A Writer, by Any Other Career

One of the bloggers I follow recently wrote a post about the jobs he has held over the years and ended by asking the questions: How many jobs have you had? Were they in your field of study? Any unusual ones that have affected you in an unexpected way?

Well…I started to reply in a comment, but I saw quickly it would get too long.

I grew up on a family farm. To better understand the scope of responsibilities, you must know that my father believed in keeping a variety of industries so that one industry would compensate when another had a bad year. We had cattle, pasture, alfalfa hay, a gravel quarry, and rainbow trout. The trout were the primary business. I had the most to do with the cattle and fish, but I helped out in the pastures and alfalfa on occasion. My brothers moved most of the irrigation pipe (a mixture of hand lines and wheel lines), but I was employed with the gated pipe and with prying open the latches on stubborn hand lines. I could go on an on about irrigation and various techniques, but what you need to know is that I didn’t do the heavy lifting.

There was no one “job” I held. I took over management of the cattle in about all ways imaginable. I learned record keeping. I researched and decided upon new breeding animals. I ran a breeding program. I was there to help administer shots (though they made me queasy), cut warts out of ears (it’s more bloody than it sounds and very necessary in the cases when it was called-for), pull porcupine quills out of faces, sew the inner eyelids shut to heal pinkeye (cows have two sets of eyelids, and the darkness helps kill the disease when administered with the right medication so cows don’t go blind), I ran the records and loaded guns for artificial insemination, I eventually began to help check for pregnancy (insert gloved hand into rectum, feel for the fetus’ face and guess its age), I knew the signs and treatment for footrot and what to do when an animal lost an appetite for food, I knew how to castrate calves three different ways, I learned when a cow needed assistance calving (pretty much whenever it was me who noticed her going into labor) and did a lot of the fine work in that regard because I have small hands for the birth canal. I was the fastest person at putting a halter on a cow. I knew how to make halters from a length of rope. I knew how to train a cow to lead. I could milk, though with beef cattle the only time we needed to milk was when we had a calf which needed help. I learned how to “graft” a strange calf onto a cow who had lost her’s. I learned the chemistry behind nutrition, the science behind a cow’s system, and how to look at one and tell what was wrong.

The fish I became a skilled helper for. There was the occasional feeding and cleaning screens, but I was in school for most of the daily chores. So I learned aquatic diseases and cures, to measure water levels and the oxygen content, to calculate the population in a pond, to harvest them. Basically, when they were about a pound in weight we would “crowd” the fish using seines and screens to a pump which sucked them up into tanks on a truck. The tanks had oxygen going to them. We  sold them live to a processing facility. The processing was someone else’s business. Our was to raise them from eggs (the production of eggs was yet another business’ duty) and grow them to market size. My favorite were the “big reds”, trout raised to be 2-3 pounds in size and fed a special diet enhanced with carotene to give their flesh a red color like salmon. Oh, while we are on the topic: Salmon are not red because they are “active swimmers” and trout are not white because they are “lazy swimmers”. That is a load of bull hockey. Trout are (typically) white because they don’t eat carotene-rich foods like freshwater shrimp. When they do eat freshwater shrimp, their flesh is at least pink. ahem, off the soapbox now. Probably the biggest contribution I had in the fish industry was that I rubbed elbows with everyone who was doing research projects, everything from growing caviar to raising vegetarian trout to experiments in aquatic cures and new fish diets.

I began to raise dairy goats, and fell utterly in love with the goofy things. I raised two whethers to pull a wagon. I experimented with using them as weed-management and as companion animals for other creatures. Horses and goats have the best chemistry, better than horse and horse. So if you know anyone who has a lonely horse, a goat makes a fine companion. I learned all about milking, pasturization, yogurt making, then expanded my knowledge to include kefir and some basic cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta.

