I don’t imagine everyone dreams exclusively of a full-time job doing whatever it is they love best. There are probably plenty of artists who want to make art on their own terms, in their own time, thank you very much, and are happy to work at something completely unrelated in order to pay the rent. Doing something for fun and doing something for money can be two very different animals.
But not always. I’ve been the news editor at Library Journal since the end of the summer, and the work agrees with me one hundred percent. I spend my days researching and writing and editing stories about public, academic, and special libraries—legislation and innovation, personalities and programs, news both good and bad. There’s no compromise involved; I’m not covering libraries until something better comes along. Rather, I believe in libraries with a geeky lefty fervor: what they do, what they could do, and the general promise they hold out for the world to be a better place. I got to write a positive story about the events in Ferguson last month, and a story about what worked right when a gunman shot three people in the library at Florida State University before Thanksgiving; I get to write about open access and homeless outreach and information literacy. It’s an awesome beat, and I generally consider myself the luckiest girl around.
Last week I wrote an article about a couple of documentary filmmakers who are making what’s eventually going to be an extremely cool film about public libraries. When I spoke to them, one of the two mentioned the Voltaire quote in the Like Fire banner. I was a little surprised that they’d found this place, but not unhappily so—after all, it’s my job to Google the hell out of them before we talk, so why shouldn’t they see what they can dig up on me? I was actually kind of pleased. Pleased… and then a little sad. Poor Like Fire.
I am trying so, so hard not to be that person who neglects everything else in the wake of a new job. My spouse, my pets, my friends, my already tenuous grasp of housekeeping, my ability to eat balanced meals on a regular basis—all of them have been getting shorted these past few months. The only thing that’s improved is my pleasure reading, since I spend a good two and a half hours on the train every day. Other than that, I don’t have much in the way of free time: up before six to walk with the dog—the only exercise either of us get all day, so it’s important—shower, dress, eat breakfast, pack lunch, so I can be at my desk by 9:30. Come 6:30 or so, depending what I’m working on, I pick myself up, go home, eat, play with the kitties, brush my teeth, and try to get my sorry self in bed at a reasonable hour. Not a lot of wiggle room. But, I keep thinking, surely enough.
I know this blog is my own project, to give up or keep on with as I want. Nobody is holding my hand to the fire here. But that’s kind of the point. I started it up with no real support other than some encouragement from friends, and kept it chugging along through day jobs, freelance work, grad school, work on a second website. Even when I felt stretched as thin as I thought I could get, it was always a relief to have a place to bring my thoughts, strut my stuff a bit, talk about what interested me. Not to mention the fact that all the work I did here, online, for free, is what turned me into a halfway decent writer and, eventually, got me this peach of a job.
And it’s not that I don’t have that same desire to trot out my opinions. But I’m realizing what some of the circumstances were that got me writing online in the first place: a nine to five job that was actually nine to five; that didn’t take up all my attention or acuity for all of those eight hours; and—most important—where I was seriously undervalued. I worked for a journal that published book reviews. But the few times when a reviewer punked out on us and I said Hey, how about I write the review?, my editor—an elderly and vaguely misogynist, old-school fellow who still had to be reminded not to call people’s assistants their “girls”—responded as if I were kidding. No “Really, you write reviews?” No “Well then, let’s see what you’ve got.” He reacted as if I’d said, “You know what, I found James Wood’s home phone number online—why don’t I give him a call and see if he’ll write us a book review for $100?”
Granted, I never pushed it. I didn’t feel like getting into it with him, for one thing. Plus that was a lot of what made the job tolerable—having a secret identity. I don’t dispute that I learned a lot editing under him, to the point where I could have written for him. But he didn’t deserve me. I was a superhero in my own literary life, changing into my spangled costume in the phone book of WordPress.
And now I have no secret identity. I’m recognized, professionally and otherwise, for what I can do, and it feels good. But is it lethal to my personal writing? If I’m not my own superhero, do I still get to fly? Jim Croce offered us the basic tenet of common sense that tugging on Superman’s cape and pulling the mask off the Lone Ranger were roughly analogous to spitting into the wind, and sometimes I wonder if I haven’t done something similar. Have I messed around with Like Fire?
Or am I just still in the process of getting a handle the work-life balance, of figuring out how to allocate my energies the right way so I can do both things: write about libraries during the day and write about things literary at night? (Or at 5 in the morning? Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind.) Maybe things just need to settle out a bit.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, as a rule. My way of thinking is: I’m either doing something or I’m not doing it, and if I want to do it I should just shut up and, you know, do it. I understand the desire for accountability, but that’s usually not my thing. I’m accountable to myself; that’s enough. I’m not lazy, I’m not self-deluded, and I have never once failed when I set out to do something.
But this once, I’m going to publicly resolve—at the very least—to be resolute. Shit or get off the pot. Blog or not blog, but not go around feeling this weird, inchoate, wistful pull that bumps up, night after night, against sheer exhaustion.
Maybe Like Fire just isn’t feasible, in which case I’ll figure that out and bow out gracefully, really I will. But I also have a sense that there’s something that might need to settle into place. Like one of those dreams where you discover an entire extra wing in your house—maybe that energy is there, and I just have to discover it. Maybe it’s like parallel parking, a skill that eluded me for years until one day the concept just clicked, and I’ve been happily parallel parking in the tightest of spaces ever since.
If anyone has any great ideas, please feel free to offer them up. And please, give up big props for Terry, who’s been saving Like Fire‘s dignity with her wonderful Sunday Links.
2014 was a hell of an interesting year. 2015 should be another. We’ll see.
(Wonder Woman image is a commercial laminated 184 mm. bookmark, illustration by George Perez, produced by One Stop Posters in 1987.)