Today was kind of an insane at work.
Usually I am very happy with my day job. Sure, I’d love to make a living writing and that’s my eventual goal, but if one is to have a day job, mine is a pretty awesome one to have. I fix things for a small university–technically, I’m the locksmith, but there isn’t enough lock work to keep me busy all the time, so I also do electrical work, plumbing, simple carpentry, shovel snow, set up chairs, do OSHA compliance inspections, et cetera.
I have a great boss, he started working for the university some thirty years ago, cutting the grass, and he knows freakin’ everything about the campus, and would rather be rebuilding pumps than going to staff meetings. He’s the kind of boss who tells you that something needs to be done, and then just expects it to get done without his supervision. For a self-motivated loner like me, that’s the best kind of boss.
Today, however, he took a much deserved day off. His second in command, the assistant director, was in a car accident on the way to work, and while he reported that he wasn’t badly injured, he did go to the emergency room. So far as I know he is still waiting to see a doctor.
Ordinarily, running the department would then fall to our lead man, a jovial biker who serves as our main plumber. Unfortunately, he was on a cruise, in Alaska, and hence not available to come in.
So. While I am not actually next in terms of seniority, somebody had to step up into the hot seat, and no one else seemed willing to. I talked things over with our departmental secretary and we figured out what absolutely had to get done today. Then we came to an agreement that anything else that wasn’t actually on fire or under water could wait until Monday.
After that it was easy. I used a combination of my natural charms and my willingness to convincingly threaten people that I know with dismemberment to assign jobs to my coworkers and we got done what absolutely had to get done, and few other things besides.
Now, I am not going to claim that I was particularly heroic today (or any other day) but it was a good model for my favorite kind of hero in fiction. I like protagonists who don’t particularly want to be the hero, who aren’t chosen by destiny, not given any particular mandate, but who see that something needs to be done and nobody else is doing it.
It feels realistic to me. Being a leader, in my experience, doesn’t mean being the smartest, toughest, or most moral person in the room, it means being the person who is willing to do the work of leading.
It is work, you know, taking charge. I’m exhausted from trying to be everywhere at once for eight hours. Responsibility is draining. It’s a lot easier to take orders than to give them. That’s something else that I like to see in fiction–being the hero is hard work, and the hero should sweat doing it. Not just the physical labor of slaying dragons and outwitting despots, but the mental, emotional, spiritual effort involved in deciding which dragons to slay and what despot should be outwitted next.
It’s not easy being the protagonist. There’s this whole clattering machinery of story to be navigated from point A to point 7-4, and damned few clear road signs. Sure, the “now the hero is agonizing over whether she’s making the right choice” scene can be cliche, but it’s cliche because it’s true. People who take the initiative to get things done second guess themselves. Or else they are total idiots who end up getting eaten by the dragon they forgot about.
One last lesson from today–being the hero is a thankless task. No matter what you do, someone is going to tell you that you should have done something else. That’s part of the business, and you just shrug it off and keep going. Doing what has to be done isn’t for the thin skinned.