Artists often work a variety of day jobs to support themselves and their creative work. In our conversations with working artists, we’ve asked: What’s the best/worst day job you’ve ever had?
Kim Adrian, writer: The best was at a bakery in Cambridge… I loved getting up at 5 AM & biking over the Charles when nobody was on the road but truckers, & I loved rolling out baguettes & drinking cappuccino with my boss, working together in silence. The worst was as a cashier at a market on Beacon Hill. People were rude & my feet killed from standing all day. Most of all it was suicidally boring. I only lasted one shift.
Michael Downing, writer: Writing is definitely the best/worst day job I’ve ever had.
Jason Grote, dramatic writer: Worst: Ugh, I’ve had dozens, but probably the worst was working for a contractor at the Javitz Center whose name escapes me now. I had to wear an ill-fitting yellow baseball hat with the words “May I Help You?” written across the forehead, and police a line at a tech conference while horrible yuppies made fun of me. I guess the supervisor knew how awful the gig was, because at the beginning of the week he said that if any of us walked off the job before the end of the week, he would do whatever he could to delay our paychecks. This was, of course, totally illegal but I desperately needed the seven dollars an hour or whatever sad amount it was, so I stuck it out until the end of the conference and never returned the contractor’s calls again.
Lucy Honig, writer: Worst: Typist in the basement of a Paris perfume shop.
Elizabeth Hughey, poet: Best: Traveling to International Book Fairs (Frankfurt, London) to sell the rights to translate books into different languages. Worst: Administrative assistant to a team of four young, male investment bankers during the dot com boom in San Francisco. I just wasn’t very good at it. I flew one guy to the wrong city in Texas for a meeting.
Daphne Kalotay, writer: The worst job I had was at a copy shop, the summer before I went to college. Not only was it mind-crushingly boring, but it of course also meant dealing with finicky photocopiers and documents that were suddenly too long or too small or had staples that needed to be removed, or some other frustration…. Everyone has at some point had to deal with jammed printer paper or toner getting smeared all over everything – but imagine doing that all day long.
As for the best job, I have it right now, in that I’m giving myself a chance to write full-time. If only the job came with a salary and health coverage, then it would be perfect.
Alexandria Marzana-Lesnevich, writer: Best and worst are actually the same: I was a balloon girl at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The job involved the holding of thirty large, animal-shaped mylar balloons. I loved the serenity of it: strolling the zoo’s winding paths, watching the animals, watching people smile at the sight of so many balloons. One summer afternoon, a preschool summer camp walked by me, each kid holding hands with a buddy. One of the counselors said, “There’s the balloon girl! Let’s get her!” The kids dropped hands and piled on me. I lost every single balloon. I radioed headquarters and told them I’d been mugged by midgets.
Tara L. Masih, writer: The best day job I ever had was working for Bedford Books in Boston. It’s where I learned all the skills that helped me branch out as a freelancer and then develop and edit this Field Guide.
Lisa Nold, writer: Worst: I worked as a temporary secretary transcribing tapes at Bellevue. This was in the late 1980s just after a doctor had been stabbed to death in a nearby stairwell. There was also an issue with communicable diseases on my floor and I remember leaning down to take a sip from the water fountain and someone crying out from behind me, “Don’t drink from that fountain!”
William Pierce, writer and editor: Worst: I worked as a “light industrial temp” in Ann Arbor. Our worst assignment was to pick thousands of Styrofoam peanuts out of a field of mud.
Ilie Ruby, writer: Best, writing reviews on PBS documentaries for 8 hours a day. What could be better than watching documentaries and then writing about them? The worst job, handing out flyers in Boston’s Faneuil Hall on Christmas Day when I was 23. I stood outside in the snow for 8 hours without a hat and contracted the worst flu I’d ever had.
Elizabeth Streb, choreographer: I’ve never not-liked working – so I would restate the question to what was the ‘most arduous’ job I’ve ever held, and the answer to that would be cooking in NYC restaurants from 1975-1988-from age 25yrs to 38yrs.
Naoe Suzuki, visual artist: One year, I had two very understanding and supportive bosses at work, and that was my golden period. It was the best 9-5 job situation I ever had. The following year, both of them were gone and we had an interim director. It was the same place, with pretty much the same job for me, but it turned out to be the worst daytime job.
Christina Thompson, writer and editor: Editing Harvard Review is the best job I’ve ever had; the worst job I ever had was as a telemarketer.
Scott Tulay, painter: My worst day job was in a cigarette distribution facility. The only reason anyone worked there was to get free cigarettes and to be able to smoke while working. I was the only non-smoker, and there were no windows. My job was to put the Massachusetts cigarette tax stamp on each carton of cigarettes, sometimes by hand. I was horrible at running the stamp machine, and would sometimes get the cartons jammed until they exploded in a fountain of cigarettes. My co-workers would then come over and pick them up to smoke, sometimes asking “Hey next time, could you screw up with the Paul Mall Light 100s?” Needless to say, my comrades loved the “rookie,” but my boss was not impressed. I didn’t last long.
Paris Visone, photographer: Worst: A tie between selling sausage and shooting weddings.
Kathleen Volp, visual artist: Worst: I de-tasseled corn one summer while in college in Wisconsin. Brutal work. It’s hot, it’s muggy and you’re standing in a claustrophobic jungle of unruly green reaching up, pulling down the top of a stalks, yanking out the tassel, then onto the next one. Over and over and over. I quit after I found myself rolling around the floor one night de-tasseling in my sleep. I think if every American actually worked a week as a migrant worker their views on immigration might be better informed.
Images: Edie Bresler (Photography Finalist ’11), FAST FREDDIE’S (WAKEFIELD, MA) (2010), Archival Inkjet Print
27 1/2×35 in.