Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Call me John M. Smyth

One of the goals I set for this year was to determine my professional future. I have joked about my lack thereof, but deep inside I knew there was more than a little truth in that.

Frankly, copywriting was always something I could do, not something I yearned to do. I was decent at it (my very first client loved my work) and I found satisfaction in doing my job well, but I never had the drive or determination required to succeed in a freelance environment. Self-promotion is the key to freelance success, and I've never been good at that. As for writing in general (beyond the advertising world), I lack the creativity. Freelance writers are expected to generate story ideas, and I just don't have any (or at least not enough). Copyediting or proofreading would probably be my ideal job, but those jobs are disappearing as victims of budget cuts and offshoring. I read enough to know there isn't much proofreading being performed these days, not even by major newspapers and publishers.

To some extent, I'd like to blame the Internet for my diminished value and prospects. Twenty years ago being a writer or a photographer was a real skill; nowadays everybody with a blog thinks he's a writer* and everyone with a flickr account thinks she's a photographer.** That's way too much competition for someone with the aforementioned lack of drive and determination. The Internet also features dozens of people who make copywriting sound like the greatest frigging job in the universe. After a while one realizes that the reason the job sounds so great is because -- duh! -- these people are professional copywriters and selling is their life. Of course they are convincing.

There are other, not particularly viable options. My wife thinks I should get a job working with animals, but I don't even like working with our animals. There's always my college degree "to fall back on", but that's practically worthless now. Even if I wanted to get back into computer programming, I've been adrift for far too long to get hired. With neither marketable skills nor driving ambition, I suppose I could just take some random McJob. But the economy is still shit, so even McJobs are hard to come by.

For much of the past few years, I have been hoping for an epiphany, an instant of clarity that would tell me what to do. As I've explained in numerous conversations, I don't need a job that pays a lot; I just want something fulfilling. In theory I could be doing something great, but I'd even settle for useful. As I've also said many times, in the capitalist economy I'm just a drag on the whole system, just sucking up oxygen.

For 130 years (until 2005), there was a chain of Chicagoland furniture stores called John M. Smyth's Homemakers. And now that's what I am, a homemaker. I'm not going to delude myself that earning $1-2,000 a year makes me "employed" in any credible sense. Is this what I'm "meant" to do in life? Doubtful, I think, but it's where I am now.

I've been answering surveys and focus groups that way for a few months***, and I think it suits me. I'm the organized one and the savvy shopper. I manage our money and pay the bills. We don't eat at home together often, but I cook 90% of the time when we do. In general, things seem to be running smoother as I've increased my role in taking care of the household. This has been evolving for many years, of course; this post isn't so much about becoming a homemaker as it is about accepting it.

So that puts to rest one of my more vexing 2012 goals. This doesn't preclude taking the odd job for extra cash, but at least for now, it is an acknowledgment that I have no professional career objectives or prospects. And I think I'm finally okay with that.

* I may appear to fit that description, but I'll argue that my experience editing college and high school newspapers 20 years ago puts me in another category. At least I have some journalistic training.

** Photography is another career path I've considered from time to time. Before digital, I knew my way around a fully manual 35mm SLR, and I get enough compliments that I consider myself a photographer rather than a snapshot taker. Over the past decade I've lost interest in photography mostly because I realized that without having kids, no one will give a shit about any of my photos when I'm gone. In that regard, photography became too much of a metaphor for my life in general.

*** It beats "unemployed loser." But seriously, that brings up one of my pet peeves: some surveys only offer the choice of "staying home with children" instead of "homemaker." Who says you have to have kids for a spouse to stay at home? I could write a whole book about the subtle and not-so-subtle prejudices against childless couples, but that's already been done.

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