By Martha Reed
For those who don’t already know, I started a new day job a month ago. It’s completely different from what I have been doing to earn a living – financial typesetting in one form or another – for the last 28 years. In my previous job I worked in production which meant that we had to get the product out by the end of each day. After your shift you put it down. This has been my working world.
In my new job I’m in research and development. This means I’m expected to stop, take an appropriate amount of time and THINK for a majority of my working hours. It’s two different completely different approaches and to be honest, I was a little nervous about being able to switch professional gears so late in the game. I mentioned this nervousness, this slight hesitant uncertainty, to a friend of my who already works in the field. She smiled, sat back in her chair and said: “Fly, little bird, fly”.
Jody was right. It is time to fly, to stretch my wings, to take to the air and try something new. Every job I’ve had since college (1980) has been leveraged on the one before. Sure, there were a couple of promotions, a few lateral moves, but each new position reflected the baseline knowledge I had learned from the other. This new job is bigger, broader, deeper. Sounds sexy, doesn’t it?
I had my first big project meeting last Friday. I brought my stack of research and I had called or contacted a member of each department, asking them questions and jotting down their concerns. I remember thinking at one point during the week: Ha! I’m finally using my journalism degree after 30 years! But it didn’t really register. I thought I was simply gathering data. Then I sat down and led the meeting with my notes spread out in front of me, trying to reach an unpopular consensus (I knew this going in) and to keep the discussion and decision making moving along in what I think is ultimately the right direction, trying to help everyone reach my conclusion. And that’s when it hit me: Hey! Wait a minute – this is plotting! I plotted the outcome of this meeting!
(That sounds vaguely evil like Richard III, but we’ll move on.)
I also had lunch last week with a group of corporate associates who work day jobs and are interested in becoming writers. I offered what I knew of the publishing world, demolished the persistent myth of hitting the bestseller jackpot and tried to explain that the real gift in living a writing life is in how the living of it will affect and enhance the way you live. Anne Lamott said it best in her book Bird by Bird but I’ll try to explain it from my end.
My life is better when I’m in the production of writing something new. When I’m imagining new characters, I look more closely at my world and the people in it. I’m more in tune with the events going on around me and in the beauty of the natural world. I notice and try to describe the exact crimson shade of the inedible red berries hanging from the bare winter branches as I crunch through the sheets of crystal ice to the bus stop each morning.
(In the Bible, God gives the naming of each thing to Man but I think it was Woman who made the final decision. That’s why it’s so amazing when we find a male writer who can write lyrically – it’s not their natural gift. Jack London was a wonder.)
I tried to explain to my friends seated at the table that I simply can’t imagine not living my life this way. My world would be stripped of its beauty. Plus, in the writing world, my characters struggle to overcome their problems, they strive to change their situations and make things better. Sometimes I can borrow the example of their strength to make changes in my real life. Yes, sometimes they give up; sometimes they fail; but sometimes the good guys win and no matter what happens it’s all because they are human. The writing life teaches me to practice compassion every day because every day it reminds me that I am human, too. I am allowed to try new things. I am allowed to fail. And every once in awhile, I am allowed to win, too.
As we head into this holiday week I believe I’ll end this blog with compassion. Happy Holidays, everyone, and best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!