Thursday, February 25, 2010

Odd Jobs

Over at Yahoo! HotJobs, I recently posted a LiveCareer story about odd jobs--it lists some of the jobs featured in these books of photography by Nancy Rica Schiff. It got me thinking about a few odd jobs I'd had in the past and what I'd learned from them.

1. Horoscope Writer
I should say that I don't really believe in astrology. This was an ongoing freelance job for what you might call a horoscope factory; the company hired astrologers to read the stars and assign "keywords" to each day for each sign, and then we writers wrote horoscopes based on those keywords. There were "career-scopes" and "love-scopes" and "gay-scopes" and many other different kinds of horoscopes to write, of varying lengths. It was a fun gig. Now, I'm a Leo, so of course I never wrote a truly bad day for Leos. I stuck to my keywords but kept things ... hopeful. Just in case. Lesson: You really sort of can create your own destiny.

2. Cheese Spokesperson
I have a former life as an etiquette writer; I published an etiquette book in 2004. That's not the odd job (though maybe it should be). My etiquette writing brought me to the attention of a marketing company that handled part of the Real California Cheese campaign--specifically California's artisan and boutique cheesemakers. They hired me to do some writing about "proper cheese etiquette"--and then sent me on a few small press outings. For instance, I appeared on a Fresno morning news program, demonstrating how to create a holiday cheese platter. I had a lot of fun with this job and learned a lot about cheese. Lesson: They're making some pretty spectacular cheese in California.

3. Cover Model for a Turkish Magazine
For many years, I was an editor at Macworld magazine. For one issue, we were preparing a feature story about mobile computing, and, to save money, we used a few staff members (instead of models) to pose in illustrative photos. One shot was supposed to represent Mac users at an airport: we sat in a row, using our Mac laptops and so on, with luggage artfully propped about us. In the magazine, that photo appeared in the opening spread, but with our heads cropped out--the focus was on the computers. Macworld publishes several international editions (the international editors translate and repurpose stories and provide locally appropriate content). When we received the Turkish edition of that issue, we were delighted to see that they had used that photo for their cover--and they'd used the full shot. So my face has graced newsstands in Istanbul. Lesson: Always be prepared for international fame.

4. Circus Midway Attendant
I spent some of my youth in Reno, Nevada. A popular job there for local teenagers is working the midway games at Circus Circus Casino. This was one of my first jobs. Lesson: Luck is fickle.

5. American-History Teacher
This isn't really an odd job, but it was odd for me, as it was outside my area of expertise. I got a job teaching English at a Hungarian university. I signed up thinking I'd be teaching composition and advanced grammar to English majors. When I showed up, the English department's head said, "We're so glad to have an American this year! You will teach the American history course." (English majors were required to complete a semester of British history and a semester of American history.) That first semester was a little bit terrifying--this was a college-level history class, but I'm embarrassed to say that I had to learn a fair portion of the course material as I went. I surely spent more time studying than my students did before each class. Lesson: If you're teaching a class and are stumped by a bright student's question, try saying this: "That's a very interesting question. Class, does anyone have any thoughts? Anyone?" It sometimes works.

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