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The Day Job: Saving the Environment Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

August 28, 2014

When I’m asked if I like my job, I answer truthfully. “It has its rewarding days,” I say.  I often feel as though the job that pays me  is a distraction from what I should be doing; writing down things I made up. Strange isn’t it?

Seen just outside my office mate's window one afternoon.

Seen just outside my officemate’s window one afternoon.

When most people ask that inevitable question “what do you do?” they’re usually asking about the daily activities that you perform to pay the bills and keep yourself fed. When they ask me, I could choose to re-interpret the question and answer “I’m a writer”, or “I brew beer, train in martial arts, go on hikes whenever possible, and try advocate for fairness and justice wherever possible”, or I could even choose to be crass and answer “my wife”. But usually I end up giving them the answer they asked for, even though it’s one people don’t usually expect, and tell them the name of the local government parks and conservation agency I work for.

To be more accurate, I usually tell them the name of the State agency; one of the three parent agencies of the joint powers authority that actually pays me, because that’s the organization that people in the Los Angeles area are more likely to have heard of. I think less than half the new people I meet have actually heard of us in some way, never mind that the names of both agencies are all over the signs at parks and trail heads throughout the Santa Monica Mountains range, and many other places within Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. (For those unfamiliar with So Cal geography, that’s the mountain range that runs from Point Mugu in Ventura County to Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and separates the San Fernando Valley from L.A. City.)

Occasionally I get questions like this: Where are the mountains? You see those big things over there? The most prominent natural feature of the Los Angeles area? You drove through them today on the freeway. You might have noticed them propping up the Hollywood sign at some point. (It’s hard to answer questions like these without being snarky.)

Many people, however,  follow up with the sorts of questions that indicate they want to know more about what I do. Essentially I work in land conservation for a parks agency. And so I tell them that, no, I don’t get to work outdoors all that often. That my office is in a scenic location, but one that’s an hour’s drive each way to and from my home, if traffic isn’t unusually terrible. That what I do is, in theory, to try to conserve land to either keep it as permanent open space, or one day turn it into parkland. That what that entails actually changes day to day, sometimes hour to hour. Yet it almost never offers any kind of excitement. I can’t say it’s fulfilling, or even satisfying work. It’s a job.

Unless people really push for the finer points, I tend to leave out the details of what I do, because frankly, much of the time it’s boring, and it takes hours of explaining the minutiae of my atypical day-to-day to make most people understand what my days are really like. The one constant thing that I end up doing is drafting comment letters for my boss, or for the chairperson of one of our boards to sign. So many, many letters, on so many, many projects. This often goes along with photoshopping explanatory diagrams and maps to go with these letters, and sometimes running around to public hearings to be a voice and face for the agency I work for. Sound thrilling?

(For any Libertarians reading this, know that I don’t get paid with taxpayers dollars. Voter-approved purpose-specific dollars cover my staff time and that of my co-workers.)

How’d I land this swanky gig? My degree in Biology and a couple of internships working with threatened and endangered birds were apparently my chief qualifications, but there was no training that prepared me for what I now do five days a week. I’m a bureaucrat and a public servant whose main function often seems to be complaining about what folks in the private sector want to build. The usual reason is because of where they want to build it.

As you might expect, pissing people off comes with this territory, but making developers angry doesn’t bother me much. It’s actually the monotony of my job that gets to me. I go to work most days thinking about the great stories in my head that I will write down soon, just as soon as I have a free moment. By the time I make it home, after a day of staring at a computer screen, and an hour-long return commute (broken up some days by a stop at the gym) I find that my will to write anything more is sapped. Some weeks, the front of my head aches from eyestrain at the end of my day. (Yes, I have seen an ophthalmologist about this. It is not a problem with a long-term fix. At least not until my eyes deteriorate enough that I can actually use corrective lenses.)

People who believe in the work I do have told me that it’s important. That we needs more parks. That we need more open space for wildlife. That we’re saving the world for future generations. Some passionate folks have even told me that I’m doing God’s work.

Intellectually, I know what I do has an important impact. But that doesn’t make it feel like any less of a fucking job. A low-paying job at that.

I know a could command a much higher salary working for a private environmental consulting firm, even without going back to school for a master’s degree. Except private environmental consulting firms work for land developers. I’ve seen how that sausage is made. In fact, I spend a good deal of work time pointing out just how shittily that sausage is made.

I used to think that was the kind of job I wanted. I spent more than a year applying and interviewing for those kinds of jobs before I was offered the paying internship that led to the job I have now. But knowing what I now know, I just couldn’t do it.

I have other options of course. I could get over my miserable academic experiences as an undergraduate and pursue a graduate PhD. (If I want a life in academia and don’t mind acquiring student debt.) I could pursue work outside the realms of either biology or conservation. (If I knew what. No, I don’t care to hear the suggestions that you can pull out of your ass.) I could sell illegal narcotics for a living. (I’m white, so I might never be caught. Though my social worker wife might have a problem with this career choice.) I could do a lot of things, none of which I would find remotely fulfilling.

So for now, I continue to lose two hours of my days driving each each way to work at job that bores me, because I know that what I do is meaningful, even if it rarely feels that way. For now, writing stories is my hope for myself to have a meaningful and fulfilling future.

Yeah, I know; first world problems and all that.


Can you guess the name of the park this  shot was taken from? I bet you can't.

Can you guess the name of the park this shot was taken from? I bet you can’t.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. site permalink
    August 28, 2014 1:15 pm

    Superb blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring
    writers? I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices
    out there that I’m totally overwhelmed .. Any ideas? Kudos!


    • August 29, 2014 2:44 pm

      The free WordPress blogs are good places to start. I’m using one after all.


  2. August 28, 2014 7:58 pm

    Those of us who do not want the world to die salute you.


  3. August 29, 2014 2:03 pm

    Thanks. Although to paraphrase George Carlin, it’s not the world we need to worry about. Humans are the ones who are fucked.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. December 23, 2014 9:07 am

    Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a completely
    different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Excellent choice of colors!


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