WHAT DO YOU DO? WHAT DID YOU USED TO DO? THE PROVOCATIVE QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Fandango’s Provocative Question #152

It’s interesting to think back to what I used to do. I’ve been retired for about twelve years, but sometimes, it seems much longer — or just yesterday.

The picture is Doubleday and Company back when I used to work there. It wasn’t my first or last writing job, but it was the best.

What do you do for a living? If you are retired, what did you do before you retired? 

I was a writer. I think — despite taking a variety of “majors” in college, I always knew that was what I was going to do. I started writing as soon as I could read whole sentences and hold a pencil in my hand. I was lucky I had a few teachers in elementary school who encouraged me.

For a long time, I imagined I was going to write best-selling novels. I wrote a lot of short stories when I was very young, then again as a teenage. College changed my direction. In the process of studying, I wrote papers. I had a mentor and teacher who believed in serious papers. Every other professor wanted a few pages. He demanded no fewer than 20 pages for a 3-credit course. For his 4-credit courses, he expected 40-pages. Worse, he really read every paper and commented.

He was not equally demanding for every student. The more promise he felt you had, the harder he made your work. I think he was tough on me because I could write. I often skirted the “guts” of the subject by writing well enough to (hopefully) distract the reader from the minor detail that I hadn’t actually read the books or done the research. He never let me get away with it. I never entirely recovered from getting an A+/D on a 20-page mid-semester paper. The A+ was for writing skill. The D was because I hadn’t really addressed the subject — or read the books.

To be fair, they were the most boring books I’ve ever had to read. They could have been sold as sleeping aids to serious insomniacs. That argument bore no weight in Dr. Wekerle’s (Weh-ker-lee) class. You had to read the books, boring or not. The entire book. Not just the first couple of chapters and the flyleaf.

Guess which book I wrote? Just ONE guess.

He also, eventually — because he was my teacher for a more than 20 credits — taught me to write so anyone reading would it would “get it.” I had a tendency to jump from point A to G to R and end with Z. I could see the connection, but I didn’t explain it. It wasn’t in the paper.

I made me go back and write it. All of it. Even if it seemed obvious to me, he pointed out what was obvious to me was note necessarily obvious to anyone else. I got this same criticism from an editor in Israel. Before he made Aliyah, he’d been an editor at Viking Press and damn, he was a great editor. He too never let me get away with anything and I remember pleading with him to not make me add that 20 page explanation of the mathematics because it was hard work. Sigh. I did it anyway.

At one of my last jobs before I became unable to continue working, my boss had a Ph.D. from M.I.T. in Advanced Mathematics. I was a puny B.A. in Speech and Drama, but he had to get me to slow down when I was explaining something because I leapt from point to point assuming that other people could follow me. He couldn’t. I realized if he couldn’t follow me, probably no one could.

I wrote this, too

This is why I have to edit my writing as much as I do. Aside from the typos, it’s the jumps. When I have an idea for a story, I see the beginning and I see the end. I have to discipline myself to make sure that whatever I write, short or long, it contains all the points so the beginning and end are coherent. I’m much worse when I talk than when I write. Years of professional technical, news, and information writing have taught me to build a document, but when I talk, the brain pops all over the place.

As I’ve gotten older, I am even more apt to bounce off one idea to another idea that’s linked inside my brain, but not necessarily in anyone else’s. I have a couple of friends who can follow me, maybe because they’ve known me for so long. Garry can follow me — if he can hear me — and so can Owen. My mother could follow me and oh how I miss her sometimes. She understood things about me I didn’t know anyone suspected. She “got me” in a way that’s is rare between mother and daughter.

Blogging suits me. One of the best parts of blogging is that no one is counting the words or will send the manuscript back. I don’t write professionally. Supposedly, this is fun. It hasn’t been as much fun in recent years, but I live in hopes that the fun will return.

And, best of all, I get to include photographs!



Categories: #FPQ, Anecdote, Provocative Questions, Remembering - Memories, Retirement, Work, Writing

Tags: , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. I’m not good at writing stories. I get mired in the detail, too much talking and thinking too I suppose. I am better with facts.

    Like

    • Yup. Exactly my problem. I also don’t see plotlines. I don’t see a story unfolding. Everything I’ve written is completely stationary — like me. But mostly, I don’t see a story. I see an idea, but that idea doesn’t morph into a tale. I’m great at giving information and I can describe characters very well — but then they don’t DO anything. Not going to be a great novelist.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder whether this question would come to me when I’m retired?

    Generally, people of my age don’t want to think about retirement. And if few odd ones like me are ever caught doing so, we get a harsh reprimand about how our career is just beginning, and we’re already talking about retirement.

    Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.

    Like

    • I wish I had thought about it LONG before it happened. Neither Garry nor I gave it any thought and we are paying heavily for that mistake now. It’s NEVER too early to start getting your finances in order. Even putting away a little bit every month will make a big difference later!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You make even the boring sound interesting. And on rare occasions when you’ve written a story, it was enjoyable to read.

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    • Thank you. I’m fine on very short pieces — fewer than 500 words. It’s long material I don’t do well. I can’t seem to make my characters DO anything. They just talk or think. Kind of like me 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve the same problem. Can think of a plot, just small incidents.

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        • I have no gift for plots. I have tried many MANY times over the years and eventually, reality banged me over the head. I can write, but I’m not a novelist. Fiction isn’t it, but anything non-fiction I can handle from news to promotions. I wanted to work for a newspaper, but by the time I was looking for work, newspapers were already hitting hard times. Pity. I’d have been good at it. Television was available and I worked in radio before I moved to print media — but the pressure on a TV or radio news writer is insane. I can’t handle that much pressure — and I don’t even WANT to.

          Liked by 1 person

          • You can try writing biographies! No need for a plot!

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            • Basically, that’s what my “novel” IS. I just changed the names. Since it took me almost a full year to write and edit it and I made (by my best calculation) about 10 cents per hour worked, I haven’t felt any urge to do more writing that no one will buy. Besides, publishers hate old writers. They want young ones who will turn out dozens of books, not old people who will write one, maybe two books — unless they are already famous.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Publishing a paper book is very tedious process nowadays. You can try getting it on kindle. An ebook is not that difficult to publish and you can even make sales. And people will get to read it too.

                Like

  4. I’m happy to know you on WordPress, Marilyn.❤

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  5. You are one of the best writers on WordPress and I have no trouble following you from point A to point wherever you end up. You’re right, blogging suits you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you!

      As soon as I started doing it, I felt like I’d come home. It was just like writing letters, something I had always done well. Except I was writing to everyone. It’s just these past five years have been so calamitous, it’s hard to have fun with it. I do try, but it’s not easy. It feels like every day is another crisis.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I feel the same way, but responding to prompts and writing short flash fiction tales gives me an escape, albeit a temporary one, from the harsh realities of the world we live in today.

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