Thursday, 2 June 2011

Labor Of Love

Seven years ago, for the first time since I was 14, I could not find a job. I studied the want ads diligently. Every time I saw a position advertised I thought I might be remotely qualified for, I applied to it. I sent out queries to scores of colleges, schools and companies, carefully attaching my C.V. Few replies came back. "It's your American degree," people told me. "It's your age," others said. "It's the field you're in," one woman told me. "Nobody needs English teachers in this area."

Whether it was my age or my degree or my field, it was definitely depressing. All the people who needed to learn EFL lived in the big cities. Nobody wanted to learn Japanese.

But our family needed to eat and my husband was struggling to find work himself, so I did what I could. I signed up with a temporary job placement company and started going on interviews. I was thrilled to get a long-term temporary job doing legal typing, but the man I worked for was hopelessly messy and disorganized; filing cabinets bulged with out-of-date files and piles of current files teetered on top of high shelves. Paralegals would come in, desperate to find missing files for cases soon to be tried. My attempts to put things in order, however, were met with general disapproval. "We've always done it that way," the others told me. "You'll just have to put up with it." Once, in the hallway, a former file clerk told me he'd had a nervous breakdown. "I couldn't take it anymore, d'ye ken?" he whispered, looking over his shoulder. "People screaming for files I couldn't find -- it did my head in! You've got my job now," he added, looking enormously pleased. I was never happier to leave a job in my life.

The next job I got was working for a woman who was wonderfully organized. I was replacing someone who had recently quit. I was thrilled to be working in such a tidy, smoothly-running office, but alas, the woman I was replacing must have realized her mistake: she came back to work.

When I heard the local college was looking for lifelong learning teachers, I quickly put in my name as a Japanese language and culture teacher. I was accepted, and given a short training course. On registration night, my heart fairly raced as I prepared my props: origami paper, sets of chopsticks and crockery samples, a Japanese cook book, my ink, paper and calligraphy brush set, my bag of kimonos and obis.

Only one person signed up to my course, so it could not run. The belly dance instructor had ten students register for her class, the guitar teacher had a dozen, and the upholstery teacher was swamped. As I packed up my things to leave, I bit back tears.

After teaching two years in North Cyprus, we came back to Scotland knowing that the job situation had gotten worse. Then out of the blue, my husband found a job opening in his field. He applied and was immediately hired.

I remained unemployed. "Look on the bright side," friends kept saying. "At least you have plenty of time to write!" I love writing, and yes, it was great having plenty of time. But I wanted to work. "Don't quit your day job," agents and editors tell you. "Very few writers make ends meet on their writing alone." This was painful to hear. I wanted a day job. If only I had a day job!

Then a friend asked me to help her translate a book. No sooner had I started than I got another job, editing manuscripts. Then I met a woman whose son wanted to learn Japanese, followed by a handful of Japanese housewives who wanted to learn English. More editing jobs came my way too, and finally, a formal teaching job at a university.

I'll finish my first week of teaching tomorrow. I've just turned in my first chapter of translating and rewriting, along with my last editing job.

Suddenly I've got so much work to do, I hardly have time to write. But I'm not complaining: I love the work. And oddly enough, I've never written more.


veach glines said...

A watched pot never boils, seems to fit here quite nicely.

You wanted a job so badly back then you watched that pot very intently.

Today, after turning your back on the's bubbling over!


Vijaya said...

Mary, I'm so happy. Work is good. I find writing meshes with almost anything very well. Your cup runneth over ...

Robert the Skeptic said...

My first real job after college was as a "Repo Man" working for a major bank NW bank. I loved it. But I had to work my way up in the bank doing all the boring stuff that bankers had to do. Following that was a career as a welfare worker for the government then a computer technician. But my best memories come from my repo days.

Linnhe Mara said...

So happy to hear you have enjoyed your first week teaching. Good to have you back!

Kim Ayres said...

So long as you don't stop blogging :)

Postman said...

Once again I'm in awe of the life you lead.

Lynne said...

