Writers and other freelance artists have more than a little in common with small farmers, and not just that people in both occupations have insanely complicated income tax forms and a tendency to get depressed when thinking about health insurance.
They also have to hold all sorts of odd jobs in order to continue working at their chosen vocation. A sculptor I once met, for example, said that most of the ceramic artists he knew kept themselves in rent and food money by making coffee mugs. And I still treasure a sign I once saw outside a farmhouse on Route 3:
CHAIN SAWS SHARPENED
My own list of oddball writer jobs is atypically prosaic, mostly versions of “taught freshman English someplace,” though I did spend one semester in graduate school as an elderly faculty widow’s live-in companion, which was not the sinecure you might think, and a later summer answering correspondence for the National Solar Heating and Cooling Foundation. I spent a lot of time putting together letters out of prefab paragraphs that all said, more or less, “Yes, you can retrofit your house for solar energy. It will be very expensive.”† I’m pleased, these days, to note that science has marched on, and solar panels have dropped enough in price that they’re even showing up in a low-income area like far northern New England.
†My favorite, though, was the guy who wrote to ask if he could use passive solar energy to run his earthworm farm. I had to take that one upstairs to the engineers, who were equally delighted to see it — apparently earthworm farming was an ideal application for passive solar.