In case you’ve ever wondered, I’ve made my living up to this point within the newspaper industry. Along with the other members of my family, I’ve helped run an independent distributorship, with the New York Times as the centerpiece of a variety of publications we’ve handled (Now you know how I can be so phenomenally well-informed; I’ve had free access to all sorts of publications and newspapers). That will apparently all come to an end by June 1st, which has come as a slightly nasty surprise. It’s just a dying industry doing everything it can in a futile effort to cut costs. The Walmarts of the industry are gobbling up the mom ‘n’ pops. There’s still some details up in the air, but when I asked my Magic 8-Ball if it was indeed time to make a career change, it said, “All Signs Point To Yes.”
The thought of a different line of work isn’t that traumatic; after all, I’ve worked for years in conditions that would send our self-made, independent, don’t-need-nothin’-from-nobody teabaggers sprinting back to their paid vacations, sick days, and employer-provided health plans faster than you could say “Fuck John Galt.” It has frequently been brutal, but feeling content with having done my best, I can imagine being just as content to move on to a job that allows me a break once in a while. It’s just that this has been my entire life. From the time I was six years old, struggling to stay awake past midnight on a Saturday night to go with my dad to deliver Sunday’s Washington Post so I could keep a copy of the big color comics section for myself, to sweeping up the warehouse and emptying the trash as a teenager, to starting part-time work as a Sunday inserter on the cold morning of my fifteenth birthday, to running a small route before school my entire senior year, to going full-time immediately after graduation, running home delivery routes, driving bulk delivery, and even doing office work on the computer at home, my whole life has been spent in the newspaper industry. Finally reaching this point makes me feel very, very old all of a sudden. The finality of it really does hurt, even though we’ve known it was coming for a long time.
The most menacing aspect of all this change is the possibility of not being able to keep making mortgage payments. I’d hate to have to sell my house and find something cheaper, but I also don’t want to start working longer than I want in jobs I hate; those kinds of compromises tend to snowball, in my experience. One of the guys working for us works seven part-time jobs, cobbling them together to make one full-time income. I don’t want to spend all my time working just to have a place to sleep during the few hours when I’m not working that I never have time to appreciate because I’m too busy working just to pay for it. It’s the same reason I always resisted my dad’s efforts to get me to take over the business, or to run my own distributorship. I’d rather drive around in the middle of the night doing grunt work than spend twenty hours a day in the office, talking to people from New York, D.C., White Sulphur Springs and Charlotte all the time. I wouldn’t want my dad’s existence for anything. And seeing him the other day, weary look and hard lines on his face, sparse grey hair disheveled, stubble on his cheeks, talking in a soft, resigned voice about how he would have thought 28 years of service to the NYT with no problems would have meant something, makes me all the more determined to not spend my life chasing after that kind of security. I’d rather chew my own leg off than feel stuck in an indefinite trap like that.
I wish I could have had more time to feel more secure financially, but I’d rather amputate if necessary and find a way to live a simpler life that allows me to do the things that make life worth living to begin with — reading, writing and music. I have no career ambition. I just want to do something I’m competent at, that I don’t hate too much, that allows me the time and energy to pursue my hobbies.
You know what’s funny? The most sinking feeling I got as I listened to this news was wondering if I would have time to keep writing the way I do. My schedule as it stands allows me plenty of time to be online during the day, and I don’t even have to worry about a boss peeking over my shoulder or perusing my browsing habits. But the thought of having to work a “normal” job, having no time until late in the day to read and write online, is really quite scary. I don’t know how things will shake out in the next couple months, but it seems clear enough to me that as long as I can afford Internet access and a few hours a day of spare time, I need to keep doing this, and I don’t want to slip below my nearly-a-post-a-day average. It’s part of the bedrock of my mental health, such as it is.
I suppose I could start entertaining the thought of a marriage of convenience…