09 July 2009

What's My Line?


I get paid to read. Yep. If you are a serious reader, you recognize how cool that is. There's a little bit more to the job of editing - correcting computer files and styling them for the designers, negotiating with authors without alienating them - but the heart of the job is reading critically and uncovering all manner of infelicities.* Editors make writers look good. It's an important job, although not highly compensated, except sometimes intellectually.

But, if you can believe it, I'm fortunate enough to be able to say that reading for a living is not the coolest job I've ever had. Not by a long shot.

I used to work at Old Frontier Town. We had donkeys and goats on the streets, a shootout every noon, a hanging at two, and gift shops in all the little buildings of the town. A steamtrain was molested by outlaws on the hour. The guy in the jail sold t-shirts, and the couple in the trading post sold penny candy and all manner of hillbilly paraphernalia (such as the hillbilly switchblade, which was made from one and a half clothespins and a rubber band). I was in the undertaker's selling handmade baskets.

I dressed in a prairie dress with an apron - yards and yards of pastel cotton print - and wore a bonnet when I went out on the street. It was if the baskets I made were magic. No matter how many I made after hours, I could never keep my shop well stocked. Baskets, cradles, chairs with caned seats flew out of the shop and went home with tourists from all over the world. No one told me what to make or how to make it. I kept raising my prices, and customers kept buying. It was a charmed life.

Was that the best job I've ever had? No.

I once worked as an assistant to The Amazing Gregor, magician extraordinaire. His wife was pregnant and had to stay off her feet, so she coached us, lying on an antique chaise in the back of the theater. I got the job partly because I fit the wardrobe, and every day I got to choose whatever gown and fancy heels I wanted to wear on stage.

Twice a day and three times on Saturdays I was cut in three parts and reassembled. Two blades of surgical steel! Gregor would shout and crash the blades together like cymbals before he pushed a blade across my knees and another across my chest. For that illusion, I screamed on cue. I agreed not to disclose his secrets.

We had rabbits and doves and self-lighting cigarettes. Umbrellas with hollow handles and magnetic playing cards. A box with a false bottom and a carton with a hinged door in the back. A box that made Gregor's head disappear. Flash paper and Chinese rings and a straightjacket.

And applause.

Well, I can't choose. I've had great jobs. Jobs you wanted to be on time for. Jobs that were more fun than not. Jobs you can't believe someone would pay you for.

What is the best job you've ever had? What job would you have if there were no limitations on your imagination? Whose job would you like to do for a day?



*Other kinds of editors exist, but this is not a lesson in publishing, so I'll leave that subject for another time.

9 comments:

Monique said...

Your stories are great! I've never sat and thought about a "dream" job, but if I could take a totally different career path, I would love to work with animals ALL DAY LONG! I'm a mommy to a crab, a dog, and three ferrets! :)

amy grace said...

I was JUST THINKING, just before reading your post: "I need to figure out how to get a job as an editor." How does one get into the field?

My dream job: gardener

Evil Twin's Wife said...

I'm cool with being a stay at home mom. The pay is lousy, but the kisses are worth it. :-)

The Green Stone Woman said...

I have never had a dream job, but I would love to be a librarian and see all the new books come in and organize them. Of course, I would get to read them all first.

powdergirl said...

I wanted to be the Lone Ranger when I was little. It just looked the ideal job to me.
I took my horse one summer night and tried to run away to Hollywood. I was about 7 years old.
Manitoba to California is a pretty long haul for a little kid. I didn't get far, and my horse went home without me : (

SugarCain said...

Monique: I also think working with animals would be rewarding. My Pixie wants to be the poster girl for rescued dogs.

amy grace: email me and I'll give you the scoop. Publishing is changing all the time, though.

ETW: Your job isn't easy. I've never done it full time, because I am not that strong. But the pay is the best.

Green Stone Woman: Oh, shoot. I should have included my job as a library page. It was a great one too. I got to process all the new books and pick out books to be delivered to the shut-ins. I kept a little list of their preferences.

powdergirl: I hope you feel better. When I was young I wanted to be in the roller derby. :D

Sweet Pea said...

Being a successful artist in high demand would be my dream job. To create what ever stuck me, in whatever media on a daily basis and to make a good living doing it.
Now that's dreaming!

I used to want to be a book cover illustrator so I would be among the first to read a new book.

Another dream job if money wasn't an issue would be a full time free service of finding and returning lost pets to their owners. I lost a pet once and it was devastating not ever knowing what happened to my Sophie. It breaks my heart to read the lost pet posters and ads in the classifieds but I do on the off chance that I will see someones baby and catch and return it.

Jennifer said...

I thought I was jealous about your editing job, but now I'm astounded and newly jealous about your great variety of fabulosity.

My dream job...it might be spy, or famous author. I'll have to think about that one. I know my dream character trait would be the ability to make up my mind about what I want to be when I grow up. ;-)

Lydia said...

I want to have my job be art.

The best job I ever had was as a rare book preservation technician at the Rush Rhees library at the University of Rochester, where I went to college.

We had a huge Victoriana collection, as well as John Gardner's and John Updike's original manuscript. It was heaven - a quiet place where you tread lightly and handled things gently.

I had a wonderful boss as well who cooked for us and gave us wine.

At the end of the day, we walked out into the marble beauty of the library and went back to real life.

Sadly, it's been real life ever since. ;)