ain’t nobody’s business but my own

I don’t generally tell people that I write (and even less that I am a “writer”).* There are probably several good reasons for this and several more reasons I’m only dimly aware of, but it’s me, will I or nill I. This post was triggered by a similar post I saw over at Nate Tower’s blog.

I’m certainly not embarrassed of my writing. Yes, early drafts are usually painful to read. Some aborted efforts are regrettable. But the pieces I consider finished make me feel proud. When I’m having a bad day (say at the office) I sometimes pull up one of my stories online and read it, saying to myself, “I did that.”

I think I was permanently scarred at a job I had nearly thirty years ago. I had a succession of bosses, but the last one was beyond categorization. This was during that ridiculous “in search of excellence” period when buzzwords seemed to take the place of intelligent thought. And this last boss was among the faithful of that religion. That alone would have been humorous enuf, but she also had the notion that my business was her business. (She did not single me out. Anyone younger than she was a target. She wanted people to “grow” under her guidance, to “step outside of the box”.) What was worse, though, was that she believed she could “advise” me about any aspect of my life, and while she might admit she did not know much about a given subject, being older and wiser she certainly knew more than I did. And so I was expected to drink gratefully from the fountain of her knowledge. The trouble was buzzwords. Her insight was no deeper than that. (Once she gave me a popular business management book to read and told me there was a lot I could learn from it. I read it. I told her I didn’t think it had anything to offer — it was mostly just anecdote and platitude — and could she explain what I missed? She admitted that, well, she hadn’t read it! She was simply infatuated with the idea of it. You know, it was published and everything!) Her advice was obvious. Her experience limited. Her tone condescending. Her result ridiculous.

But somehow it came to her attention that I wrote feature articles. And so she began advising me about that. Of course she knew even less about writing than business management but . . . wisdom. She suggested articles I should write and then questioned why I didn’t write them. I began to worry that she would request the chance to edit my articles before I submitted them. And given her personality I feared her requests would soon become requirements, enforced by the awesome power of employment. (This company had a statement in the employee manual that actions in our personal lives could be grounds for discipline and even termination. We were expected to live “moral” lives.) Fortunately, the company went out of business and we all scattered to the winds.

But that fear stuck with me. I think the worry was more about certain personalities in positions of authority rather than the authority itself. I think some people are by nature domineering and interfering, and if they can get themselves into positions over others, especially others who are younger, they will attempt to assert an imagined authority to direct their lives as they should be lived.

And so I learned from that experience to keep my personal life out of my work life. In most cases, at most of the jobs I’ve had since then, I don’t think I had anything to worry about from my employers about my writing ambitions, but I have seen glimpses of that personality now and then over the years in others, enuf to reinforce my protectiveness. So I don’t generally talk up my writing.

I consider my writing my thing. If I collected stamps or cultivated bonsai or read romance novels, it would be my personal, private place, my escape, my challenge. Mine. And if I did any of those things, I probably would not want to hear any random person’s advice or opinion about it. A stout woman at work made a point of alerting me to the surprising fact that muscle weighs more than fat (which is, technically, impossible) when she learned that I am a runner. In case I got discouraged about weight loss, I suppose. (This is not to say that I do not seek out advice, opinion, and shop talk from other writers and runners. I most certainly do. And if I read romance novels, which I most certainly don’t, I’d probably look for people with a similar interest.)

I figure that as long as I’m not writing about my employer (even positively), then whatever I have to say in my writing is nobody’s business but my own. (I’m pretty sure I vote contradictory to what would be best for my company’s financial interests, but so far they haven’t come forward to ask about my political inclinations or even “hint” at how employees should vote, which I understand is done in some companies.)

So I write and mind my own business and really don’t expect there to be any connection between the work I do to pay my bills and the work I do to soothe my soul. I wonder sometimes, though, what I would do if there was a clash between the two.

*Hmmmm. I’ve been visiting this point a lot lately.

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2 Comments on “ain’t nobody’s business but my own”

  1. donnaeve Says:

    I never talked about my writing at work – until the very end…when my job was about to expire, and then it was like, “oh, what the hell, why not?” What made it even better was I signed with JT on March 9 2012 and walked out the door of the corporate job on March 30 2012. It made transitioning into such an unknown future a little better. Much is still unknown, but at least it’s not Chp 11 mysterious.


  2. You know what you should do with your writing, Paul… 🙂

    In recent years, I’ve started bringing it up. Once the all mighty Google search became a thing hiring managers love, it’s clear that I write, so I’m always prepared to answer the questions:

    – “Will you put your writing before your job?”
    – “You can’t write about work if hired.” (As though writing about sad people in an office, kidding themselves that they are living their dream is something I’d care to write about.)
    – If I have an idea for a book, will you write it for me?” (I actually had that once. I think my diplomatic deflection helped get the job.)
    – “When you sell a novel, will you leave?” (I try not to laugh; I explain the realities of writing fiction in a very calm manner.)

    Most people who know me at my last few jobs know I write fiction on the side, and they are all supportive and think it’s neat. I rarely have to field questions and advice, but it does come along now and then.

    I love your point about if you collected stamps or did other things, unsolicited advice wouldn’t happen. Writing is weird in that regard. Ann Patchett has a great essay about writing called The Getaway Car; in it, she makes a point about how so many people say, “One day, I plan to write a novel, and it would be nice if it were a bestseller” but how no one says, “One day I will play cello at Carnegie Hall.”

    There are those who will give advice to anyone about anything. One of my wife’s hobbies is historical costuming, and it’s amazing how often she’s told how to make a living sewing — how she should design costumes for movies and theater. I’ve had a couple people, when they found out I juggle, tell me I should become a party clown because, “They make good money fast!” (That suggestion should be grounds for a stun gun blast to the forehead.)


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