Help Wanted: Writer

black and blue plastic pen non top of black covered notebook
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I have the audacity to call myself a writer. With my confidence boosted by my recent graduation from university summa cum laude, and a freshly minted minor in professional writing and a new sense of the possible, I’m ready to begin the job search. Oh boy.

So I do what any respectable college grad would do, I go online. One hour on LinkedIn leads to several rabbit holes and job boards. Before I know it, I’m on Indeed, signing up for job alerts to be conveniently delivered to my inbox. The alert—Writer.

The next day, I receive email alerts from my new friends at Indeed. The subject line: “770 jobs for writers” naturally catches my attention. I click the bait and start scrolling. As anyone who has an English degree and desire for paid work knows, there are nearly as many descriptions of writer as stars in the heavens. I read job postings for the following positions (this is the sound-byte version):

Technical writer—underwriter for insurance company—grant writer—proposal writer—software writer/engineer—advertising copy writer—marketing department web content writer—visual storyteller for another website’s marketing department—and that was in the first ninety seconds of scrolling. Lesson learned, I realize that being a writer means a lot of things to a lot of people. Sometimes it’s tough to remember I’m living in the era of hyper-technology, where bots are the first line of defense for actual, live humans that I have faith exist, somewhere.

Being a person who thinks of writing as an avocation, career, passion and creative undertaking, it’s a bit of a disappointment to see how misconstrued and misrepresented the term has come to be in our post-post modern world. We are at the point where pretty much anyone who knows how to type (on a device of any size) can call themselves a writer and get away with it. And while they may be technically correct (no doubt some dictionary definition of writer states “a person who writes words down somewhere”), to my mind, the term writer has much deeper connotations. It’s like a person who can bang out a simple tune on a guitar calling himself a musician. Or someone who opens a can of chili beans and microwaves them with a tortilla and a slice of cheese calling herself a cook. The nuance seems to be lost.

Back to the job search. Clearly, asking the Indeed bot to search for a word as generic as writer isn’t the most effective way to look for one’s dream job. I need a better strategy. So I dive into websites that showcase people doing interesting things with their lives, in fields that sound promising. After a couple of hours, I produce a list. It looks like this:

Categories of Interest

Social innovation, social entrepreneurship, human-centered design

Mentoring, coaching, facilitation, teaching

Leadership

Advocacy

Collaboration

Design Thinking

Governance

Impact Investing

Measurement & Evaluation

Organizational Development

Philanthropy & Funding

Scaling

Technology

These words appeared from searches stemming from the term global movement of change makers. That’s in my wheelhouse: global change, systems change, creating the new world that so many of us long for, and working towards making the dream of a sustainable, compassionate world into our global reality. The tricky part is, there’s no drop down menu of options that includes those words, sadly enough. The bots are artificially intelligent and can’t possibly understand a person like me who doesn’t fit into neat categories or even sectors. People like me have it harder than those graduates who have an easy answer to the question “what’s your degree in?” They can smile and say, “Bachelor of science in Computer Information Systems” or “Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice” and just about everyone immediately gets it. Business Administration majors are numerous, and so are jobs for them right out of school.

That’s not the case for us English majors and minors, however. People seem both intrigued and confused, or worse, slightly arrogant, once you confide that you hope to get a paid job as a writer. Their lips curl ever so slightly, their eyes glassy, and they’ll suddenly need to be somewhere else five minutes ago. What is it about the English language that so intimidates people? A lot of things, as it turns out. Take the average university English department, for example. Within that one department lurk scholars of many English stripes—literature, linguistics, composition and technical writing, creative writing, film and screenwriting, poetry, children’s literature and even graphic novel experts. Within those categories one can find even narrower fields of scholarship, like experts in medieval English manuscripts, 17th century Romantic poetry, or 20th century film noir genres. Specialization is the key to success in higher education. Where does that leave us multipotentialites?

In a world full of marketers, advertisers, techies, financial managers and engineers, it can feel like those of us who are passionate about using words creatively, with heart and soul, for the purpose of inspiring people to think about the world and what we are doing to it, are traveling a singularly lonely road. However, creative writers are a tenacious bunch. When you’ve got something that you feel is important to say, you can’t give up. You can’t let technology bots and content manipulators get you down. You just keep listening, and writing stuff down. The bus patron’s casual conversation with the bus driver on the commute home might just become your next blog post.

The Wild Ride of November

 

Get_ass_out_vote
Art by @jrbrook, #GoVote

What a wild ride we are on! It’s unimaginable to me that anyone in the United States wasn’t paying attention to the midterm elections held last week. However, I know that plenty of folks really could care less what happens in Washington D.C., or in their state or local governments.

