By Angela Tung


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.

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A long-time New Yorker, ANGELA TUNG is a writer in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in CNN Living, The Frisky, Dark Sky Magazine, Matador Life, The New York Press and elsewhere. Her Young Adult novel, Song of the Stranger, was published by Roxbury Park Books.

Her latest book, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl, chronicles the failed marriage between a Chinese woman and Korean man, both American-born but still bound by old world traditions. Black Fish was short-listed for Graywolf Press' 2010 Nonfiction Prize.

In addition, she's a writer/editor at Wordnik.com, an online word source, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. Visit her at angelatung.com.

47 responses to “Work”

  1. Nicole says:

    I know exactly what you mean. I love writing, and I’d go crazy without at least a little bit every day, but that contrast is clutch. I wrote full-time for a month after college before going stir-crazy. The 9-5 can be a bore, but I’m that much happier to get home to my laptop afterwards and stay up until 12 or 2 or 4 writing what I want, not what I have to.

    Also, damn that sneaky yoga.

  2. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I had this problem too, where the wide open days to do nothing but write got to me after awhile. I remember getting into petty office politics and gossip that my wife would vent about at the end of her work day. Soon enough though, I found a permanent cure for boredom by bringing a baby into the picture. They’re always good for a consistent pleasure pain balance.

    • angela says:

      ah, a baby! of course i’d prefer that over a job. 🙂

      i know what you mean about getting into the significant other’s office politics. my boyfriend comes home full of stories, and i like hearing them all!

  3. Instead of Health Care Reform there needs to be WRITER CARE REFORM, where we all get paid, have insurance, and our anxiety is collectively reduced so we can focus on our art. See what your piece did? Now I’m a big fat whiner too.

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Beware of the YOGA!!
    Ha! Nice piece, Angela.

  5. Judy Prince says:

    I loved this, angela! And I feel your pain—-or rather I felt your pain, having had an inner ear prob that scared me witless. An MRI and neurological expert’s opinion later, I found out it wasn’t a stroke or a brain tumor, and the specialist said: “There’s no cure for it, but it always gets better.” I clung to those words in plenty of woozy days, ready to vomit on the drive to work. He was right, though; it gradually got better. Though this is purely my own speculation, I think this weird—-and pretty common, as it turns out—-inner ear thingie is triggered by super-ultra-extreme stress.

    Your piece was funny and sweet and wonderful!

    Just try remember this golden oldie song: “Get a Job!” Get a job that is tailor-made for you. Why not? Write up a description of the job you want, forgetting about what might be out there or not or what the newspapers say or online searches render. Your job. Your dream. Your aims. Your needs. Your coworkers. Your life. Your experiences that add to your writing-brain’s store.

    • angela says:

      judy, i did wonder if stress had something to do with it. ironic since the only thing i have to be stressed about is not having anything to be stressed about! how sick is that?

      i really like your advice about writing a job description, purely based on what i want. i do find myself flailing and applying for jobs i know aren’t a good fit for me.

      • Judy Prince says:

        You know what? Why not go on interviews for outrageously awesome, wildly not-the-usual jobs? When you see the name of someone totally cool in the newspaper or online who’s doing things you think rock, you can write them and ask for an interview. It’s a win-win situation. And it requires courage, a nice thing to have. It’s like guys have to do all the time when they ask women out. They figure they’ll be turned down lots, but so what, if one woman says yes. You can take notes while you’re chatting during your interviews, which always impresses people, and then you can eventually write up the experiences. I think I’d like to sell airplanes or yachts.

        • angela says:

          judy, i think that’s great advice too! i’m basically applying for anything and everything right now. yesterday i applied for a senior editor position when i have about 14 months of editing experience. 😀 they rejected me right quick: i applied in the morning, and i got the rejection by the afternoon. at least they’re efficient.

          actually, my dream day job would be to work in a library. i got my MLS last year, and want to put it to good use.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Excellent, angela. Now you’re probably checking out all kinds of libraries, public, school, university, art, , law, science, museum, and private collections. What are your favourites?

        • angela says:

          my favorites are science and medical, or else university or corporate. i applied for a position at the public library of science. i’m hoping it comes through, at least for an interview.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Your favourites are impressive, angela: “science and medical, or else university or corporate.” Several blends of these come to mind, and really it sounds rather exciting! You’re new to SF, so doubtless you’ve been visiting libraries, universities and corporations that intrigue you and about which you want to know more. Most university websites tag the librarians’ and professors’ specialties; you can then email or snail mail them your wish, p’raps, to interview them for a story you’re working on, or to solicit their advice since you’re new in town and to SF’s workings within your field of interest. A little step…..an open door….an invigorating and helpful chat…..more names, more people, more ideas, more possibilities, more places to fit into your life-mosaic.

          Keep us posted!

  6. Irene Zion says:


    I can’t help it. I’m going to go with the mother in me. Apply for health insurance. You should have health insurance. You COULD get hit by a bus, or any other metaphoric thing that could mean. So, do it, okay?

