I’m a Writer And I Walk Dogs: The Archetypal Struggle Of The Day Job

I crawled through traffic for an hour to get to the Santa Monica office where I learned I would be “writing” about famous people’s birthdays for eight hours a day. I asked how it was even possible to do that, to which my potential boss replied, “There are a lot of famous people, and they all have birthdays.” 

Here’s the thing. This guy floored me with his enthusiasm. The office had a laid-back vibe featuring a ping pong table and a taqueria located just around the corner. All the signs seemed to point toward accepting the offer, but when I thought about the everyday reality of working in an office compiling birthdays, I had to be honest with him and myself. 

There are no good jobs or bad jobs, but there is such a thing as a good or bad fit. The stints I had sitting at desks, constantly blasted by artificially cooled air with my eyes locked on a screen all day, just. about. killed me. I’ve had a hard time accepting that the traditional work environment may never work for me, eliminating an array of conventional post-grad jobs. I had to figure out plan B.

Enter dog walking.

I went to meet the owners of a small business who were equally nice and approachable. And I’m sure they noticed my eyes glaze over with tunnel-visioned joy as I zeroed in on the dog they brought with them. Did I mention I love dogs? I do. They explained that dog walking wasn’t all about skipping through meadows with fluffy puppies and double rainbows. Since I started six months ago, there have been unforeseen challenges. For instance, traffic happens. Dingle berries are never as adorable as the name would suggest. And every now and then I’m alone in someone’s kitchen when they come home unexpectedly, which can be awkward to navigate. 

But for the most part, it has been a skip through the meadows. I get to spend my afternoons strolling through Beverly Hills in a sunhat and chauffeuring pups around town listening to NPR. The dogs jump for joy when they see me (something no human client of mine has ever done . . . yet) which makes me feel like I’m doing divine work. Most days, I walk between noon and 4pm, hours I would otherwise be spending eating a sad desk salad and fighting off the urge to nap. 

Another plus: I do my best thinking while moving. The freedom of thought I have while dog walking has been the major selling point. Since I started this job, I’ve never been more productive creatively. I’ve managed to write a screenplay, forty blog posts, and a handful of short stories. As a professor of mine used to say, they may all be suicide pancakes, but you need those sloppy, greasy ones to prep for the perfect stack. It’s very possible that hovering around the poverty line has lit a fire under my ass, but I also think it’s because my job isn’t draining the life out of me. 

I shouldn’t have to defend the joy I get out of writing while still being able to make rent, and for the most part, I don’t have to. That is, excusing awkward small talk with my parents’ and grandparents’ friends (you know, old people). It’s a simple question packed with implications: what do you do? When confronted with this question by a pretentious retiree, I shrivel up into a pathetic wad of insecurity. “Dog walker” does not get the nod of approval that “law student” or “marketing assistant” typically warrant. This often crushes my inner approval-seeking child.

But here's my tiny soapbox.

The prevailing attitude that you are your job is changing. Despite pervasive rumors that Millennials are lazy and unfocused, we’re proving to be innovative in ways that transcend the soon-be-be utterly outdated 9-to-5 landscape. We’re trading in steady, ladder-runged climbs for freelancing and flexibility; trading in high-paying and often soul-crushing positions for jobs that make a social and civic impact . . . or simply turn our own gears.

Meaning is beginning to take precedence over money. Surely this is an exciting evolution. Why I’m looking for approval from a generation I don’t wish to emulate, I do not know. 

I think we young folks sometimes forget that it’s both rare and incredibly lucky to transition from college into the career of their dreams. And frankly, most of us have no clue what that dream job even looks like. Assuming that every 23-year-old knows what they'd like to do for the rest of our lives sounds unrealistic and exhausting because it is.

Still, I place immense pressure on myself to have it all figured out. Resistance comes in the form of fearing one choice will exclude the long list of other futures I imagine for myself. Considering the medical advances making it possible for us to live well past a century, choosing a career for the next 80+ years feels that much more daunting. 

I think of Sylvia Plath and figs during moments like these:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”​

Granted, much of this insecurity stems from feeling like I can’t call myself a writer yet. On the distant horizon exists a mark I haven’t yet reached. Whether it be publication or payment, I don’t know that I’ll ever get there. But nobody gets into the writing game for the big cash money. And art has never been about pleasing everyone. Writing simply does for me what long walks do for small dogs; it makes me tired and happy.

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And that should be enough.

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