A Writers’ Other Jobs Story by Sam Ryan

My name is Sam. It’s been six months since I last wrote.

I genuinely don’t know how this happened. I had such good intentions, such great expectations, moving from Sydney to Melbourne to start a business and have all that spare time to write and paint. These days when I say “spare time” I almost always end with an overly-enthusiastic, slightly maniacal cackling and air quotation marks.

Oh god, I’ve become someone who does air quotations.

The Melbourne thing? Well it really was a great idea and I mean that without any sarcasm. It is my home now, it’s just that it took me 38 years to find this home. And it’s a City of Literature dammit! I mean the words should practically be shooting out of my fingers like teeny tiny literary laser beams.

The business thing? Well, that was a pretty damn good idea too.  For 20 years I’d been bit of a lost soul. I started in regional television production at the ripe old age of 17, vowing to become the next great camera operator/director/producer/anything. At 22 I left for London vowing never to work in TV again. Two years later I moved back to Sydney and started in film and TV post-production as a facilities co-ordinator which is a nice way of saying I took a lot of shit from ad agencies for very little pay.

I left three years later and vowed never to work in film or TV again.

I’m incredibly bad at selling things and I don’t really like shops so naturally decided to work in retail for the next few years, although at least my employers had the sense to move me away from the customers and into administration and stock control. Now there was something I could do! Count things!  Increasingly bored, and after a disastrous segue into the corporate world as an assistant to a high end investor, I finally became a personal assistant and bookkeeper to a well known film producer.

I left four years later. I’ll let you guess the rest.

So after all those years of full time work that left me a strange combination of overworked, unfulfilled, overstressed and usually underpaid, it was time to be my own boss. I was going to wear the pants. And those pants would probably be pyjamas.

But you see no one told me – okay they told me, but no one made me listen when they told me – that being your own boss means being your own boss 24 hours a day, every day, every week, and every weekend. It means waking at 2am with a seemingly excellent idea and waking again at 4am to worry about how you’re going to afford the idea you’d just had. It means getting up in the morning to check a few emails and forgetting to get dressed until mid afternoon. It means being pretty sure you’ve got enough clients and income to pay rent, but maybe, just not 100% sure. Or even 90% sure. Or sometimes casually living on potatoes and Cruskits for the week, just to be a bit sure.

But it’s infinitely better than that first job in regional television where the other camera guys would routinely tie me to chairs with recording tape or plonk me in plastic rubbish bins when 3 o’clock, rainy day boredom kicked in. Or the shop owner who was the very definition of paranoid, who thought everyone was stealing from the company including his employees. Or tMr Bigshot Investor who made me work all alone in an office as his PA but wouldn’t let me finish on a Friday until he called to say I was allowed to leave, whether or not I had anything to do, at whatever that time of night that might be.  And who then got arrested for tax fraud.

But the strange thing about all of these people and places, was that they compelled me to write. Whether it be boredom, stress, outright hatred or just a desire to see humour in the worst possible situations, I was compelled to write it all down.

And then usually burn it.

As a child I was prone to writing somewhat ambitious stories. Or rather I was prone to starting them. At ten I set out to write a choose your own adventure book, until I got to the second choice, realised how incredibly difficult this was going to be and promptly threw the all but empty exercise book in the bin. This seemed to set a precedent for most of my artistic endeavours. Sculptures would be started and then abandoned a few weeks later. Paintings would begin to take shape but be forgotten amongst this piles of Tiger Beat magazines and Smash Hits diaries. But then at the end of senior year something very odd happened.

For a final english exam we were given an old photo on which to base a story. I wrote an anguished tale of a young boy, his mother and homeless war veteran. It was terrible, I mean just blindingly awful, an overwrought Wonder Years in Year 12 English essay form. The day after exams I was home sick (I will forever be grateful to my failing body) but the next day a girl, a stunningly popular girl, walked past, smiled and said “hey English Brain” and patted me on the arm.

“Why is she calling me that? Why is she smiling at me? How the hell does she even know who I am?” My cloak of invisibility throughout school had been fairly superior and most people wouldn’t have known me from a tree. I started asking other classmates what was going on and it finally became clear that, on my day off, our English teacher had read my story out in class. The teacher cried. Students cried. And suddenly with three whopping weeks left to go of school people had realised I could actually do something beyond coming last in everything. Just over a decade later I went back to art school for a few years. By my second year, part way through a visual arts diploma, I came across one glorious educator, a woman who probably had more influence on me both artistically and otherwise than most people in my life. During a drawing basics class, she started explaining the difference between left brain and right brained people. How some can be incredibly creative but lack basic logic and mathematical skills. Others can be methodical and organised but without the desire to create. She pointed at me.

“Except for Sam over here. You have two brains. I just don’t know what happened to you, lady.”

A creative brain and a logical brain competing for space and never quite finding that perfect middle ground. The brain that likes numbers so much I once designed a full Excel spreadsheet with formulas and statistics to point score the Hottest 100 one warm January. The other brain that won’t shut up for the amount of stories it wants to tell at any one time.

“Madness”, I think they call it.

I almost can’t explain the dawning horror of the moment I realised I was really, really good … at bookkeeping. Let me tell you this much, if you’re ever at a party, and someone asks what you do and you tell them you’re a bookkeeper? That person will literally, physically collapse from boredom right in front of you. Their eyes will roll back into their head, they will slide down the wall and then they will die.

Of boredom.

And so last year I started my own business called S.A.Y.S.O. – Sorting All Your Shit Out – and it pretty much does what it says on the tin. I organise people’s lives and help them take care of the stuff that matters. The paperwork, the customer support, the money, the books, the boring stuff. The shit. And you’d be surprised how delighted I can become over a bank reconciliation or a pile of receipts. I damn near have a seizure come BAS time.

My clients are an artistic, intelligent bunch ranging from designers and writers, to start ups and executive coaches, and even one of the best literary organisations in Melbourne if not the whole damn country. I seem to be surrounded by people so exhaustingly successful and intimidatingly talented it’s all I can do not to lie under the desk and casually lick a power point.

I do wonder if all this has stopped me in my creative tracks. If maybe being content and busy and stimulated has left me without an avenue, without a desire to expel the usual rush of words and images. If being surrounded by other writers and artists so committed to their craft that it’s frightened me right back into my cave.

Or maybe I just like the numbers.

My name is Sam, it’s 2.15am, there are seven emails waiting to be answered and I can’t remember what else I needed to tell you.

Sam Ryan was once voted Most Organised Person in high school but that was because she actually organised the vote herself.

Last year, she started her own business called SAYSO, short for Sorting All Your Shit Out which she assures us has nothing to do with plumbing.

Sam is a writer, an artist and is desperately trying to understand AFL so that she stops coming last in footy tipping.

- If you’ve got a Writers’ Other Jobs story email us at info@beta.thewritersbloc.net/wpblog and let us know your idea.

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