  7. It’s a brave choice to go into writing full-time. Very brave.

    I couldn’t really imagine it being boring, but I could imagine myself going crazy. When I get really into writing I can’t stop myself. I’m an addict. I write and write and write… and then I look up and I’ve lost eight hours and I can’t think of anything I should be able to think of…

    Writing’s like a drug, sometimes.

    Just be careful not to burn out, ok? An old hippy once told me, “You can burn out on anything you do too much of, even stuff you love.”

    • angela says:

      david, i can work on my writing for maybe three or four hours at a time before feeling the brain burn. maybe i’m so used to working 9 to 5 that three or four hours is all i can handle at a time, which might be a good thing in terms of burn out.

      i LOVE that feeling of being so deep in a piece, looking up and being surprised that a whole afternoon has passed. it’s rare though, for me. usually, i’m all ADD and surfing the web and reading celebrity gossip at the same time.

  8. Amanda says:

    Right now, I am situated in an office, and am wearing a ribboned blouse (I am small, so the blouse is small, but the ribbony bits? they’re big-ish).

    The department I work at is relocating. This means the office ladies are milling about, deciding how they efel about their new seating arrangements, deciding how they feel about the cubicle construction in general, deciding how they feel about the type of crates we’ve been provided in which to pack our desk contents.

    Mostly, they are deciding they feel complainy about *all* of the above and about a long list of other things, too.

    It’s making me wish I was at home, upside down in a yoga pose, making my living as a writer.

    If this were a made-for-tv movie, you and I would probably switch places with a big, bright flash, Freaky Friday-style. I hope you wear the same size blouse as me, and that you have an affection for pearl-grey ribbon.

    (PS: this is Canada, so once you swithc bodies, you get that health coverage and can sort out your ears, pronto)

    • angela says:

      amanda, that sounds like the perfect situation, and a great movie! (and i do like pearl-grey.)

      yesterday i hung out with a friend who recently started working again. before she got her job, she was desperate to work, but now that she’s started, she’s sort of blah about it. i feel like there’s no perfect situation, but at least while i’m working, i can appreciate all the “off” time and those spare moment i get to actually write.

      and then i could always quit again.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    This piece was so good that it made me nervous about not working, and I have a job! A year ago, I did not, and you perfectly evoked how the thrill of leisure can soon bleed into the anxiety of ennui. When you first get that taste of empowerment, all the little things you used to take for granted, like going for coffee at ten, playing instruments in the middle of the day, working out when no one’s at the gym- they become supreme pleasures to be savored slowly. Then a month later, the novelty has long worn off, and these “pleasures” morph into stark, jarring reminders that while most of your friends, along with the rest of the world, are “working,” you are not.

    I always felt weird around the weekends. It was like everyone else around me earned the right to enjoy days off but me (nonetheless I did manage to enjoy them). Anyway, you’re just in a psychic transition and you have found an excellent coping mechanism in writing. Keep it up and all will turn out exactly the way it’s supposed to!

    Thanks for the great read.

    • angela says:

      joe, you describe it perfectly. my first month with no 9 to 5, i loved the empty gym and relaxing day without weekender rushing about. now i feel almost like not a real person because everyone i know is working while i’m just hanging about. i mean, i’m usually writing, but like i said to david, i can only do so for three or four hours at a time. then what? the other day i wished i had some filing to do as a break.

      you bring up a good point: i might just be transitioning now, mentally, and who knows, maybe by next month i’ll feel like the last thing i want is an office job.

  10. Alison Aucoin says:

    I worked from home for years and was perfectly happy. I’d toil away at my desk during the day then go out with friends in the evening. Took full time job (for health insurance – this system is so fucked up!) when I adopted my daughter. Commute with baby was too much. Quit full time job & went back to freelance work from home. Like a different world from before. Evenings are fun until she goes to bed and then, nothing.

    Maybe I would be happier if I was writing my own stuff instead of grants. Then again maybe not. Mostly I try to remind myself that my life pretty much rocks & I should quit whining. But of course my ear crystals are where they belong.

    • angela says:

      allison, i think part of it too is that i’m new to San Francisco and don’t really know anyone here, as well as being under the weather and feeling sort of cooped up. writing full-time was pretty much awesome a couple of weeks ago! and then suddenly all the empty time hit me. maybe it took a few months for me to get my momentum going in terms of getting assignments and what not, and now i’ve hit sort of a plateau? anyway, the best i can do is concentrate on what i’m doing and try not to worry too much.

  11. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    That saying “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” has some truth in it. I haven’t worked a traditional in-the-office job in more than seven years. This is by choice. I have a stripped down health insurance policy just in case there’s a catastrophe; otherwise, I take care of myself. (I refrain from a rant on that matter.) I like that I have day pajamas and night pajamas. I like having so much time alone. If I had to go back into the regular work world, I might spontaneously combust.

    I’m sorry your mom has that response to your work right now. IT IS WORK! Sometimes, this vocation takes longer than other jobs to pay off.

