Friday, January 18, 2008

Festive Friday: The Road Not Taken, Thank Goodness

It may seem that Karl, Mary Kate, Eileen and I have been medievalists from the very womb, but I assure you that is not so. Contrary to the myth that has been circulating, I did not conjugate my first Latin verb until post partum. Attentive readers will have learned already that Karl coulda been a rock star and that Eileen had a career in gardening. I think each would have been excellent at each had they stayed with the job. In fact, in the category of vice versa, I'm certain Eileen would make a fabulous rock star, and Karl probably has a green thumb. Today's question, though, is what job have you held in the past for which you are now grateful that it did not quite work out as a career?

My most inglorious position was probably as a sales clerk at a shabby discount store, where I placed landscape supplies on rusty shelves. Later in life I realized that this store kept its prices so low by fencing items that had been stolen in bulk from delivery trucks. The workstudy job that got me through college was as sorter of slides with various diseases of the skin smeared across them -- a job that I assured myself was at least a little more fun than that of a friend, who harvested corneas from cadavers. Today, a little bit of me is still grateful not to be the person who separates the actinic keratosis from the scleroderma, or who places pilfered Weed-B-Gone on retail shelves. How about you?

15 comments:

SB said...

Whiteness tester at a paper chemistry firm. (proofing ceramic tiles used to set and test the level of whiteness in paper lots created in paper mills around the world).

Karl Steel said...

Rock star? Yes, indeed. Conrad, the scruffy, moody, dangerous main songwriter from my first band went on to be in what's now a pretty popular band with what might be the , er, heaviest name since Behead the Prophet No Lord Shall Live: ....And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. Could be me? Only if I had, what's that thing called again? Oh: talent.

Some bad moments at various jobs include: temping at an auto show selling toy cars. I know nothing about cars, and various preteens delighted in watching my frenzied mistakes when I was obligated to fetch a '57 Hemicuda (is there such a thing?); covering myself with a vinaigrette (faulty lid, over-eager shaking, and 3 hours of sleep) at the one job from which I've ever been fired; using a blowtorch to strip paint off a house (in July); trying to tweeze irradiated semi-comatose gypsy moths whose lazy flying kept them just beyond my reach; grading.

A good job? Being the roadie who didn't know how to drive. THAT was probably the best 10 weeks of my life. But thank goodness it's not still my job. There's only so much generic vodka one can drink...

Susan said...

Stamping dates on insurance policies, and noting the date that the policy was issued. (A temp job, while in grad school; the person who usually did it gave me a day of training.)
This is a job that is thankfully rendered obsolete by computers...

Liza said...

My first job was working as a checker-outer at my local Delchamps (southern grocery chain), the monotony of which was broken only by the pain in my feet, and by my figuring out how to manipulate the register so it thought I was scanning items really quickly and winning, every week, a five dollar "fastest scanner" bonus (and really pissing off the other employees). That was probably the worst job.

The only one that almost turned into a career, though, was editing novels (even as an intern I began specializing in up-and-coming sci-fi novels). Two things took me away. 1, the heartbreak of working on some REALLY GOOD sci-fi books (I honestly wanted to write term papers on some of these) that ended up not being published because "stand-alone sci-fi novels just aren't selling these days" (shudder). 2, someone told me that no one would want to talk about Foucault with me if I went into publishing. So grad school it was!

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

Farm hand. Being a farmer is one thing, a farm HAND is quite another. To this day I won't eat green beans because all I can think about is the misery of all those months of harvesting them.

Being a convenience store clerk would be a terrible career, but those years (particularly when I worked midnights) taught me a great deal about life. I'm glad I was a convenience store clerk, and I'm glad I'm not anymore.

ken said...

Worst Job - Morgue Attendant
Better Job - Tar Roof Applier in an Upstate NY Summer
Better Yet - Being a Welder under my father's tutelage.

