The Labor of My Days
It’s Labor Day in the USA, a holiday noted mostly for bookending summer. It originated in the mid-1880s as a salute to the “workingman” in trades and crafts, such as Peter McGuire of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (and a founding member of the American Federation of Labor). He proposed a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” The holiday may have also originated with machinist Matthew McGuire (were the McGuires kin?) of the Central Labor Union in New York.
How many jobs have you had in your lifetime? This week I offer you a Labor Days Jobs List Challenge. Starting with your first job (I notice I didn’t include babysitting, but that and paper routes and any other early contract work might make your list), write a prose list of all your jobs, chronologically. I’ll start. Here are my own days of labor, every job I’ve ever had —
1967. I take over my older sister Susie’s job at Retail Credit Company on (now) Olde Wadsworth in what is (now) Olde Town Arvada (then it is simply downtown, all three blocks of it.) The only thing I like about this job is that it is across the street from the German bakery and I go there for brownies every day. The job consists of filing huge vats of individual sheets of paper by zip code. As I said — brownies.
Summers, 1968, 69, 70. Armed with a typing speed of 90+ wpm and one semester of Gregg shorthand and a vast knowledge of US zip codes, I work three summers in three different law firms as a legal secretary and am actually really good at it. When I was 12 I read every Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason) book written, and I had a girl crush on Della Street, Perry’s saucy and spunky secretary.
1972. One week after I am married and move to Tucson I start canvassing the radio/TV market to see if I can get hired as a news writer. Nah. They have openings in the steno pool, though. I refuse, offended; surely there are more liberated stations ahead. There aren’t. I take a job as a legal secretary to a probate attorney in a hard-drinking 4-man partnership with a prissy associate and a stoner asssociate. In 1974 I am one of the first generation of paralegals nationally, and the only probate paralegal in Tucson.
1978. I move back to Denver because my sister had her second baby and I’m missing out on the aunt experience, having no idea how large that role would become in my life. I decide I am going to get a job as a writer no matter what. I interview with a bunch of jerks and then with the owner of a small business publishing company who is advertising for a publisher’s assistant. I ace the interview and when offered the job tell him I don’t want to be a publishing assistant, I want to be the editor. Three years later, I’m promoted to editorial vice president.
1984. I leave the publishing company because after six great years of nonstop writing and editing, I’m clear that my soul wants me to write something else. We part friends. Not having the sense to say I am on sabbatical, I instead insist I am a free-lance writer and spend my days consumed either with the anxiety of having no clients or the anxiety of having work to do that I absolutely don’t want to do and can’t get the tiniest bit excited about. Meanwhile, I’m actively involved in some deep spiritual exploration and personal growth work and I’m hanging out with a really fun group of friends. A group of us enter a trainer-training program and spend all of our spare time making up workshops and teaching them to each other (and then going out for beers after). Eventually I gain free-lance traction with a couple of regular clients and am making enough money to keep the lights on.
1985. I am asked by some of the aforementioned friends to teach a little class on journal writing. I shrug, say sure and teach my first Write On! (now Journal to the Self) class. I’ve been in grad school for two months, and I recognize immediately that the intersection of journal writing and psychotherapy is my life’s work.
1988. I graduate, start the Center for Journal Therapy, and get hired as the evening shift counselor for a shiny new free-standing psychiatric hospital. Among my responsibilities are conducting three group sessions. Tuesday night is journal group, and daily relaxation group often involves writing. I start the Journal to the Self instructor certification training in 1989.
1990. Journal to the Self debuts on January 1 and immediately hits a New York best-seller list. As a result of its popularity with a particular psychiatric audience in Denver, I am invited to become the journal therapist for a psychiatric hospital specializing in trauma. It’s an intensely focused learning experience during which I create the Journal Ladder and other theories about the journal’s role in clinical practice.
1992. My contract runs out and there have been budget cuts and I’m writing a book. I rent an room in a massage therapy practice and launch a tiny private therapy practice that eventually grows to full-time and includes three weekly writing groups.
2002. I begin dividing my time between client work and training the next generation of practitioners. By 2008, when I launch the Therapeutic Writing Institute, I am down to a core client group and spend most of my time teaching and administering. I start teaching a Writing & Healing class in a creative writing Master’s program at the University of Denver.
In 2013 I launch Journalverse, a learning community for journal writers and facilitators worldwide. In five years we accrue more than 130 hours of LIVE! with Kay interviews, over 1800 writing prompts, and about 235 blogs. Now we’re morphing into Journalversity, where therapists and practitioners can take short-form courses (half-day to one-day workshop equivalent) and personal journal writers can find a yummy selection of courses geared for their healing, growth and change. Debuts to Journalverse members Sept 20!
2018 and forward. My ongoing work is to create and deliver programs, curricula, classes, guidance, mentoring, supervision, consultation, services in therapeutic writing to many audiences, groups and individuals. I still get up every day and give thanks for being given wonderful work to do and wonderful people to do it with.
Your turn! Write your own stepping stones of your jobs, first to now — and post a short reflection about what that was like. As I read back over, I realize the clear threads of (a) innovation and (b) closure when my soul nudges me toward change.