Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Best Day Job in the Universe - Not Today

I’ve posted about the glamorous, exciting parts of my job. This week it’s been nothing like that. My summer job at the space center involves food, lots of it. For anyone who has never done food service, it’s a long, hard, physically exhausting job. Not glamorous. Not exciting, unless the food burns. It’s messy, dirty work, but it’s so necessary to a successful camp.

No one ever writes about the cooks and janitors on the space stations and starships. Did they ever get screen time on Star Trek? Nope. Food magically appeared from a replicator. No one is ever shown scrubbing the bridge floor. But it’s a fact of life those jobs have to be done. We don’t have Rosie the Robot yet.

My husband found me sobbing in the bedroom one day. My problem? My characters had exciting, grand adventures. I spent my days wiping butts and noses, scrubbing dishes that just had to be scrubbed again a few minutes later, washing clothes that were just going to get dirty again. Life just isn’t very exciting for 99.9% of us.

Escapism. That’s why we write fiction. That’s what the space center delivers with each mission. But just like any other job, the space center requires non-glamorous jobs. During the summer, I spend my time in the kitchen. During the school year, I spend most of my time playing secretary and impersonating my boss on the phone.

So maybe the next novel I write will be about a janitor on a space station. But it won’t be about her everyday job. No one wants to read about that. We want excitement, intrigue, romance, suspense - we want escapism. We want dreams. We want space travel!

Sorry, my inner geek has escaped again. Time to make a big bowl of eyeball jello for dinner tonight...


  1. I think that the janitor who saves the universe would work very well. Go for it!

  2. I really like having characters with those necessary jobs. I like when the characters' problems are like my own but way worse.
    In my real life my husband died and I planned a funeral. In my fiction at the same all then men in a fictional clan died and I wrote about a mass funeral that went on for days.
    science fiction and fantasy can make real ordinary problems seem heroic by casting them larger than life.Take a look at Dune it's the story of a typical young man growing up and struggling with his identity but cast bigger, so that the typical experience of a young man is an epic.
    After I read such fiction I see my own life has heroic and that can get me through a day.
    So write about food service in space, same problems you face but bigger. Just how messy and exhausting could you make it?
    I suspect that replicator food would taste terrible and that the replicator would break down and need to be disassembled and cleaned.

  3. There was an episode of Babylon 5 told by a pair of Janitors. They saw all the MC's going about their grand days, but in the end the pair of them saved the day. Don't remember the name of it but it gave me a similar line of thinking to yours.

    I've been told most readers want to read about the pretty people, rich or with exciting near-impossible jobs. Personally, I'd rather read about the unexpected person becoming the hero--the janitor, the Enlisted military truck driver, or even the unemployed postal worker. In one of my stories I have a hero who worked a ton of temp jobs, his last being an egg inspector--which explains his soft hands and gentle touch. He gets his call to action and rises above when no one expects him to.

    So I say go for it. Write the janitor.

  4. I would read that book! This made me think of THE OUTBACK STARS, which I read recently and loved. Much of the book is concerned with details of the job of overseeing supply on a starship, which you would think would be a boring read, but oh no no no, not if it's done right!

  5. I love it and I feel your pain at being stuck in the bathroom! LOL! One thing I do to make the mundane less boring is to imagine my characters doing stuff like that and how they'd do it. Though I do dream of self-cleaning world. LOl!

  6. That is awesome, Pauline, must try it.

  7. It has gotten me in trouble a couple of times, when I lost track of where -- and who-- I was. LOL! Though once I got whistled at. I was going to get the mail and imagining how Sara, my AF pilot from The Key, would walk. Keep in mind that I'm NOT young and the guys in question were pretty far away (they were on the roof of a house doing repairs, in fact) when I did my tough girl walk to the mail box. The whistles did startle me out of character. LOLOL! All the way back, I kept thinking, if they'd seen me up close... (very big grin)

  8. Ha, what a great story! And from one not-so-young gal to another, my hubby always says hot is less about appearance than attitude. :D

  9. Thanks for the comments. I do have a serial on my boss's blog, if you want to read about a starship quartermaster who gets sucked into some pretty big problems. I wrote it for fun at work, so it's a twisted Star Trek fanfic. I based it off a character I play on some of our summer camps. I just spent all last night in character, feeding kids and scrubbing the galley. I got sucked into a raid on a Romulan base, though. I could read Romulan food labels and they were out of food on the starship. Loads of fun.

    If you are interested in the serial (warning-it was published as is, as I wrote it), it's titled "Adrian Stevens Personal Log, Episode whatever on (This is the first episode of the first story.)

    So let's see some janitorial romance in space!

  10. What a great article and discussion! I'm with Sharon on her The Outback Stars supply comments. Supply did get very exciting and dangerous--not to mention romantic--on the monster starship called Aral Sea. (The ships in this story are all named after past and future environmental disasters. Gotta love it.) But I digress...

    Sometimes it's the most mundane jobs and talents that suddenly become all important. I have an apocalyptic SFR in my head where gardeners--those who know the skills and tricks of growing plants (food) successfully--are akin to rock stars on their post-cataclysmic world, doing tours to share their wealth...and save their race.

    Jaleta, just want to say thanks again for this fabulous, entertaining series of articles you've written. What a fantastic job you have and what a great inspiration for hundreds of kids to look to the stars.

    I think we need to try to organize a SFR Brigade road trip to Utah at some point in the future.


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