home by yourself, you follow the diagram closely, and then you throw up.

You throw up several times.

This is supposed to happen, according to random people on the internet, you do the therapy and then you feel dizzy and sick, and sometimes you throw up. So you feel better for about two seconds before you remember that you don’t know for sure. These people have been to their doctors (“Luckily, my doctor. . .” “I found a great physical therapist. . .” “My doctor fixed me right up!”), lucky shits, so they do know for sure, unlike you.

So then what do you do? Do you pay out of pocket at that vertigo clinic (yes, a clinic solely for vertigo) that’s two blocks from your apartment? Do you apply for insurance and hope for the best, hope they will accept you, because applying for insurance should be just like applying for a job. Of course they can only accept the best, read: healthiest, candidates, although, um hello, don’t the sick need insurance the most?

The next day you feel much better, and wonder if maybe you fixed yourself (but of course you don’t know for sure), but still you think, I wouldn’t have this problem if I had insurance. I wouldn’t not have insurance if I had a job. I wouldn’t have all this free time on my hands to do crazy amounts of yoga, which dislodged those fucking ear crystals into the wrong tube, if I had a job.

Makes total sense.

Seriously, I know it was dumb luck and not joblessness that lead Patient X from downward dog to throwing up in a shopping bag, but it still might be time to join the working world again. I miss the contrast – work week and weekend, office and home, doing work I have to do and work I love, socializing and solitude, pain and pleasure.

And, oh yeah, health insurance.

The course actually begins with the words, “Location! Location! Location!”

Since teaching jobs are both hard-to-get and low paying, I’ve decided to think about pursuing a career in commercial real estate brokerage. The two classes you have to pass before you can take the salesperson license exam are “Real Estate Principles” and “Real Estate Practices.” You can take them online through Allied Schools.

The “Principles” class begins with a Welcome page featuring images of golden hills, redwood trees, rocky coastline, and flowers blooming in the desert. What follows is mind-numbing, soul-withering flapdoodle.

You read me right. Flap fucking doodle.

From “Location! Location! Location!” the text continues:

Most of you have seen this phrase in a real estate ad describing the perfect neighborhood. All of you reading this, no matter what city you live in, are experiencing the perfect location. No…we are not referring to your specific street, town or county…we are talking about California. California has everything, and usually it is the best! Whoever said, “Less is more” just never lived in California.

Oh, snap! Take that, hippies! And other 49 states!

Too bad, as my tax returns and spotty resume clearly demonstrate, I’m one of those people who think less is more.

After the introductory chapter, which is basically a commercial for California — diverse climates! varied geography! gargantuan economy! — there are chapters explaining property, estates, ownership, encumbrances, contracts, etc. This material is so soporific it needs to be read in the morning, with coffee and a hard chair. And someone holding that hard chair menacingly over your head, lest you start to nod off.

Though it took me a few weeks, with several breaks for unintentional naps, bathtub soul-searching, and applications to other jobs, I managed to make it through the first class and pass the (open-book) final exam. Now, in “Real Estate Practices,” I seem to have hit the wall.

In this class the authors tell you how to get started in your career. First, they offer this inspirational photo and caption:



Real Estate salespeople come from many different backgrounds.


[Interactive Feature: Can you find the black person?]

Then, the section “Dress for Success” suggests that the same qualities that made people popular in seventh grade will make you tons of money today:

The image you present helps you build rapport with prospective clients. When connecting with a client, if you remind them of someone they like or mirror their own taste, they are more likely to respond to you positively. When considering how to dress, the best strategy is to mirror the style of your clients.

Got that? Whatever you do, don’t, for the love of God, be yourself. Rather, study your client, and then mimic his/her speech and dress. People don’t think that’s weird at all!




These styles of dressing are not recommended if you want a successful career.

I can understand why head-to-toe denim isn’t recommended, but I’ve been a denim hater since 1986 when I woke up to the fact that my Ton Sur Ton jacket was totally lame. But the floral-print cowboy hat? That’s festive. That lady’s a closer, you can tell. And I’ve got no complaints about the Asian woman. I would totally buy a house from her, or at the very least take a tour and fantasize about impromptu kitchen sex.

(Me: “So… these granite countertops pretty durable?”

Hot, Inappropriately Dressed, Asian Real Estate Salesperson, hoisting self onto counter: “Come over here and find out.”

Boom chicka wah-wah...)

As for the punks in the bottom right corner, get real, Allied. No true punk would sell real estate. Anarchy and escrow don’t mix.

So how should we aspiring real estate salespeople dress?

Employees who dress appropriately leave a lasting impression of professionalism.

Ah, yes. I think I’ve seen these people before, hanging out at that bar I always walk past. You know, the one that sucks.

I’ve just about had it with “Real Estate Practices.” Life is hard enough without having to present a completely false exterior to the world. And I’ve always prided myself on my honesty and integrity.

This, according to Allied, is completely wrong:

You must always project a positive, professional attitude regardless of the circumstances. Everyone has good and bad days; however, real estate sales associates have to smile every day, no matter what is going on in their personal lives. The moment you allow your personal feelings to influence how you interact with clients, your undisciplined behavior will suggest an unprofessional sales associate.

They have a point. You won’t close any sales if you spend your time with clients bitching about your sciatica, but that seems like common sense. And that’s what bugs me most about this class. The authors obviously have no faith in their students.

And really, is their advice even good? When you, dear reader, are looking to buy or rent property, do you think, “I must find a broker who dresses impeccably and smiles all the time”?

You know who else smiled all the time?

This guy:


And this guy is still smiling:

I wonder if my reaction to this course material a sign that I should not pursue a career in real estate. That I’ll fail due to my inability to “project a positive, professional attitude” and wear my shirts tucked into my pants.

But would another job be any better? Am I not just clinging to a childish refusal to accept the world for what it is? Basically, a place where everyone’s a whore of one kind or another, and our discourse is spiraling ever downward into an abyss of stupidity?


Maybe I should quit and become a guidance counselor.