Post-college my resume read like a good-grief of odd jobs: military journalist, medical librarian, college instructor, book packer, mill worker, business owner, technical writer, software documentation manager, marketing manager, marketing director. If I could have thrown in gold prospector and hobo, I would have been Jack London.
Between and during those jobs, I always worked on creative projects, mostly writing and cartooning and, like many writers and artists, all of it in my spare time.
While at work, in addition to doing my regular job, I’d also be doing what’s known in the computer industry as “background processing,” working out story problems in the garage of my mind and jotting down notes so I wouldn’t forget. If I happened to get mugged coming home from work, the unlucky guy would get scraps of paper and Post-it Notes with bits of dialogue, plot points, and partly developed scenes on them.
Not exactly stuff you can easily fence.
For a few years, after hours, I even tried standup comedy to get over my shyness and really sucked at it—the standup part, not the shyness. Comedy bits about attending the Hemlock Society’s Christmas Party (“Stay away from the punch”), and lines like “What do you say we go up to my place and exchange bilabial fricatives?” did not exactly kill in biker bars.
On the other hand, the tobacco smoke nearly killed me.
One night a member of a successful improv group complained to me that she couldn’t write or tell jokes. In fact, she confessed to knowing only one joke and told it. She said: “I like my men like I like my ham—cured.”
I thought it sounded more like a cheesy pickup line than a joke, and used it as a jumping off point for my first play. When I was done writing it, I gave the play to my wife, Arlene, to read. She’s always my first and most honest critic.
“This play is about dating,” she said. “What the hell do you know about dating?”
Arlene was right, of course.