Congrats!! It sounds like you had adventurer, a bit of a boring adventurer, but an adventurer none the less. Sometimes we don't see it as we are living it!

Carole said...

Nice. Amazing what willingness to do any job, will do in the job market. And I agree with Kim, as long as you keep blogging.

Anonymous said...

Lucky students! Freelancing is like that: feast or famine, floods or droughts.

JLD said...

They say keeping busy, especially doing things we enjoy, keeps us young, so you must be about twenty-one by now.

Your students are indeed lucky to have you and the rest of us are lucky to have this blog.

I wish I knew you were looking for work as a translator. I could have used your help with my husband's handwriting. He says it's English, but I think it's more Chicken. Do you translate chicken-scratch?


Eryl said...

Hope you loved your first week. You sound incredibly busy but also very cheery.

I like that busy feeling for a while, then I start to tense.

Mary Witzl said...

Veach -- Thank you. People kept telling me that as soon as I didn't care, I'd get a job. I never stopped caring, but I DID stop watching the pot. If that was what it took, I'm so glad I turned my back on the stove.

I still wake up and wonder if the whole thing isn't some dream.

Vijaya -- Thank you! My cup really does run over and I am so grateful -- especially because I've got a good, small class with students who are interesting AND motivated.

Robert -- The best thing about being a repo man must be the stories you got to tell everybody who asked what you did for a living. Being a repo man is right up there with being a detective or emergency room nurse.

Linnhe -- Thank you for commenting! Now I finally know how to spell your name (and this time I will not forget it). Still haven't managed to wear my blouse yet, but we definitely have the weather for it. :P

Kim -- My blog posts may become a bit shorter, but given my garrulousness, that's hardly a bad thing.

Postman -- You fly planes! Anyone who flies planes is bound to have a cooler lifestyle than that of a teacher-writer-translator-rewriter.

Lynne -- Looking for jobs and not finding them is one adventure I'd be prepared to forgo. But finding my various jobs has more than made up for it.

Carole -- I wasn't 100% willing. One of my neighbors kept telling me about a job that's been advertised, wrapping cheese in a local factory. I wasn't prepared to do that one, and I could tell she thought I was pretty picky. I'm SO GLAD not to have to wrap cheese.

Anne -- Thank you! I've been telling my students that lots of homework is a good thing. They may not be feeling all that lucky this weekend as they write up their graphs about women smoking.

JLD -- I'll settle for 38, and thank you for that nice compliment.

As a matter of fact, I am an intermediate chicken reader. I once worked for a group of eight doctors, some of whom occasionally hand-wrote messages I had to decipher. I've been told that pharmacists are all advanced chicken readers: almost all of them can decipher prescriptions you have to see to believe.

Eryl -- I'm going through my tense phase right now, hoping to settle into it by the second month or so. My first week was very good, but incredibly intense.

Anonymous said...

Blessed is the one who never gives up and fights her way out. Whenever I feel down on my own job hunt, I'll come back and read these lines. Thank you Mary. --Güzin

Mary Witzl said...

Güzin -- I've got my fingers crossed for you to find a great job. You're too good a teacher to go to waste.

Marcia said...

I'm glad things are going so well, Mary, and that your writing's not suffering. You're proving that thing about busy (or scheduled) writers getting MORE writing done. "If you want something done, ask a busy person," I guess.

Robin said...

I'm soooooo happy for you! Not being able to find a job is awful. And you found so many! How cool is that?

The story about the lifelong learning class made me so sad. You had such a nice class planned.

KLM said...

Ah, the ebb and flow of work. One day we want to bang our heads for want of a job and another day we want to bang our heads because we've got too much to do. Life seems to be about the head banging. I'm glad you've found your way to a good place.

You know I had a baby recently and my leisurely writing time is all but gone. My days are now hectic and scrambled and I fall into bed each night exhausted. I know things will even out eventually and I'll eke out some words here or there, but right now, those halcyon days of last fall are looking pretty good!

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Glad to hear it is all falling into place for you! Sometimes it does take a while and frustration is hard to deal with. So now enjoy, and keep on writing.

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