My narrow, narrow bands of interest and utility

For most of my life, I thought I envied people who were on a mission: the ones who were seized by the desire to paint or to build stuff or to cure malaria.

It was only very recently, maybe as recently as last week, or the week before (time has been playing tricks on me this month), that I realized what what I was really wishing for was to have some kind of defining passion that easily translated into a verbal business card at a cocktail party. I hated being in advertising for most of the years I was in advertising; I didn’t even particularly enjoy telling people it’s what I did. But man, did I not begin to appreciate how easy it was to tell it.

All of the things I’m passionate about, talking to people about of stuff, telling stories, figuring stuff out, are squishy and weird. The closest I’ve ever come to a defining thread that connects them all is “creating order out of chaos”; a former colleague once said I excelled at “coming up with creative ideas,” which, once I got over the metal-on-metal grind of a well-intended but gratingly redundant descriptor, I decided was not half-bad as summaries went. Ideas, I has them. Maybe I could be the Lucy Van Pelt of idea vendors: a nickel a shot; a buck, perhaps, given inflation. But no, because I’m even less tolerant than Lucy.

As I close in on six months (!) of self-imposed sabbatical, I’m both predictably alarmed and oddly nonchalant about my inability to define what it is I do in a way that is pithy and truthful. What I have been answering of late in reply is either “Nothing!” or “I’m on self-imposed sabbatical!” I will also occasionally just lie and say, “Marketing consultant,” if I don’t feel like engaging at all. It’s a lie, but a relatively harmless one, as lies go.

To my creative intimates, the fellow strugglers in writing workshop, or elsewhere behind the scenes, I share the only thing I know for sure: that I want to write, and that I am doggedly pursuing it, placing structures where they need to be to support it, addressing what obstacles I can see that might be getting in the way of it. (I’m also actually writing, and not just what you see here. But I’m not quite ready to talk about what.)

One thing I’m considering is slashing my expenses to the bone and taking another Stupid Day Job. There are all kinds of issues with that, too, of course. I may be romanticizing it, for starters. Also, absent the singular focus a definable driving passion provides, I may outright hate it: when I had my last Stupid Day Job, I was pursuing acting rather ferociously. What happens when you just want to live your life, figure out some shit and write a little? Does a Stupid Day Job even work under those circumstances? Can anyone even get a Stupid Day Job in this economy?

And who do I think I am, anyway, wanting to live a life and figure stuff out and maybe write, freakin’ Thoreau?

Ah, well. I have no reason to believe this, but somehow I suspect I will look back on this time when I am old, if I am fortunate enough to grow old, and in the same way I now smile at youthful me for wasting time cataloguing minor imperfections of flesh and character, I will shake my ancient head at my foolish former self for not appreciating the goodness, the greatness of even these sometimes baffling days.

Every day is a gift, even the ones that don’t come wrapped in pretty paper with a bow on it. Even the ones you want to send back to the store. My bands of interest and utility are slender enough not to have crossed in any obvious places, but that they haven’t is no reason to wish for this day to be over any sooner, or any other.

Hello, ridiculous day of this tedious month of my difficult year.

Hello, and welcome. Let us see what we can do to each other, shall we?


Image by fpat via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. The limitation of most Stupid Day Jobs, it seems to me, is that 1) they are full-time, and 2) their grantors (i.e., the bosses) expect yo to be at least able to put up a facade of giving a shit.

    Not much can be done about the first, except to steal what time one can on a moment-by-moment basis. When I worked in client care, I envied the smokers: they got 10 minutes per hour. I never had the guts to claim the same for myself.

    The second carries the possibility of using one’s acting chops. You don’t actually have to warp your mind that way. Just sayin’.

    1. SDJs can definitely be taxing b/c they are full-time, but they don’t have to be. I should probably elaborate on the blessings of the SDJ in another post, but for now, the way I define it is really monkey work—hopefully, fairly non-taxing monkey work performed in a reasonable environment for non-assholes. I confess, I had the world’s greatest SDJ for a year or so, until my boss got promoted and my new boss decided that as long as my brain was there on the premises each day, it was his duty to utilize it.

      Even so, there are always skills and exercises to be won and employed via the SDJ. I’m too lazy to find the column I wrote about how actors can use their SDJs to improve their acting (and other skills necessary to remain an actor), but it’s there somewhere.

