Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jobs I have hated: 1

Working on an architecture magazine as an editorial assistant

This job made me realise that I have to do something that I can in some way be passionate about or intrigued by. I know that many, many fine people would see this as a great job, or at least a great industry, but it's just not me.

I was more intrigued by sewage treatment in my next job (corporate PR) than I was by high-end architecture. The houses were stunning, but they didn't make me feel anything. They were so detached from my life, and most people's lives.

Writing copy for an engineering magazine, at least no one expects you to find it fascinating. (And actually, translating extremely technical concepts into plain English and tangible outcomes is an immensely satisfying challenge.)

Editing pretentious, utterly humourless copy about buildings and their oh-so-stylish creators is not especially challenging.

Maybe I am being a little unfair. I also hated this job because I was unexpectedly bad at it. My copy about building materials and household appliances for the advertorial supplement was riddled with errors and inconsistencies (to my initial shock).

I was called into the director's office and told to be more careful, asked why my work was so much less than he'd expected from my interviews and sample work.

I was terrible at this job, at least partly, because I was deeply depressed and going through one of the worst times of my life. My personla life was a confusing mess and I wasn't coping. I was on antidepressants and I was messing with my doses and my mind was operating at 100kph. Erractically so.

I couldn't produce consistent work because my mind wasn't working consistently.

So I quit after a month, with no job to go to. I just couldn't face being so awful at a job I didn't even like. And I didn't know when I'd be any better.

I went to Adelaide instead, escaping my personal problems and (a little bit) the question of what to do next. I slept on my dad's couch, and I went to Adelaide Writers' Week every day, where I sunned on the lawns with a friend. And I cried right there on the grassy slopes, with big black sunglasses and a big black hat for shelter; because I was a f***-up and I had Blown It.

Then I heard an inspiring young writer I had never heard of talk about his life in an Israel-under-siege. He was funny and clever and eloquent and politically balanced (difficult in Israel) and I really wanted to write about him.

So, from the depths of my existential despair, I rang the editor of a magazine I liked, and asked if he would publish an interview with this author, if I could get one.

He said yes.

Slowly, from there, my life began to pick up again.

And I don't regret quitting that job at all.


Ms Batville said...

A nice and inspiring story and a lovely blog. I look forward to reading more :0)

redcap said...

Was it Etgar Keret at Writers' Week 2004? I heard him too and found him inspiring. I meant to buy The Nimrod Flipout, but the book tent had run out :(

As for writing about houses, I feel your pain. From time to time I work on a house magazine and write about everything from display homes to sheets. I'm not very good at it either and it certainly isn't adding to the world's knowledge.

And I'm with Ms Batville - I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog too :)

Ariel said...

Ms Batville: Aw, shucks ... thanks. I have to say that story cheered me up, at a time I am about to leap back into the scary freelance world.

Redcap: Yes! It was. Apparently he was the 'surprise hit' of Writers' Week that year, and I THINK he sold the most books, too. Deservedly so. He just had so many amazing stories. (And his work was pretty good, too.) :)

Glad I'm not the only one who hates writing those 'lifestyle' things. I feel like I SHOULD get it, but I just don't.

(And thanks to you, too!)

Kate said...

I've been working for four years on electronics and lifestyle mags. I'm actually quite good at it, in a hackish kind of way, despite hating it. (And hate it I do.)

redcap said...

I love Writers' Week :) I came this close to getting an interview with John Berendt this year, but his evil PR cancelled at the last minute, curse her. I did manage to get Robert Drewe, though.

Freelancing is a bit of a scary world, isn't it? Like you, I quit a job earlier this year without another one to go to.

I think it's good that we don't get the whole lifestyle thing, frankly. Maybe it's a Gen X thing? ;) If you can, get a copy of Shelley Gare's The Triumph of the Airheads and read "The world is my oyster shell". It made me realise exactly why I hate lifestyle.

Ariel said...

Redcap: I love Writers' Week, too. It's my fave literary festival - not only is it free, but you can laze on the lawns in the gorgeous Adelaide sun. And it generally attracts great authors. This year's was MUCH better than the Melbourne Writers' Festival. I was lined up to interview Robert Fisk but pulled out because I felt underprepared (I'd taken his book on my honeymoon and oddly enough, didn't get to it). You can't front up to Robert Fisk without reading his 1000 page + book. But did you hear him?! He was amazing.

Freelancing is liberating and terrifying all at once.

And yes, I read that book and found it both highly amusing and scarily apt on many topics (though not all).

Kate: If someone has to write lifestyle articles (and they do), I'm glad it's someone who has a healthy sense of irony about it all - even if they can't let it show.

redcap said...

I have a healthy fear of Robert Fisk (something like the fear of God, I imagine). I suspect that I would be taken down in flames if I even tried to interview him. I heard him as part of a panel, but not on his own - I think Sandy McCutcheon was with him, but I can't remember who the other writer was and I can't find my Writers' Week program to refresh my memory.

Ariel said...

One of the other writers (the other one I thought was amazing) was Mark Danner, who writes for the new Yorker. And yes, I thought my fear was pretty healthy, though a friend of mine thought I was insane. 'You don't stand up Robert Fisk!' No,and you don't disrespect him (and make a fool of yourself)by interviewing him without reading the book either. As his publicist suggested I do. ('You have the press release'.) ?!