Strange this was brought up given that I have dreams -- now that I'm close to retirement (well, actually, way beyond it) of learning how to lay bricks or stone walls.

Eileen Joy said...

Ken: while I was working as a gardener, I apprenticed under someone temporarily who was an expert flat-stone wall builder [the kind of walls where you "fit" the stones without mortar, using gravel backfill, etc., and we would "harvest" orchard-field stones in the valleys of east Tennessee]: it was very soothing work, actually, and almost zen-like.

I have had many many bad jobs, but the one almost-career I had [other than in gardening and garden design] was in accounting. In college, I was the bookkeeper [and late night dj] for the student radio station, which led to my first job at ABC-TV News in Washington, DC as a bookkeeper for labor union contract payrolls, then I was bumped up there to special assistant to the Director of Finance and almost ended up as a budget controller in NYC for "Good Morning America." Then I had my own bookkeeping business for small businesses, specializing in restaurants, then worked for a CPA for four years while I got my MFA, and just before starting my Ph.D. worked as a travel accountant for a consortium of doctors in Research Triangle, NC who worked on world health issues & AIDS. So, I almost became an accountant, which is very, I think, easy work, but really really boring. The upside is: unlike most people, filling out tax forms does not scare me.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

My first job was working as a cleaner in a psychiatric hospital. I was mostly placed on geriatric wards of various kinds (though occasionally placed on locked wards for other sectioned patients). It has created so many vivid memories for me. At the time I did want to 'escape' and read books and think - but I continue to reflect on the choice between the life of the intellect and social action.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

your blog seems to have gone all black!

Brandon H. said...

I can commiserate with RSN. The worst of my jobs was working as a farm hand on a dairy farm: hot, smelly, stubborn, stupid cows all day is not ideal. Plus I had allergies that didn't react well with the hay, so I quit after about a year and a half.

The best job, that almost sent me on a different career path, was working in the local library for a few years. Working with and among hundreds of books is wonderful, and so were my colleagues who worked there. I can honestly say that it was the most ideal job, and it made me seriously consider (before I fell in love with the scholarship of literary study for good) going into library science so I could live among the stacks forever.

Dr. Virago said...

For a while I thought I was headed for law school until I worked as a legal assistant for two years. That cured me. That was probably the only job I had that was career oriented -- the rest were just jobs.

Of those jobs, the one I found myself surprisingly good at and could have perhaps made a career in was telemarketing. No, really. This was in the days before everyone was overwhelmed by telemarketers, so people would actually talk to you. It was also just after the deregulation of the telecomm industry, and I was calling then current customers of Sprint's "phone card" plan (remember those?) to convince them to switch to "1+" calling (i.e., having Sprint as their long-distance provider). Now, I didn't have the highest number of sales among my co-telemarketers, but I did have the highest percentage success rate: 96%. Apparently, I can be very persuasive -- it just takes me a little while to close the deal.

So I could've been a salesperson of some sort. But I'm glad I'm not, because it's a kind of performance that I have to steel myself for, and so it's really draining. Plus, who wants to spend one's life convincing people to buy more stuff or services, even if it's a product that you really believe in (whatever that means).

I did use similar skills to better ends in convincing reluctant grad students to vote to unionize. So maybe I had a future in politics - union or otherwise -- but again, even though the reasons for the persuasion were ones I was more invested in than stupid long-distance telephone service, it was exhausting. So I'm grateful I'm not a full-time union organizer or a politician.

Now, on the other hand, persuading students that medieval literature is awesome is *FUN*! So I'm still putting those powers of persuasion to work.

Mary Kate Hurley said...

It may seem that Karl, Mary Kate, Eileen and I have been medievalists from the very womb, but I assure you that is not so.

I wish I could disagree. Roads not taken (and not even begun in most cases) include paleontology (I traded it for paleography) and astrophysics....

