DAY JOBS AND DRAMA
By Tory Butterworth
So, Nancy has set the stage for this blog: mystery writers and day jobs, right?
I've just switched day jobs. Three years ago, while working on starting my private practice as a counselor, I realized it was time to bite the bullet and get licensed. For this I needed 1000 "practice" hours doing therapy under a licensed therapist's supervision. So I got a job as a therapist in a community mental health center.
That job could best be described as laboring "in the trenches." Very, very ill patients. Massive poverty. I was confronted with one horror story after another of people struggling just to get by.
I learned a lot in my three years there. I became adept at psychological triage: sorting groups of patients into those who needed to be hospitalized and those who could wait for three weeks for a therapist. I learned to identify the criminal personalities, which we sent off to the forensic unit. I decided, once I was licensed, to leave the life of poverty so well modeled by my patients there.
Now I have a job lined up in research. I'll be helping families talk to their loved ones about end-of-life decisions and collecting data on the results. It's a big relief to be back in research after doing my time in treatment. I was afraid, as a former (research) boss commented, "I'm not as interested in (that) project, not enough angst!" I've had enough angst, thank you very much.
In yoga class last week the teacher said, "If this (posture) doesn't give you enough yoga drama, if you still want to go home and kick the dog or have a fight with your husband, you can . . . (instructions on how to make the posture more excruciating)." Then it hit me: it's all about managing the drama in your life.
So, this is where I go from the, "writer talking about her day job," to the, "counselor talking about writing." We all need drama in our life. Some of us get it through an addiction or adopting ten high-needs kids, but others of us get it through fiction. I'm all for stepping back and looking at drama as a dispassionate observer (as you do in research) rather than having to act it out at home. I'd rather feel the angst vicariously through the characters in a novel than go through the angst myself.
I once spent a week at a luxury hotel in Hawaii, the sort of place where I couldn't imagine anyone being unhappy. (My God, there were penguins standing around in the lobby!) I was impressed by how much drama guests could create over meals not perfectly done or rooms not perfectly clean. Now I know what to tell them. "Go read a novel!" Or, if you want real drama, try to write one.