    • angela says:

      “I like that I have day pajamas and night pajamas.” me too! my boyfriend teases me about it all the time.

      i’ve pretty much accepted my mother’s always going to feel that way about my writing. while her attitude is somewhat annoying, it makes for great material.

  12. Connie says:

    How about doing some volunteer work? Pick something that interests you or that might inspire some great stories?
    Just a suggestion.

    • angela says:

      connie, volunteer work is a great suggestion. i’m trying to get into library work and if i have trouble finding a job, i may volunteer at the public library. a good way to gain experience as well.

  13. Marni Grossman says:

    Christ I want a job too, Angela. Different situation, but same complaint.

    Unfortunately, I’m apparently completely undesirable. I’ve actually been turned down for volunteer work. I’m 24 and it’s time to start my life and here I am, stalled out.

    Unlimited leisure time ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    • angela says:

      turned down for volunteer work, that really sucks. i applied for an unpaid internship – i actually wouldn’t be surprised if they turned me down.

      yesterday morning i applied for a job and was rejected by the afternoon. oh well, at least they were efficient!

  14. Mary says:

    “I mean,” I said, “I wrote.”

    Read that line out loud. The rhythm there. Hear it? That’s a sign that you are a writer. You don’t type, ” ‘I mean, I wrote,’ I said.” Why? Because you have a sense for the aesthetics of words. Six months is not that long.

    Ok, so that’s totally my jealousy speaking, and I really am sorry about your lack of insurance and your ear crystal problem. <3 Maybe the next step is getting an interesting part time job that you never would’ve tried before. I’ve always been curious about doing construction or landscaping. Seriously.

    • angela says:

      mary, thanks so much for your kind words. six months isn’t that long, and it actually went by really fast. my current blah-ness could very well be because my balance problem and feeling limited physically, which i hate.

      i’m intrigued by the idea of part-time work. i may not have a choice anyway as there doesn’t seem to be too much out there right now.

  15. Sally Christie says:

    As Janice would say; “OH MY GOD.”

    I am a full time writer at home struggling with the very same issue.

    Knowing that tonight am going to listen to all my friends at dinner discussing their work stories. Knowing they don’t even bother asking me how my day is anymore. What could I say?

    “Walked the dog, did the shopping, wrote a couple of chapters, and – no wait let me finish! I haven’t talked to anyone all day, it’s my turn!”

    Part time work maybe?

    • angela says:

      haha! i face the same problem. every morning my boyfriend sweetly asks me, “so what are you up to today?” and every day it’s the same: “writing, gym, writing.” yesterday my big excitement was getting good customer service at a bank.

      i also know what you mean about wanting to talk after not talking for a while. usually i can’t wait to get off the phone, but lately i’ve been the one to keep people on the line with one more thing to say.

  16. Brian Eckert says:

    Kind of the opposite thing happened to me…I started writing full-time when I was out of work for a year.

    But writing full time is a bit misleading. I find its only realistic to write a few hours a day. There are those occasional days when I’m on a good thread and can go at it for hours and hours but otherwise I find that beyond those 2 or 3 good hours I’m just kind of pushing it for the sake of pushing it and I end up with mediocre material. I guess everybody has to find that happy balance.

    Just be glad you don’t have an old German drunk for a neighbor who tempts you into alcoholism. (Unless, of course, you’ve experienced that as well.) Cheers, and good luck.

    • angela says:

      brian, i’m the same way. i can only write for three or four hours at a stretch, then i need to stop and do something else.

      luckily i’m allergic to alcohol or else i’m sure i’d be a total drunk.

  17. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, so a generous boyfriend is how I can swing my dream of not going back to the office?

    Damn it.

    This is going to take some finagling.

  18. jmblaine says:

    That’s exactly how it is –
    one fix
    always messing something else
    vanity of vanities
    all is vanity.
    so hard to find.

    Find a job
    where you can write at work?

    • Angela Tung says:

      that’s just how my old job in new york was! i’d work maybe 1/2 or 2/3’s of the time, and spend the rest of the time writing, blogging, doing school work (i was getting a degree in library science), and looking at dumb stuff on the internet. it was so damned cushy, i thought i’d get called out as a fraud at any moment. i tried to get approved for remote working from here in SF, and while my boss was for it, it was a no go.

      there’s that old saying that you can never have the holy trinity of happiness at once – great job, great relationship, and a great apartment. in NYC i had a great job and great relationship, and a sucky apartment. now i still have the relationship and a beautiful apartment, but no job.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Old sayings are old sayings—-not new sayings, angela.

        New saying: You can get a great relationship, a great job, a great place to live, and you can help others do the same.

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

    For this sentence alone, Angela, you should know your days spent writing are so worth it. Now if only Health insurance came with the job….

  20. […] thinking ah at last, corpse pose. I’m thinking it’s so nice not to have vertigo currently. I’m thinking I wonder if someone will snore or fart. Once someone farted and I spent all […]

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