But for jobs I actually *held* (and in one case still do) I'll list:

1. Petsmart employee. I still remember the day my manager suggested to me (at the tender age of 18) that Petsmart would be happy to pay for my education, if I wanted to go for an MBA, and then I could work in Corporate! As the only part of my job I enjoyed was cleaning out the cat cages (in the Adopt-a-Pet center -- I liked playing with them while I "cleaned"), and Coporate doesn't have those, I smiled, nodded, and never came back after that summer break.

2. Theatre. Yes, it's true -- I could have been in show biz. I spent four summers working -- on-stage and backstage -- for the local community theatre in Winston-Salem NC. It was all volunteer work -- but given the option, I totally would have made a life of it.

3. Rare Books Librarian. As a sophomore at WFU, I badgered the ZSR library staff until one of them realized if I was that persistent about getting a job, I would probably stick around awhile. Sure enough, six years later, I still make the pilgrimage back to NC over breaks and in the summer to do the physical processing (i.e., sorting through mounds of STUFF) on collections. As readers of OENYC might know, I have recently been working on the Allen Mandelbaum collection. However, my work there has also included very small roles in sorting parts of the Dolmen Press collection, a memorable summer working on the printing blocks from the Dolmen collection, helping digitize the Biebigheiser collection of old WFU photos, and my favorite of the bunch, the very first collection I worked on -- Shakespearean Scholar Ronald Watkins' Collection, which was an amazing thing to work through at the age of 19, and did a lot to solidify my interest in the research part of academia.

That said, the only one of these jobs I'd return to is the library -- it's such a great opportunity to really understand the way primary source materials work, and the ways in which libraries play an important role in how information and material is both organized and passed on.

Oh! Nearly forgot one: when I was 12, I volunteered at Greyhound Friends of North Carolina. Not easy work -- the dogs sometimes weighed as much as I did! But I enjoyed it anyway. Not really a career kind of thing, but did start an addiction to greyhounds (and their smaller cousins, Whippets and Italian Greyhounds) that has yet to end.

theswain said...

HMMMM, well, done the farm hand thing, and the ranch hand for that matter (nothing like castrating a bull in the mornin', I tell ya), the library thing, the gardening thing (well, vegetable gardening anyway....and see farm hand reference above), a janitor thing (hours cleaning up vomit because drunk students threw up down the garbage chute in the dorm...many a Sat morn doing that, not to mention hours scraping linoleum tile that someone had laid on top of the institutional dorm tile, so I spent a week in the summer prying it off and refinishing the floor); and even a couple years in academic computing.

Now for the other side of the coin: the job I'm currently nostalgic for. I'm on the market: the market is not as kind to me as I want it to be. My wife, a HUGE fan of Discoery's Deadliest Catch, thinks I should consider going back to fishing in AK (yep, been there, done that too), even at my age. Its tempting if someone doesn't offer me a job this year.

Rachel K. said...

The worst position I've ever held was as a production intern on the straight-to-video movie "Leprechaun 5: Lep' in the Hood." On the first day they gave me a crate of computer parts (not including a monitor) and asked if I could get it to work. I stayed for a week, got to comparison-price cockroach handlers, and make photocopies of a script which included the phrase "bigger than Oprah Winfrey's panties." I almost got to chauffeur Warwick Davis around, but my car was deemed not nice enough. The final straw was when I had to make copies of and deliver the proposed budget to the accounting department, and saw that the budget was around $3 million. I couldn't stop thinking about what a difference that money could make if it were used for just about anything else.

meli said...

I worked as a care worker for several years - providing personal care to people with various disabilities (from quadriplegia to multiple sclerosis to cerebral palsy to schizophrenia to cancer and strokes) who lived in their own homes. It was a shock to the system but I loved it in the end and I'd do it again. Only it was extremely sad sometimes. Some of the situations were too much for me.

Picking pears in the sunshine and rain was fun. Putting student documents in alphabetical order for the admissions office was not so fun, but it pays better than anything I've ever done.