Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Writing Life

by Shirley Drew

Photo by Mike Gullett
As a lifelong reader, I’ve always loved a good story. I started with Dr. Seuss, if you must know. My interest now is writing creative non-fiction. But whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, telling a good story is the point. One of my first attempts to “crossover” into creative nonfiction resulted from my obsession (my husband’s word, not mine) with the television series, Law and Order. I loved the stories about police officers, lawyers, and judges. I liked it because the scripts focused on the work lives of the characters. So it was not surprising that I decided to learn more about the work lives of some of the real people doing these jobs, and not just the Hollywood version.

The result of this “obsession” (I prefer the word “fascination”) was a primarily academic book called DIRTY WORK, published by Baylor University Press in 2007. A lot of people worked on what we called “The Dirty Work Project”. Baylor marketed it to the “intelligent lay audience”—you could even buy it at Barnes and Noble, after all! I assume by the meager sales that primarily college professors and students bought the book. And the relatives and friends of the writers, of course. Ah, well. Still, we are very proud of the work.

The contributors to this project spent weeks or months studying the occupations we referred to as “dirty.” Why dirty? Dirty jobs are those that people seldom talk about in “polite conversation.” And we thought this would be fun to write about. Okay, maybe not as much fun as Mike Rowe had hanging out and doing Dirty Jobs but still fun. These “dirty” jobs are essential to our daily life, but still the public likes to keep its distance from the hard-working folks who do those jobs. For example, cops often deal with society’s undesirables including murderers, drug users, and child abusers. Not to mention the occasional blood and vomit. Not to mention the “risking their lives on a daily basis” thing. Then there are jobs that some people consider socially or morally “dirty.” Take lawyers, for example. (Please). How many good lawyer jokes do you know? Here’s one:

Q: Why didn’t the rattlesnake bite the lawyer?
A: Professional courtesy.

See what I mean? And by the way, I heard that joke, (or riddle, if you want to get picky) from one of my lawyer pals. These folks have some great stories to tell. Stories that both entertain and enlighten. Nearly all of the people we spent time with during the “Dirty Work Project” are proud of the work they do. And they have a right to be proud. After all, the jobs are dirty and we should be grateful that there are folks willing and able to do them!


Anonymous said...

I also like to tell a good story, whether it be true or made up. This was an interesting post.

Sarah Reichert said...

I'll have to check your book out! It sounds very interesting. There is a strange disconnect between the way we honor and appreciate our law enforcement officers and the way we retract from them. Thank you for sharing this!

Sarah Sullivan said...

I am so impressed by good creative non-fiction. I love reading true stories that read like a novel. Writing creative non-fiction must be incredibly interesting because you learn so much.

Shirley Drew said...

Sarah S.:
Yes, I love creative non-fiction (obviously). Sometimes I wish I could write fiction. I know the skills are similar, but I have NOT ONE good idea for a piece of fiction! Sigh...

Shirley Drew said...

Thanks for your comments Abbie. I am now following your posts and look forward to them.

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