Every Job I’ve Had: Anti-Sweatshop Agitator, Tutor for the 1%, and More

by Sarah Marian Seltzer

Anti-Sweatshop Agitator: During my final summer in high school I interned for a public interest group, with a focus on the career-enhancing skill of harassing Nike for its labor abuses. My troupe of fellow interns flyered, hung up posters and took part in every picket line around town, from striking bodega workers to stealth banner drops at Niketown. As you can see, we totally ended Nike’s corporate dominance and global sweatshop labor so, *pats self on back*. Job well done.

Camp Counselor: For one glorious summer, I roamed my old day camp flirting with counselors from around the British empire with 7 year-old girls in tow (a delightful age, too young to distrust adults but old enough to have insights into the universe). My biggest regret of the summer was following the national trend and going low-carb. So many snacktime Popsicles now lie across the chasm of time, irretrievable.

Researcher for a Travel Guide: At age 20, I backpacked solo, updating listings for Let’s Go: France. Without company, I was able to do things like kneel at deserted roman ruins and weep at their desolate beauty and go clubbing with hastily-formed cliques of hostel roommates. (Cue techno beat.) I was exquisitely lonely and sometimes had to drink wine to calm myself while drawing my required maps. In a strange coincidence, my pay was docked because my maps were messy.

Usher at a Cutting-edge Theater: This gig consisted of leading people to their seats for avant-garde productions. I was young enough to be able to indulge in my favorite herbal vice and not have the short-term memory loss affect my ability to memorize every seat in the house. My habits also enhanced my appreciation for the theater’s bloody, shriek-filled interpretations of Sophocles.

Teacher at NYC Public School: As a recruit in the army of young teachers dispatched to narrow the achievement gap, I taught English at massive Bronx school in a classroom with no blackboard or shelves. Students next door kept flipping a switch that shut off my power, inevitably in the middle of my overhead presentations. That is what consistently broke me: the power going off, not the antics of teenagers nor the bureaucracy of administrators. I taught The Giver, Lord of the Flies, and Piri Thomas, managed to do a survey of poetry that began with the Earl of Wyatt, and chased pigeons out of my classroom. (I swear, they picked the locks on the windows with their beaks.) After I urged as many students possible past their year-end state test, I handed in my resignation.

Tutor for the 1%: While re-learning about the War of 1812, gerunds and right triangles, I was witness to parent-child hostilities — sample dialogue: “Why are you neglecting your schoolwork? You’ll bring shame upon this household! Also aren’t you going to eat the no-crust peanut butter sandwich the maid just made you?” — and the plight of artsy kids whose “special education needs” as far as I could see consisted of realizing, before their peers did, that school was bullshit. I longed to write the same thing for every progress report: “Student X is a member of the monied elite, ergo almost nothing s/he can do short of crystal meth will actually hurt his/her future prospects. Full marks.”

Freelance Writer: With tutoring paying rent, I began scribbling everything from critiques for the last feminist ‘zines’ standing (I love you, Bitch Magazine! RIP Venus Zine!) to regular book reviews for Publishers Weekly to local news stories. Restaurant strikes and contentious school board meetings were my beat for the neighborhood paper, and I also reported quirky features on eyeglass salesmen and local people who were newsworthy because they were really old.

Scribe for the Progressive Media: Coming into my own as a journalist, I got hired! I specialized in thoughtful, nuanced cultural critiques as well super-incendiary listicles skewering the right wing. My favorite work? Tailing the badass feminist contingent of Occupy Wall Street around for months, reporting on their organizing efforts.

Low-Residency Grad Student: While I was freelancing/rabble-rousing, I was also an MFA Student at a low-residency program in Vermont, a program I discovered while reading an Atlantic listicle, of course. It was the hippie arts sleepaway camp I always dreamed of. I blossomed like whatever the state flower of Vermont is.

Communications for a Nonprofit: Now I’m at my first office job, working 9–5 three days a week in the Jewish Nonprofit industrial complex. I have all these wild and crazy perks like vacation time and sick days, and newfound appreciation for items like blazers and portable coffee mugs. On my downtime, I chisel away at my fiction, pen satirical blog posts for the Hairpin, embark on the occasional reporting project, and attend a writing group with Ester.

The thing is, most of my friends have been moving steadily upwards in one trajectory this decade, while I have embraced a more, shall we say lateral, path. Meandering, if you want to get poetic about it. Sometimes I do have pangs about this, but I can’t allow myself bitterness without acknowledging that overall, I have relished my decade of relative freedom so, so much. My dayjobs and adventures have exposed me to more of the tapestry of human experience than I saw in my first 20 years, and I’ve made new friends from far outside my New York-bred bubble. This means more people and experiences I can plumb for my future essays and stories, thereby causing them to resent me forever. And that’s all a young writer can ask for, really.

Sarah Seltzer is a writer in NYC. She’s mentally prepping herself to write a lot of think pieces about jobs she had in her 20s, can’t you tell? Find her at @sarahmseltzer or sarahmarian.tumblr.com.

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