I like the romance of the classifieds.
(Of course nowadays, printing anything in the newspaper has a certain romance to it, doesn’t it?)
I remember when I was seven or eight years old, my parents decided we would get a dog. Every weekend, we sat together over the Sunday paper, shopping the classifieds ads. Running our fingers down the page, our fingertips darkened with newsprint, we searched the long columns of listings, looking for the right ad that would bring us the kind of dog we wanted. I had no idea what AKC meant back then, but I knew it was a keyword to look for, like word searches we did in school, and upon finding it, my brother and I would look up and announce triumphantly that we had found one.
The act of searching the classifieds has become a film trope. At a moment when a character is changing his or her life, there’s usually a scene where they search the classifieds section, circling prospective jobs or purchases in thick marker, turning to those noisy, thin newspaper pages to find the answer for their lives. I often think of Bridget Jones’s Diary, when she has decided to leave the publishing firm where she works with Daniel Cleaver in pursuit of her own goals, dreams, and self-worth. She circles ads, goes to interviews, hilarity ensues. She is changing her life, and to do so, she is shopping the classifieds section of the newspaper.
The practice seems a bit dated when we see it now – those ads are usually online. Free services like Craigslist substitute for the old days of newsprint. Surely, there’s an app for finding the answer to how you can or should change your life.
Nonetheless, I have an appreciation for the classifieds. For the first time as an adult, since graduating from college and leaving home, I am without full-time employment. My fiancee would stop me and say that’s not true – I’m writing. That’s my job. And she’s right. I am extremely fortunate that I get to sit at my desk each day and write; many writers don’t get that opportunity, and lest anyone think I take that for granted, let me assure you, I am thankful for the time and opportunity to write my book. But make no mistake: the blessing of time and opportunity does not necessitate that writing becomes easier, nor does it mean that not having a job-job will cease to freak me out.
Even though I’m working at it, scribbling notes and fleshing out scenes in the hopes that, eventually, the structure of my novel will reveal itself and it’ll develop into a narrative someone other than I can follow, there is a creeping feeling of panic that sets in: no clocking in, no paycheck, no work clothes. I sit in my pajamas, I write, I keep house, I wait for us to move, for my manuscript to grow, for the next chapter, literally and figuratively, to begin. I’m the only one who notices if I’m late or unproductive. And because we’re in a holding pattern with only three months until we leave Virginia, I don’t really have the ability to search for employment. Not yet.
But you know what I do have: writer classifieds.
Every month or so, I get a magazine in the mail – I subscribe to both Poets & Writers and the Writer’s Chronicle. Both have a section in the back with contests, deadlines, opportunities, grants, calls for manuscripts, awards, etc. A classifieds section, if you will.
After Christmas, in my own Bridget Jones moment of harnessing my life and chasing after the things I want, I sat down and circled everything that I wanted and was eligible for. I refer to it as the business side of writing: the part that involves postage and cover letters and putting myself out there. The part where I try to make the work I do here, at home, in my pajamas, pay off in some way.
It’s scary, just like looking for a new job is scary. But in a sense, this is my new job. I’ve set up my desk, I’m making my schedule, I’m disciplining myself not to plan wedding things and look at fourteen pages of bird cake toppers on Etsy instead of writing. I’m circling opportunities, looking for the business side of this art of mine. I’m working on treating it like a job. Because it is. It has to be.