“Being fired was the best luck of my life. It made me stop and reflect. It was the birth of my life as a writer.”
I picked this quote for this post because I wanted to write about about being fired, about the positive (and negative) aspects of being fired. But I became distracted by Jose Saramago’s name. It was familiar, but I couldn’t place him.
So I looked him up on Wikipedia, to see what sort of job he was fired from. Wikipedia did not have that detail, but I learned that he was a Nobel Prize-winning writer (1922-2010) from Portugal, the author of 30 novels. He died at the age of 87; he had not become well-known as a writer until he was about 60, though he had been publishing novels since the age of 25.
The New York Times’s obituary for Saramago revealed that he was fired for his political convictions. A lifelong Communist, Saramago was deputy director of the Lisbon newspaper Diário de Noticias in 1975 when a countercoup overthrew Portugal’s Communist-led government that had come to power the previous year. “Overnight, along with other prominent leftists, he became virtually unemployable.”
Already a journalist, he turned his focus to novel writing. His work has been described as magic realism and is notably for suspending the formal rules of punctuation and sentence structure.
One of his novels was “Death with Interruptions” 2008, which I had purchased as soon as it was published because a cellist figures in it. I had started the book, and, though I enjoyed the writing style, did not get too far into it before I set it aside for one reason or another and never got back to it. “Death with Interruptions” got a mediocre review from the New York Times. The reviewer thought he had slacked off after having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, but gave him credit for writing it, since Saramago was 85 when the novel was published. Saramago wrote three more novels before his death two years later.
According to Wikipedia, the name “Saramago” was actually his father’s nickname, meaning “wild radish,” and it was accidentally incorporated into his name when his birth was registered. He went to technical school and worked as an auto mechanic for two years before becoming a translator, then a journalist, and finally a novelist. He was also a political activist and an atheist, and political and religious themes are common in his books.
I’ve been fired twice, and still haven’t written a novel, except for the collection of 50,000 words that I wrote for National Novel Writing Month in November 2007, which doesn’t really count because I haven’t had the heart to look at it since I wrote it.
After I graduated from college in 1968 with a degree in International Relations, I was torn. I knew I would have to get a master’s degree or more to really do anything substantial with my degree, and I was discouraged by the Vietnam War to pursue further study of diplomacy. One might think I would have wanted to make some changes to the system, but the task seemed a little overwhelming. I joined VISTA instead, and when I got out, I decided I wanted to be a writer. So I went to an employment agency and was steered to a job at an insurance company writing form letters. Well, it was a job.
My major responsibility was the AARP Medicare Supplement program. I didn’t deal with health care, just billing and questions about billing, and I filled out forms that were keyed into the computer by others. It was a monstrously large machine the size of a small house, which sat in a glass-encased, air-conditioned area in the middle of the office. No doubt a cell phone could easily do today the work it did then.
A friend who worked in claims had been telling me that my work was excellent and that I should ask for a raise and promotion. One day he was promoted and was now in charge of my department; he interviewed everyone on his new staff, and when he got to me, I laughed and asked for a raise and promotion. He said he’d have to see my work first. What? I was flabbergasted. He explained that a woman who worked for me had blamed me for a problem with an AARP member. Again, I was stunned–I was so conscientious about that job. I told him I had a job interview that afternoon, which was, fortunately, true, and would he mind if I left early. He told me to leave that very moment.
I did get the other job, but the interview was a little awkward, as I couldn’t really tell them I had just been fired. It was an uncomfortable way to leave a job, and though it was later found that the AARP problem was the other woman’s fault, I don’t recall an apology.
The new job did involve more writing, so it was a positive move, but I still haven’t written that novel. Maybe one day I will.
But, first, I am going to read “Death with Interruptions.” And maybe some of his other novels, as I just downloaded the e-book version of a collection of 12 of his novels.