This topic was suggested by a TMP reader. (Uncredited only because I haven’t asked permission to credit him/her.) Yes, that is allowed at TMP. Encouraged, in fact.
The other day, a man in suburban Baltimore was shot and killed by his ex-wife. The story jumped out at me for several reasons — it is very unusual for women to kill their exes — but the detail that really seized my imagination was that the man had worked for the Baltimore County school system for more than 30 years. Got up and went to the same place every day for thirty years. It sounded like heaven. (It wasn’t a good writing day.)
I am statistically eliminated from working at any single job for more than 30 years. Or am I? I started writing what would become the first Tess Monaghan novel in 1991 (and can actually trace its origins to a phone conversation two years earlier). That means my fiction-writing career could be said to be 18 years and counting, just two shy of my 20 years in journalism. And of those 18 years, I have spent all but three plus of them actively engaged with the same character, Tess Monaghan.
Does that make it easier to write a Tess novel? In some ways. I don’t have to invent the world whole again. I have a very clear image of her when I sit down to write a Tess novel.
But the age gap between us grows and now she’s had a life experience I’ll never have, giving birth. With almost fifteen years between us, I am wiser (I hope) than Tess in most ways. The trick is trying to put myself back into the mindset of the mid-30s, while imagining the juggling acts that dominated the lives of most of the parents I knew.
The other day, I watched a new barista being trained here at Spoons. Seems like a nice young man, one anxious to do well and to offer polite, speedy, courteous service to the customers. But first — he has to master what appears to me to be a fairly complicated cash register. That’s how jobs go. The things that seem insurmountable (machines, systems, paperwork) quickly become second nature. But we forget how overwhelming they are at first. Heck, I was still making mistakes when trying to file photo requests in my final year at The Sun.
So what has gotten easier in the almost two decades I’ve held my current job? Beginning. Sussing out problems sooner rather than later. Letting go of things that don’t work.
What will never get easier? Middles. Breaking my own bad habits — the over-reliance on “just” and “so.” Forgetting that the reader doesn’t know everything I know.
Now it’s your turn. What are the joys of tenure? What are the frustrations? Is it a blessing or a curse to go to the same job every day for thirty years?