In these times, I am continually reminded that what’s important to one person is not important to the next. The reasons for this phenomenon are complex—I’m not even going to pretend to be able to answer that one intelligently. I notice it all the time, from news reports to overheard conversations, from classmates’ observations to professors’ lectures, and of course, via the dreaded social media. Our differences are becoming ever more etched in relief, and it’s a constant practice to remember, and also focus on, our similarities. How can one species called homo sapiens be at such incredible odds with itself? And, even more importantly, how can we reconcile all our seemingly vast differences in order to create the new world that so many of us long for?

Last week. Last week and the preceding weeks leading up to the midterm elections were, in a word, frenetic. They were also anxiety-producing and crazy. Candidates’ campaigns reached unprecedented levels of delirium, with a slight edge of hysteria over the weekend before Tuesday’s polls opened.  By late Monday, I was deleting emails hourly; on Tuesday morning I received dozens of emails imploring me to GO VOTE!! Did I have a plan for voting? Did I have or need a ride to get to the polling place? I wasn’t going to forget to vote, was I? Forget?? How would that even be a thing in 2018? I wondered, as I hit delete, delete, delete. Then there were text messages—Support! Go do it! Knock on people’s doors! Text! Above all, Show UP, for Goodness Sake!! Our democracy depends on YOU. The Blue Wave is coming, if you show up and Do The Right Thing.

A super-sized dose of responsibility was heaped upon each and all of us on November 6th. We were hammered by hundreds of organizations to do our citizen’s duty and exercise our RIGHT to vote for the candidates and ballot measures and amendments of our choice. The thing is, it’s not so easy to get a handle on just what exactly we’re for and what we’re against. Watching mainstream media ads certainly won’t help anyone understand the issues or get to the truth of what the candidates stand for. We need a different system, and a whole lot more civic education, period.

Americans know we are collectively living through an age of disinformation, misinformation, false information, and just plain too much information. Some days I feel like everybody and their brother and sister are jumping on the bandwagon and standing up shouting at the crowd. Only by now, the crowd is made up of hundreds of millions in America alone, not to mention the billions of other people around the world who are also watching and listening to the craziness. Metaphors become meaningless against the sheer tsunami of voices competing for our attention on a 24/7 basis.

About that Blue Wave? Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic, “A “blue wave” that is widely decided, in the course of a day, to be neither blue nor a wave: Here is one challenge of reporting in metaphor. And here is a reminder as well that, at this particular moment in American life, metaphor might be all we have.”

Words matter. Or do they? It depends on whose words, at what moment they’re uttered or written, and also, on who’s listening. As a writer, I struggle with making meaning and sense, with writing thoughts that have substance, with choosing words that cause people to reflect, ponder, and consider things that they hadn’t before. Any serious writer acknowledges that it’s difficult, tedious work. Writers attempt to convey, through small symbols on the page (either physical or virtual) what is inside their mind and  heart, then offers it to the world in hopes of gifting the others with something inspiring, humorous, moral, ethical, or otherwise “important.” Yet, at least as often as not, the writer will fail. He will fail to reach people for any one of a thousand reasons. She will be unable to touch people’s hearts through her words. He will not inspire those he most wants to affect. The game ends in stalemate far too often.

But we writers don’t easily give up. As absurd as it may be, we continue to offer our words, our thoughts, our black symbols on the page out to the world. I recently heard a story of a young man who put out his writing to publisher after publisher, receiving nothing but rejection letters back. This went on for months; after a while he began pasting them up in his apartment as a kind of testimony to his willingness to endure rejection. More than one hundred letters later, his luck changed when a publisher decided to accept his manuscript. Sometimes patience pays off.

Back to the midterms. It hasn’t even been a week since Americans went to the polls, and it’s already feeling a bit like old news. Today is Sunday, 11-11-18, a significant day for many, depending on your perspective. It marks the hundred-year anniversary of the end of World War I. For others, 11-11 is a spiritually important day, signifying a greater influx of light onto our world from the cosmos. For still others, it’s just another Sunday to hang out, drink beer, and watch a football game. Meaning lies in the significance an individual attaches to the object of one’s attention. Cosmic forces coming to awaken humanity, the end of the Great War, or the winners of the football match—you decide.

Here’s an interesting article from New Republic, on how the Blue Wave was built ahead of the Midterms.  https://newrepublic.com/article/152130/outsider-democrats-built-blue-wave.  You can be sure that last week’s wave was only the beginning of a greater storm building between now and 2020, and metaphor will continue as a useful tool for writers in describing the chaotic times ahead.