In the ‘Writers Do It Best’ series, contributors reflect on how their education and experiences as writers have uniquely prepared them for their lives outside the writing world. Today, we hear from Luke Wiget, a student in the MFA program at The New School. You can follow Luke on Twitter @godsteethandme.
I am a male receptionist at a hair salon in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I sit at a too-small Ikea desk in an alcove that is best described as a display case, a section of windows that boxes out from the rest of the shop. There I feel more outside than in and am a kind of terrible advertisement for a salon with my unwashed, chest-length hair. Then again, it is Brooklyn.
All day I ask girls and some guys too if they want anything to drink. Wine, water, a beer? If the answer is wine, I say, what color? White or red is what I mean, and that usually gets a laugh, and I pour their drink and return to Twitter or half-reading some online flash fiction. I return to checking my Submittable submissions where nothing is ever In-Progress. I listen to everyone talk.
My training and near-degree, an MFA in fiction, have prepared me to be medium happy at this kind of menial job. I make some decent jokes, usually puns, and can talk books and music with clients if they want. I can say how I was really feeling this or that record. I can also explicate the hell out of each song if that’s your thing. Not every male receptionist in the world can chat Joyce, right?
What else? Why should you hire us?
Well, I don’t have other ambitions right now aside from writing, so I’ll probably stick around unless you fiddle with the schedule a whole lot. (I need my writing days to stay put.) Also, I have no other skills. I cannot fix a toilet or reroof a house. So I’ll answer your phone and mingle with the hipsters while they wait to get their baliage highlights or have the sides of their heads shaved.
I can proof your emails. I’ve even been known to draft an email from scratch and let you sign it.
And I can learn to be opinionated about anything. At the salon I’ve started to weigh in on leave-in conditioners and dry shampoos. I’ve been upselling salt sprays like I own the place.
Okay, I’m getting there, and it’s turning out that maybe this is actually all about listening. Maybe that’s all I really offer. Maybe your best MFAer is a professional listener, a listener before a writer or anything else, and that’s why you should hire him or her. It seems like, to an extent, a good writer is an empathizer—if for no other reason than that writing is hard and writing about life is difficult, because living it can be the worst. Life is traffic and broken big toes and gray hair.
The MFAer will make you feel better about how badly you feel by listening to you first, and showing you, second, that your life makes more sense than his does. He understands your hangover, your bad weeks and months, your back ache and loose teeth. He understands because he has to in order write about the tender and the terrible. And remember, his degree doesn’t work anywhere else.
(Written at work.)