Help Wanted: Writer

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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.

On Fucking as a Phenomenon

It’s the end of 2018. Besides an overabundance of absurd political drama, lots of people in our society (that would be America, or Los Estados Unidos) are as concerned with fucking as ever. Possibly more.

Back in the day…when I was a young woman, the word “fuck” was a curse word reserved for times you were really, really upset, or else kids would insert it into their vernacular to try to be cool. “yeah, fucking COOL, man” was a highly popular slang term at the time. But by now, the word “fuck” has been co-opted by, well, nearly everyone under fifty in this society. From little kids who have no clue what the word actually means, to Millennials on the bus, and pretty near everyone in-between.

Others talk about fucking as an activity, sort of like a sport that some follow. “Oh, he was fucking her, but then she let him know she wasn’t into him anymore, so now she’s fucking his roommate.”  The word is regularly used as an modifier: “fucking RIGHT.” Or, the ever ubiquitous “What the FUCK??!!”  Now, please don’t get the idea that I’m a prude or anything. I have personally used or done all that I’ve described above. The issue is that the term is just, mmm, slightly overused by now, wouldn’t you agree?

fuck_you_very_much_jezebel
image via https://jezebel.com/in-defense-of-the-word-fuck-1555610538

The word itself has interesting roots. According to Etymonline[1], until recently it was

“a difficult word to trace in usage, in part because it was omitted as taboo by the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary when the “F” entries were compiled (1893-97). Fuck wasn’t in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. “The Penguin Dictionary” broke the taboo in the latter year. Houghton Mifflin followed, in 1969, with “The American Heritage Dictionary,” but it also published a “Clean Green” edition without the word, to assure itself access to the public high school market.”

There are different theories as to its actual origins, but some good linguistic guesses place it as coming from Germanic and/or Scandinavian words like “ficken. They often have additional senses, especially ‘cheat,’ but their basic meaning is ‘move back and forth.’ … Most probably, fuck is a borrowing from Low German and has no cognates outside Germanic.”[2]

My, we’ve come a long way from the late 19th century, haven’t we! Especially because the word has such popular derivatives, such as fucked, fuck it, fuck off, fucked up, fuck you, motherfucker, cluster fuck, and my favorite (that I just learned from Etymonline), fuckwit. During the 16th century (and probably earlier), the word fuck was considered vulgar English, meaning common, ordinary or of the herd. In 2018, though it’s still vulgar (probably more so than ever), it’s no longer forbidden from either dictionaries or everyday English usage.

Aside from its popularity as an adverb, the stubborn truth is that people in the United States (and plenty of other lands) are absolutely obsessed with copulation. There are probably upwards of about ten million things that humans could concern themselves with, throughout the course of any day. And, clearly some are thinking about some of those ten million things. But. Fucking, the thought of fucking, who is fucking who (or who ISN’T fucking who any longer), and an endless list of the nuances around these base thoughts seem to take up the majority of people’s grey matter.

Is it because humans cannot get a grip on their hormone levels? Doesn’t that start to regulate after about age 25? Or maybe it’s because climate change is hovering over humanity like some stupendous alien invasion, ready to destroy all life upon Earth AT ANY MOMENT, FOREVER? Or, is it possibly because people are really just extraordinarily bored, and obsessing about sex, bodily parts and all things related is a pleasant, harmless diversion?

What if we, as a species, were suddenly able to telepathically read each other’s thoughts whether we wanted to or not? A genuinely frightening notion this is, with vast implications.  I have to wonder if this were possible, would we quickly tire of thinking so very much about sex and fucking—wouldn’t it become passé once it was no longer a game created for our own amusement and titillation, and hyped to the nines by pop culture for profit margins?

Here’s a short anecdote to ponder:  Once, years ago, I met a guy I had gone to high school with. We’d been friends within a common friend group, and I’d always liked him a lot. He seemed like a thinking person to me at the time, and mused on about quantum physics and various other interesting topics that I knew nothing about. We’d been out of contact for many years. Then, in my mid-thirties, we suddenly connected through a mutual old friend. We decided to have dinner and catch up. After a couple of hours of talking and trading life stories over the last fifteen years, out of nowhere, he said aloud, “I wonder what you look like naked.” I laughed uncomfortably, and quickly changed the subject. Eventually, the evening ended and we said goodnight. Needless to say, I never saw him again. That one ill-placed remark completely ruined the evening, and my former fond memories of him forever.

There is a kind of grace to subtlety. Words well-placed, in the perfect moment, have impact. The word fuck used to have a certain power. But now? It’s lost all its former shock. Like so many other overused words, it has no more oomph, danger, or razzamatazz. Same with the continual conversation about the act of fucking. I suggest we start a revolution of thought, leading to a revolution of action. The new revolution will not be based around copulation, the most mundane act in all of nature. Instead, humans might take up thoughts like how to create a world without war, violence, or extreme inequality to while away the hours. Imagine if even a small percentage of people would shift their thinking from fucking to problem-solving, how the world might change. Overnight.

[1] https://www.etymonline.com/word/fuck#etymonline_v_14228
[2] Ibid.