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Odd jobs

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Money is always on my mind. Whether I like it or not. Don’t get me wrong – not like the famous philosopher and poet, Snoop Dogg, has put it ‘With my mind on my money and my money on my mind’, because it is not my money that I keep thinking of. Dear reader, I am, to the disappointment of my early self, an economist.

As a child, all I wanted to be is an artist. Because it doesn’t matter how much money you make, it is how you make the money. That’s true social capital, no? I had a problem specifying in which arts I would like to excel in, so I tried a little bit of everything and waited for Inspiration. Not surprisingly given this attitude, my childhood fantasy stayed unfulfilled. But life took its course, and I have finally discovered my talent. One day I accidentally ended up in an Accounting 101 class. Deus ex machina. In that very moment, I knew – flows and balances, assets and liabilities – the unknown Muse has called and all I could do was to follow.

Nowadays, I spend most of my money on education and the remaining on surviving, as most of the students do. I guess, in this respect, I am living at least a part of my dream – a martyr on a quest, slaving my time away in various part-time jobs. Except, it is not this dramatic at all. I enjoy the daily distraction of odd jobs, meeting people I would never otherwise meet and exposing myself to situations that make me grow in ways I did not predict. Similarly, I love listening to stories of how other people lives and careers have unravelled and the unexpected turns they had to take to reach their goals – finding in them a source of reassurance for a constantly struggling student. To me, such anecdotes sound almost magical, especially when they involve literary geniuses, so here I share a couple of stories of authors and their odd odd jobs.  

Bohumil Hrabal is probably the king of odd jobs. He worked as a steelworker, a legal trainee assistant and a paper baler, to name just a few professions, the last one inspiring his most famous novel Too loud a solitude. Reading Hrabal, one finds themselves perplexed by a constant clashing of worlds – philosophical musings are intertwined with thoughts on perfect bosoms and cold beer. Hrabal is like a Greek philosopher, passing his time in a neighbourhood bodega; a persona that in Czech is called a ‘pábitel’. And in all certainty, his winding career path had something to do with it.

William Faulkner has spent some time working at a post office and became famous for his disregard of the job, as he was notoriously caught throwing away post and playing bridge. However, it did inspire him to produce a unique piece of art in a form of the boldest resignation letters in the history:

‘As long as I live under the capitalist system I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. This, sir, is my resignation.’

Kurt Vonnegut was much more entrepreneurial than his dark, all-given-up kind of humour may indicate (as he wrote in ‘The Breakfast of Champions’: “Seems like the only kind of job an American can get these days is committing suicide in some way”). Vonnegut became an owner of the first Saab dealership in America, an experience that later fuelled the story of Dwayne Hoover, a car salesman on the edge of mental breakdown.

Jack London, a legendary adventure seeker also held one of the most legendary job titles. Unsatisfied with his wage at a pickle factory, he decided to pursue a more profitable, yet dangerous path. He bought a boat named Razzle-Dazzle and became an oyster pirate. It is a Robin Hood style profession involving raiding the San Francisco Bay (monopolised after collusion of several oyster-giants) and selling fresh oysters at fairer prices on local markets. Funnily enough, just a couple of months later, when his boat became damaged, London left the dark side and started working at California Fish Patrol, an organisation policing the coast and, among others, fighting oyster pirates; an experience that has inspired a series of short stories ‘Tales of the Fish Patrol’.

Octavia Butler made her mark as a genius sci-fi writer. As an African-American woman in the industry dominated by white males, it took serious determination and years of poorly paid jobs before she was able to rise to success. Among these jobs there is one that stands out as utterly ridiculous – Butler spent some time working as a potato chip inspector. Most likely, a poor source of inspiration for a writer. Then again – abstract enough to pass as a sci-fi style occupation.


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