Zen Moving was something I made up in a joking effort to keep my moving crews from killing my customers.
“We are service professionals. We are the Warrior Gods of the Relocation Industry and we are held to a higher standard than the lesser trades. The onus of that professionalism is that we are duty bound to comport ourselves as larger beings. The Zen Mover knows that the job is everything. And nothing. We embrace the chaos of transition and strive for oneness with the monkey and the football.”
That is something of a difficult management skill to codify. More difficult still to impart in its entirety in a resume.
“None of my guys never stabbed nobody. On the job, at least.”
The gist of my explanation to my crews was that no matter how onerous, obstinate or obnoxious a client may be, we only had to deal with them for a day or two once every five to ten years. I could handle moving Donald Trump or Leona Helmsley if the money was good and I knew I never had to see them again. It worked.
I spent nearly thirty years navigating those limited engagements. I could not imagine going to the same place with the same people to do the same thing every day. I am not wired that way. My limited experiences with corporate environments have shown me clearly that I would not survive a day there. I am an old dog trying to learn new tricks, but I know my limitations.
I am also instinctively, reflexively, inherently and absolutely a boss. I would much rather bear the consequences of my own bad decisions than to wait powerlessly for the fallout from someone else’s. Even before going into business for myself formally, (I have been in and out of the entrepreneurial since age 13) my best work for others has always been in an isolated, compartmentalized capacity. Give me the tools and materials and a room and say “Do this thing for me” and I will meet or beat any expectations.
This lifelong predilection for working independently has added to the difficult adjustment I have had with college and its focus on group work. I have pulled countless professors aside and said,
“This won’t end well. I am more of an “Army of One” guy. I will be more than happy to be my own group and do the project by myself.”
No such luck.
All of this brings me to writing for a living. The social mechanics and creative dynamics are perfect for me. The scheduling fits my 10 days on/10 days off firefighter’s preference. The training and aptitude are…………more or less there. All that leaves are; what to write and how to make money at it?
Freelancing, at least the reasonably profitable type, is not going to happen with my current lack of published work. Many of the applications I have submitted specifically excluded eBooks and ad-driven sites like Yahoo Contributor’s Network. Adding insult to injury are my pedestrian scores on grammar tests that many employers use as a barometer of a writer’s skills. I have been speaking the King’s English for better than a half-century. I can avoid using a dangling participle, but I cannot define it per se, no less pull one out of a multiple-choice lineup. The language I learned, and learned well, was learned on the playground, not in the classroom. I was doing the New York Times Sunday crossword–in pen–long before returning to college, but I have never seen an opening in a job app to trumpet that skill.
Technical writing has proven to be much too……technical. The Do-it-Yourself market is flooded with free stuff or product-placement promotional free stuff. My area of expertise, furniture moving, is ably represented in blogs and YouTube videos and web pages, all with infinitely spiffier graphics than I could ever put together. They are mostly inadequate, inaccurate or patently wrong, but the reading public does not know that. Only I do. And no one will listen to me. This occupational psychosis is probably my biggest Achilles heel as a writer. I sell the steak when I should be selling the sizzle. I focus on the factual, the professional, the things that my peers would look at and say, “He is absolutely right. That is exactly how it should be done.” I am instinctively writing for peer approval, when I should be writing for my real audience, the reading public. I am adjusting that focus as we speak.
Building on that messianic sense of my own unassailable correctness, I looked at the books on Amazon that were selling, and selling well. First and foremost was Fifty Shades of Grey. This is execrable writing. How could something so horrible be so horribly popular? I knew it was not a genre I could pull off. I went further into the bestsellers of late and got stuck on A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. This was, again, horribly written, woefully inaccurate and……wildly popular. I honestly had a problem just getting through the excerpts without screaming “BuuuuuuuuulllllllSHIT!” out loud. I was not critiquing his writer as a writer; I was critiquing it as a recovering heroin addict….who was trying to be a writer.
I compared his work to that of Stephen Reid, former Stopwatch Gang bank robber, recovering addict and author of Jackrabbit Parole. Reid is an infinitely more accomplished criminal than I ever was and a much, much, much better writer than I am. I can’t go back in time and rob 100 banks to bolster my bona fides, but I can improve my writing skills. The thing that I walked away with was that if Reid and Frey could do it, then I could too.
My newest plan, and graduate school focus, has been memoir writing. I am not enough of a narcissist to think that my experiences are that interesting or entertaining. My intent, which I am hoping is more realistic, is to use what and where I was to supply the color; the crime and sex and drugs and jail and violence. That more marketable content will hopefully generate enough appeal to get to the where I am part that details the long-range effects of felony convictions on an aging population of unemployable workers.
I am some 10,000 words into that memoir/personal essay and I haven’t made it past the age of 14 yet. I started writing this in what has undoubtedly been one of my best writing classes to date, certainly my most real world-applicable course. The course was taught by an accomplished author who brought his experiences and connections to bear throughout the semester. In addition to his own insights, he also provided guest speakers in the publishing industry and the opportunity for his students to read an excerpt from their writing at a bookstore where he read from his latest book. Perhaps the most impressive thing was that he staged a practice reading with an audience of other writing professors and more impressively still; a public speaking/performing arts coach to aid us in our delivery.
This was some rock star stuff. I definitely got my money’s worth out of this one. The access to inside information from publishing professionals convinced me that the eBook thing–a thing I had largely given up on–was a non-starter. The fear of rejection from publishing houses was at least ameliorated with the knowledge that there were newer, smaller independent publishers out there who might be more approachable. This dead, lifeless thing of an ill-conceived project was brought back into the realm of the possible.
When the class concluded and the instructor asked
“Does anyone have any final questions?”
I shot back, hoping to salvage every possible piece of usable information I could from this semester-long watershed moment.
“Yes! How do we make money at this?”
He replied with neither malice nor mercy.
“There is no money in writing. You’re still gonna have to move furniture to make a living.”