  2. I like the idea of separate bands of utility and interest. I picture them as what appear to be parallel lines, which actually — if you just follow them long enough, plodding along, putting one, foot, after, the other — turn out to intersect after all.

    Not really relevant to your questions, but your word “squishy” made me think of this book, The Squishiness of Things which I just learned about (but have not read). Amazon page here; a review here; illustrations here, at the artist’s site. Or maybe it’s relevant after all: ol’ Hieronymus sounds like he was off on a quest, too.

    1. It’s funny—I’d envisioned that, too, as the line (no pun intended) popped into my head. But I was in a rush to get the post up, and hey, it’s a UTILITY pole, which is kind of hilarious, right?

  3. wow. i am a first time reader of your blog, i stumbled upon this while googling for writing bios for my Stupid Day Job. i’m so glad i found your site! if this post is any indication of what’s in store, i’m even more glad, gladder some would say, that i found it.

    1. I always wonder how the poor reader who finds him/herself here on some innocuous search reacts. From the logs, it looks like most of them barely stop to go, “Wha…?” before clicking away. Glad and gladder you are the exception to this.

  4. As I read somewhere recently and have been practicing saying when I get up in the morning:

    Hello, Death. Not today!

    It helps. Since I’ve declared that I am alive today, I might as well see what I can get into. You know?

  5. I too am a fellow “order into chaos” kinda gal (funnily enough, that is EXACTLY – word for word – how I define my M.O.) and also fantasize about the SDJ that will make things…simpler. (Found myself just today perusing some website in London that lists all sorts of well paying part time gigs and for a moment forgot that I have no training in accounting.) But I digress. I hope that whatever you do, you carry on with this blog. We – the other OIC’s out here – would miss you.

    1. I used to do that, too: daydream about jobs I had no skills for. Or sometimes I just wish I’d pulled a Wallace Stevens, gotten a law degree and plugged away at something steady while I wrote poetry and drank lemonade on the weekends.

      I don’t think the blog is going anywhere, but I’m glad you would miss it!

  6. The goodness, the greatness, of these even sometimes baffling days. YES. This is my central preoccupation as well. And by the way I have often thought that ‘creating order out of chaos’ could be the informing principle of the (various, scattered, seemingly random) things I love to do. I’ve even written of my fear that there isn’t a single animating passion for my life…. the fear is that then, what I have is THIS. HERE. Jesus.
    Thank you for such an eloquent discussion of all I hold dear.

    1. Well, then. And here I was thinking I was being extra-ineloquent today. Sleep deprivation, dontcha know?

      Thanks. It is this, here, now. And it *feels* like I am pulling myself back into the present a little more often. Although, you know, without metrics, hard to tell.

  7. I’ve felt these feelings many of times. We are here to seize this moment, love it, squeeze it, and hate it for all it’s worth. And we tell ourselves this, but it takes a patient and caring mind to let it sink in.

    You are on the right track. Don’t take that day job. We need you too much our here.

    1. I think everyone thinks it, Karl. Or most people daydream about something else some of the time, anyway. Grass-is-greener syndrome.

      I’m not leaping just yet. But in case I didn’t make it clear, if and when I go, it will be a choice, not a capitulation. The next adventure, even if it’s of a pretty mellow variety.

      Thanks for the vote of support, though!

  8. Colleen, When people ask what you do, couldn’t you say “I’m a writer”? That’s what you do so well, even (especially?) the poetry you claim to know nothing about how to do. You craft words in a wonderful way – I hope you write a book!

  9. Ah, my least favorite question! I’m glad I’m not the only one with this problem answering “So, what do you do?”

    My old, flustered San Francisco answer, “I do work for a guy,” is actually becoming a fave in retrospect.

    However, as I become clearer about what I want to do (photography/writing), I’m also more likely to get in trouble in casual chats as evidenced in “Slippery Slope” and “A loser with perfect eyebrows “.

    However, I’ve also made some headway on this issue:
    Spaztastic! Coming to you live from the realm of reason…”

    Still hate being asked though. :)

  10. hey, colleen – I understand your angst and feel it also being a fellow Virgo but you are writing amazing stuff all the time so you are already doing this writing business and reaching many. The ‘I want to write’ is so vague as a life goal but so compelling and difficult to measure. I have the reverse shuffle of the day job full-time plus and the elusive writing goal that fits in around the edges, though the blogging helps immensely with the latter. I agree with Randi – just say ‘I’m a writer’.

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