A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?
—Eccelesiastes 2:24-25 NIV®
While serving pulled pork butt sliders, jalapeno slaw, and corn bacon at a recent church men’s dinner, a friend I hadn’t seen in a while walked over to my table and struck up a conversation. We stood in the parking lot in the warm sun and talked about manly stuff, you know, engines and guns and how my team’s barbecued pork butt compared to the other twelve contestants at the cook-off. He told me about growing up with his grandmother’s baking and how, over the past few decades, he’d become quite a connoisseur of Texas sheet cake (ours didn’t contain enough pecans, but he voted for it anyway). He chatted about his family, and he filled me in on how well his work had been going, how he’d been putting in twelve to fourteen hour days in the field in the 90 degree heat, how exhausting yet thrilling it had been as his business exploded. Then he leaned in and asked me a peculiar question: “You don’t work anymore, do you?” The question smacked me back on my heels. Really? I thought. Really?!
“I’m a full-time writer and a full-time editor,” I retorted, somewhat emphatically. “And I do electronic design work on the side.” I figured mentioning the concrete reality of printed wiring boards, op-amps, and custom-wound magnetics would anchor his understanding of what I do for a living to something a bit more tangible than a 50,000 word manuscript, a notebook full of story ideas, or what I planned to post the next day on my blog page. In other words, I compensated. You see, most folks just don’t get the writing part, let alone the editing.
Days passed and his comment continued to itch at me like a chigger bite under my waistband. It seems many people believe that writers don’t actually do any work. But just because my tools are creativity and inspiration, and my medium isn’t dirt but symbols strung together on a piece of paper doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Contrary to popular belief, I do work! Hard! My butt is tethered to this chair in front of this computer every day. To the world at large, however, writing doesn’t compute as a legitimate business. To many, writing is spurious, ethereal, magic stuff. And it is. But it isn’t. So I find myself having to justify my vocation, even to myself at times. After all, it’s not everyone who gets to work and play at the same time for a living! It is labor. And like all labor, it, too, originated with Eve in the Garden.
“To Adam [God] said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,” ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life’” (Genesis 3:17 NIV®). We scribes cultivate the written word with our computers, our pens, our pencils, and our experiences. Sometimes it is painful, but there’s nothing I’d rather toil at. Writers absorb life moment-by-moment, garnering the raw material through our senses, processing our experiences through the filters of life’s awareness, mixing them with insights and connections and juxtapositions, and giving birth after much labor to an essay, an anecdote, a story, a novel, a tome . . . . Our toil produces life of the best kind!
“A man may work from dusk to dawn, but a woman’s work is never done,” goes the old saying. Watching with amazement what my beautiful wife, Mary, does for our family, I can wholeheartedly testify to the absolute veracity of that idiom. Mothers have the hardest, most rewarding, most demanding, most exhilarating labor on earth, and I salute each and every one of you from the depths of my being. But as an artist painting with words, when I dare substitute the term “writer” for “woman” in that old saying, I create another truism. Because we as writers—both men and women—work all the time. Nothing will force a writer to pay attention and really listen and observe and absorb than knowing each and every incident, event, and experience is a potential story.
My daughter, Hannah, is a Level 3 competitive gymnast. At six years old she’s as toned and fit as any athlete. One day she pointed to her stomach and said to one of the neighbor boys, “I have a six pack!”
“No you don’t!” he exclaimed.
“Yes I do!” Hannah shot back.
“No you don’t!” the boy replied. “You have to work out for a long time to get a six pack!”
“I have been working out—for six years!” Hannah declared. And she has been. But as a gymnast the girl never stops moving. She drives Mary and I from the fairway of reasonableness to the putting green of grumpiness by her constant fidgeting, climbing, cartwheeling, tumbling, and rolling; our home features a non-stop gymnastics expo right in our very own living room. In our house a chair doubles as a parallel bar, the kitchen counter provides a convenient chin-up rod, and the Pergo converts into a spring-floor when she slides the furniture to one side. Even after she falls asleep Hannah will pull her legs into a split or raise her hands over her head in a dream salute to the judges after accomplishing a successful cast followed by a flawless back hip circle underswing dismount. She may wake up with her head at the foot of the bed as she kicks, punches, fidgets, and rolls around in her sleep. As a writer, I can relate.
The other morning I woke up at 3:00 with a thought that wouldn’t leave me alone. I rolled out of bed in the pre-dawn gloom, shuffled into the bathroom, turned on the closet light, and jotted it in one of the yellow lined pads I’ve got strewn all over the house. It wasn’t as pretty as a back hip circle underswing dismount, and it may become a future insight, blog post subject, or cool quote, but that morning it was just an irritant jabbing my addled brain until I relented and wrote it down. And like Hannah’s gymnastics, even dreams can become potential stories, so I can literally say, along with Hannah, that I work 24/7. Just look at the bags under my eyes and you’ll understand . . . .
My mind never slows down, hardly resting as it pulls in data, crunches it, and spits out ideas. When I’m done with my writing stint for the day, how do I relax? I read. Yep, I curl up with a book on the couch or in bed and suck in the words another writer birthed. We writers feed each other, and nothing is more satisfying than knowing others will read our efforts, nod their heads in agreement, smile with knowing, or frown with dissention. That’s why we work so hard at this. It’s all for you.
So, yes, I am a full-time writer and a full-time editor. And I do a little bit of electronic design work on the side just so I can write about it in some future sci-fi novel that’s yet to materialize in my fidgety brain. As the Preacher said in the Book of Ecclesiastes, there’s nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in my toil. And that, my friends, is contrary to popular belief.
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes