Writers and other creative types hear a lot about Taoism these days. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll find books on everything from the Tao of drawing to the Tao of Pooh. And there are several quotes from Lao-tzu in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’m a big fan of Lao-tzu, the Chinese philosopher credited with founding Taoism in the sixth century B.C., and to the extent Taoist thinking helps artists get into a right-brain state, I’m all for it. But I don’t want to write about the Tao; I want to write about Tacos.
No matter how easily you are able to let your creativity flow with the great Tao, we must all earn a living while waiting for agents and publishers to discover our brilliance. In 1995, I decided I wanted to write a mystery. I left a lucrative law practice to return to Colorado and devote more time to writing. We had saved some money, but after making the down payment on our new mountain home, we had enough money left to rent one movie and buy one package of orange circus peanuts at the Kwik Mart.
So I had to find a job, and I had to find one fast. I didn’t want to practice law, and I knew a traditional eight to five job would be hard on my writing. So I did a bunch of different things. I wrote articles for a legal publisher and even drove a delivery van for my brother’s company. I also became a Taco Bell inspector.
Being a Taco Bell inspector was not a full-time job; all I had to do was visit eight Taco Bells every so often and pretend to be a customer. I would order a taco, a bean burrito, a Burrito Supreme, and whatever the LTO (limited time offer) item was.
I would weigh each item and measure its temperature, but my job didn’t stop there. As a trained professional, I kept track of the time it took to receive my food. I made sure all employees wore the proper uniform. I assessed the level of cleanliness. Most importantly, I checked to see that the condiment trays were at least 2/3 full. Only then, when I had completed my covert mission, did I fax my report to headquarters.
At five or ten bucks a pop, you won’t get rich being a Taco Bell inspector. Still, once I learned the tricks of the trade, I could hit all eight of my stores in less than three hours. In my case, that came out to about $15.00 an hour for a job which allowed me to wear shorts, eat like a sloth, and rock out while driving in my SUV.
Okay, maybe I’ve romanticized it a bit. It wasn’t all gourmet food and hot dames. It got old after a while. We had more burritos in our freezer than we know what to do with. I even tried using burrito chunks as bait at Barker Reservoir.
It was difficult to go from being a lawyer with a fancy office to being a Taco Bell inspector with a truck full of shredded lettuce and straw wrappers, but I stayed afloat financially and had plenty of time to write. I eventually got two mysteries published and made some money, but not enough to retire. One was a Book Sense mystery pick.
But I did what I had to do in order to write. As Lao Tzu said, “No calamity is worse than to be discontented.” And that’s the Taco of Writing.