by Diane Hoover Bechtler
Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. — Tolstoy
The same could be said for jobs. Every good job is good in a similar way. Every bad job is bad in its own particular way.
I had dropped out of college and was reeling from that failure. Now I had to get a job.
I had no skills. I did not learn to type because I feared getting stuck behind a typewriter. I had majored in art and wanted to make my living as a fine artist. I was young and naïve at that time.
I did not get stuck behind a typewriter. Something much worse waited for me.
I accepted an entry-level position in the office of an envelope manufacturing company.
I operated a mimeograph machine. Mimeograph machines existed before current copiers/Xerox machines/computers. Look in history books and you’ll see a picture of one near the first printing press.
The first part of my day involved proofreading orders for envelopes. These orders ran in the hundreds of thousands. Some company might order 500,000 white corner-address printed number 10 envelopes (that would be most common kind). Proofreading was very important. Not creative, but important. One mistake could cost the company a lot of money. When I found a mistake, I took the order back to the typist to be corrected. When the order was finally perfect, I could mimeograph my copies. The paper was stacked in a certain order. After the copies were made, I separated everything into piles by color. Then I distributed them. Pink went to sales, yellow went to distribution, pale blue went to the customer, and the master copy stayed with me.
At the end of the day, I mailed all the pale blue copies to the customers. This acknowledged their order. Pink, yellow, blue. Pink, yellow, blue. Pink, yellow, blue. Pink, yellow, blue.
My apathy was punctuated by midmorning break, lunch, afternoon break, and the mailing of the orders. The job induced ennui. It required a lot of attention to detail, but it was dull. The job was the definition of tedium. It was so stultifying and boring that I was certain I would live forever because every hour lasted a year. I didn’t want to live forever like this. It was a trap. It was hell. And who wants to live forever in hell? The highlight of my day was sharing knowledge of what happened on my favorite soap opera. I think the other workers were as bored as I was. At least the salespeople got to leave the building and called on clients during the day. This became an idea for me. Perhaps I could get into sales. However, I was not passionate about going into sales.
I learned much from that job. I learned that one needs something they’re passionate about. I learned one should be careful what one gets good at. I became very proficient in my lethargy.
I learned one should only get good at things that arouse passion. Only then is eternal life a good idea.
After one year at the envelope company, I began night classes in commercial art at the local community college. I took all the night classes that were offered. Then I had to choose what to do next, since I had decided not to live forever.
If you want to live forever, take a really boring job. Pink, yellow, blue, pink, yellow, blue Pink, yellow, blue, pink, yellow, blue. Yawn.
After three years of tedium, I quit and went back to school during the day to finish my commercial art degree. Altogether, it took me four years to get a two-year degree. But then I was qualified to get a job that would give me satisfaction. It was not so easy to get rid of the envelope manufacturing company. My job had been filled with detail. I had to train the next two people (women) who took the job. Many times, the president of the company made me offers to come back. No offer was good enough. I would rather have sold my soul to the devil, so I was off to my next adventure in commercial art, one that would last many years.
When I went back to school, my uncreative husband became jealous. My former coworkers wanted nothing more to do with me. They also were jealous. My husband and I divorced and I went forward to have a successful commercial art career. But I was still disappointed in myself for not having finished my bachelor’s degree. About 25 years later I returned to school again. I was in my 50s by then. When when I was 54, I finished a bachelor’s degree in English and graduated summa cum laude. I went on to earn my Masters degree in fine arts in creative writing. The husband I had at that point became jealous also. We divorced partially because of my return to school. School caused divorces in my life. Whatever. I have to live with myself no matter what.
When I have writers block, I remember the long repetitious days processing envelope orders. Remembering that job causes a rush of inspiration, and I write like crazy knowing I do not have to process envelope orders ever again. Boring jobs have been very educational for me. When I am bored, I return to school. Perhaps I’ll finish a PhD one day.
Diane Hoover Bechtler lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, poet Michael Gross, and their cat, Call Me IshMeow. As well as writing short work, she is looking for an agent for her memoir, which is about learning to live with brain disease. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Queens University where she graduated summa cum laude and subsequently earned her MFA. She has had short work published in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Thema, Literary Journal, Pangolin Press, Bewildering Stories, Everyday Fiction and The Dead Mule, School of Southern Literature.