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June 2, 2011

I don’t sleep well. I used to take sleeping pills. Two years ago—when I married J and was given access to his health insurance, and for the first time since starting graduate school had a proper physician to visit—I stopped taking the pills. Hooray! A serious achievement. I’m still proud, but baffled too that I was able to kick the hazardous habit. I might not have stopped, but my new proper physician made me stop, and for that I’m grateful.

With “sleep time on-the-spot gel” and a lavender-scented mask and sleep-inducing soy candles and two snoozy cats and a husband who can sleep anytime anywhere through anything, I should be able to sleep. But I still don’t sleep well.

Around 2am, if I’m still not asleep, I write a list from memory. I love to write lists. I’m currently writing a piece about lists, and I’ve written a list of revisions I need to make to the piece. It’s a cornerstone memory-building technique, list-making is.

A couple of weeks ago, a Tuesday, around 2 am, I grabbed the closest notebook and wrote a list. The notebook, a steno pad, said “WORK” on the front. I’d taken it with me to my long-term substitute teaching job last year. By then, since the job was only temporary, work was “WORK” and not “CAREER.” I remember when I had a career, not so long ago. And I know I’ll have one again, now that grad school is finished. But for a time, I did a lot of “WORK.”

The list that came to mind, then, was a work list. What are all the things I have done to make money, since I started working as a babysitter, at thirteen years old and in the seventh grade? I’m 34 now. How many posts have I held, how many tasks have I done, in the last 21 years, almost the entirety of the life that I can remember, to make some cash?

That’s how this latest list started. A list of things I’ve done for money. I considered carefully how to organize this list, once it was made. Chronologically or by task, most enjoyed to least enjoyed, highest earning to lower earning, etc. But in the end, I decided the list should remain exactly as it poured from my memory at 2 am.


music librarian

tour guide

admissions office assistant

mail room attendant

steakhouse bus girl

steakhouse waitress

collectibles shop clerk

Christmas store clerk/reindeer


development office associate

assistant teacher in PreK and 3rd grade

head teacher in 4th and 2nd grade

high school placement associate

research fellow

Settlers of Catan afterschool club

tutor (math, writing, reading, history, typing)


copy editor

substitute teacher

grad school magazine co-editor

teaching assistant

archaeology lab pottery shard logger

sociology department research assistant

slideshow producer


web business marketing

enrichment content writer

phonathon caller

focus group participant

wedding singer

birthday party entertainment

dog walker

office cleaner

afterschool play yard monitor

front desk receptionist


assistant basketball coach, junior varsity boys*

As I consider the 37* paying gigs I’ve held in 21 years, a few trends emerge:

For one, I’ve held a lot of jobs. In retrospect, I can remember saying “yes” to almost anything that came my way. Walk Lucky the terrier for a summer? Clean and organize office closets? Photograph school lectures? Teach a kid to type? Comment on gin, electronics, and chocolate? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and oh-please-yes.

For another, I have rarely been in a position of power. I certainly held a power position as a teacher and possibly as a tour guide, as well. Co-editing a publication gave me the power to accept or reject. I had no power over the twin two-year-olds I babysat, that’s for sure. Nor did I have much power over Lucky. In general, I’ve rarely been the direct supervisor of another income-earner. Only when, as a teacher, I supervised the play yard after school, and therefore monitored the college students who monitored the children, did I directly boss anyone around. That surprises me. But in my volunteer life, I tend to take on leadership positions. Perhaps I’m fulfilling a part of myself that I haven’t gravitated to in work.

One of my favorite positions: organizing pottery shards by color, shape, size, imprint, and presumed usage. One of my least favorite: calling alumni for money. One of the positions for which I was least qualified: marketing. I still can’t really say what marketing is. One of the positions for which I was most qualified: writing tutor.

I’ve rarely worked with food. I’ve worked with children and words quite a lot.

Finally, I have never been paid to do the thing I love most: creative writing. Enrichment content writer, for a sort of online encyclopedia that never went live, came the closest. But my very favorite work, the work of creative writing, shaping, and revising, remains the most wonderfully unpaid work that I do.

*remembered, of course, after posting

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  1. Anna-Bain permalink

    I haven’t read your blog is what feels like (I’ll put this in teacher terms) at least a spring trimester! What a great way to start a Monday, free from responsibilities!

    I loved reading your musings on lists. Also, the trend of rarely having been in a position of “power” may be true. But isn’t that a special kind of power in and of itself? The power of being reliable, trustworthy, and genuine. The power of being someone who supports, assists, and collaborates? I think that defines true leadership anyway!

    I have an especially amusing/sweet/sad/mildly confusing list my father gave to me when I was six. He wrote it on a piece of paper, handed it to me, and told me that if I ever felt confused about things, I should re-read the list and then, I would be able to figure it out.

    It read:

    PRIORITIES (he was a lefty who wrote in all caps)

    1. GOD
    2. FAMILY
    3. SCHOOL
    5. FRIENDS

    It also makes me laugh a little. It’s trying so hard, that list!


    • I leapt to this with lightning speed! Your comment is a beautiful nugget, a true “short short” of creative nonfiction, and I thank you for it. “It’s trying so hard, that list” How true. What I get out of that list, and your father’s message to re-read it in times of confusion, is that the lists we make make us. We pour stress-causing us-ness into a list (so organized!) then, like social scientists evaluating the data presented by that us-ness, we perform all sorts of analytical tricks, and re-absorb the us-ness where it no longer causes stress. The power to do that is multiplied when we share our lists. I did not in any way consider what you say about that “special kind of power in and of itself.” And myohmy, I feel awfully good now. Thanks for the lovely and inspiring comment. Here’s the spring trimester and other responsibilities laying off for a while, and here’s to getting together this summer!


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