While on the farm  I also took hold of a fair deal of office management. By this time I was raising my own cattle, fish, and of course goats. I had about thirty or so broodstock rainbow trout, and I produced a batch or two of eggs. Nothing came of them, but it had been a gamble to start with. I raised the fish for two years without knowing if our water temperature would work for them to spawn, much less if the natural light would be right to trigger their spawning reflex, or what month was the month to really watch them.

And then I went to university on a four-semester scholarship for animal science, biotechnology emphasis. Chemistry class murdered me. My animal science professor (an amusing elderly man) received a concussion while on a field trip to Wyoming working rams, and he lost his good humor after that. It only took one semester for me to realize this wasn’t right for me.

My parents were shocked when I changed majors to English. What I described to you is what they saw me doing, and I did more than that, much more. I’d also learned skills from so many other agricultural careers that it is really redundant to repeat them here. I haven’t gone anywhere near touching everything I did with my purebred, registered Black Angus herd, and this isn’t the proper place for that.

What they didn’t see was how chronically I wrote. Hundreds and hundreds of pages. I was an active member of an online critique site for young writers. I bought and read so many writing books and magazines. I thought it was not something I could actually “do”. But I had the compulsion. Writing was a necessity, and I treated it with the same care I currently do for my gluten-allergy. That’s right, I sort of saw it like a disease I had.

In college, I got a variety of jobs on campus. For a while I worked in the animal research lab as an animal caretaker. Here I handled rodents and pigeons. Rats, hamsters, mice, pigeons. They were a viral cure labratory mostly, but there were some behavioral research and bacterial infections. Meth rats were the worst to change cages on. If I was scheduled for their room right after they had received their drugs, they would charge the cage wall and were so jumpy. I was always afraid they would bite, but it was a reassurance that if I was bitten, I knew they weren’t carrying anything infectious. There were other drugs, too, like alcohol and dope and a couple of others. The dope rats were awesome, just chilling, some of them so happy they seemed utterly surprised to be in a new environment. Mind you, this was only evident minutes after they had their drugs, which wasn’t very often. My schedule just coincided like this for a while. If anyone speaks out about the inhumane ways animal research facility treats their animals, I will delete your comment. As an agriculturalist, a veterinarian prospect, and a person very knowledgeable about animal husbandry, I will say that the average household abuses their own dog by comparison. Had there been evidence of abuse, I would have been the first to get in a vicious rail about it. And, yes, that lab produced cures and vaccines which were available in the pharmacy.

Once I moved on from that job (change in college schedule, increase in classwork load), I eventually got two part time jobs as a receptionist and an office administrator. One was for the chemistry department, another for civil and environmental engineering.  Graduation put a halt to those jobs, too.

After graduation I went back to help on the farm until my wedding. Then I spent 6 months writing as a newly wed, then 4 months restoring an old house and working for the farm again, then what felt like two years working as a manager for a brand new theatre which happened to be the test theatre for new digital rights software (never, ever be the test dummy, we had serious angry-mob-style issues), then two semesters as a substitute teacher, a summer working on the farm I’d never exactly stopped working for….and then we were here in England. I haven’t added up all the jobs yet, and I did have a couple more while I was in high school. I seem to remember having had 5 or so listed on my applications for university scholarships, so…

That would make 12 jobs I’ve had. I’m certain I’m missing a job or two. I’ve worked for Engineers, Rocket Scientists, Mad Scientists, Editors, Chemists, Farmers, Ranchers, in the Classroom, and even in the Show Biz. I can do everything from fix computer code to trimming goat feet to dabbling out an oil painting. Anything which has left its imprint on me I have listed above. I might as well mention that I’m a quarter of a century old, and I’m pretty new into that year of life. The one and only thing all of those jobs have in common is that every employer came to depend upon me no matter how straining the situation was, and it was hard for me to leave them. It was also very scary at times to be so young and relied upon so completely.

I’ll ask you now: How many jobs have you had? Were they in your field of study? Any unusual ones that have affected you in an unexpected way?

-Nicolette

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