I talk a lot about my opinions on working a day job, i.e. a 9 – 5, when your heart is elsewhere. Many people have to work a day job they don’t like. I can list a slew of friends right now who work day jobs and are musicians or writers, but need to feed their kids, pay child support, pay the exorbitant Bay Area rents and grocery bills. I’m not saying that it’s always feasible for most people to not work one, though I always encourage trying to find other passions so you’re not miserable all of the time. Life is short.
My husband, in particular, gets pretty upset when I knock the so-called American dream of clocking in during the day just to space out to television or video games at night–mainly because he has searched his whole life for that “something” that he is passionate about and has come up lacking. The things he likes to do are pretty normal. He likes reading. He likes eating out. He likes playing video games. He likes cuddling (to the point it makes me a bit nauseous, I admit) with our smelly dog.
So when I rant about how I’m feeling stifled by having to show up somewhere at a certain time every single day on someone else’s clock, if only part-time, he rightfully rolls his eyes, and has for many years as I explored a number of jobs that weren’t a good fit.
Actually, when he met me, I wasn’t doing much writing or music. I had just gotten out of rehab, for one, and out of a situation that had scarred me, for another, involving what I thought was a soul mate and bla de dah, but had actually been a catalyst for a relapse after four years sober. My way of coping was, of course, to imbibe copious amounts of pills from other people’s medicine cabinets washed down with a lot of vodka, and this being the Bay Area, some green, too.
After I stopped doing all of those things, for a time (before I got legal prescriptions for pills and had to repeat a similar process all over again) I was a little leery of my guitar. First off, it had some flaws. The tuning keys were falling out, the bridge was warped and the strings were way too far from the neck because the bridge had been adjusted to compensate for the warping.
(I’d had that guitar since I was 14 years old—my parents had traded some piano rebuilding work for it when it was new. Unfortunately, because I play left-handed, the shop didn’t have a single guitar that would work for me. They flipped a righty to make me a lefty. My pick guard was upside down and the nut was backwards. I played the hell out of that guitar for 7 or 8 years, it sure beat the nylon string contraption I had started out with.)
When my husband and I started dating, I cared not about my music or writing or art at the moment. I wasn’t even listening to most rock music, I could only tolerate tunes without words. All I really cared about was getting my brain functioning again and not feeling like shit all of the time–I’d done a number on myself. My beat up guitar sat in the closet, where I sometimes played some wistful three chord song over and over again while my neighbor listened through the wall.
In order to survive on my own, I needed to get a job, so I got one, a 9 – 5, and I started making more money than I had made, ever. It was nice to not be poor or running up tabs on credit cards I would never pay off.
My ex-boyfriend called me around that time, “Just to say hi,” and I shot the shit with him.
He asked how I was doing and I told him that I finally had a job. “Stuck in the grind, hu?” he said. I didn’t really know what to say. I was, but all of the lofty things I talked about with him (pursuing music at all costs, writing stories, the things I had given up doing while living in his apartment, even, until he had lectured me, saying, “If you would just do something, anything, write a song, write a story, I could justify the expense of having you live with me rent free.”) weren’t my priority.
The fact was, I didn’t really care about being stuck in the grind. I was watching all of the movies I’d been able to buy with my newfound income on my very own TV in my very own apartment. I was buying my own groceries (frozen pizza, sardines, crackers, toaster pastries) and I was answering to no one.
I began to think that maybe the ideals my parents had drilled into me (art above all else) weren’t my own. I didn’t miss the life of partial poverty I had in my teens, before they found other ways to bring in cash, wherein we rented a yellow one-story house and ate food from the church storehouse. I didn’t miss how sometimes we shopped at Costco and sometimes all we had in the kitchen for months were pickles, spam and ramen. I didn’t miss shopping at Goodwill and getting my fix of CDs by ripping off BMG Music (12 for the price of one!). I could now buy all of the nice clothes I wanted, all of the CDs I wanted and all of the food I wanted, every two weeks. I lived in a nice apartment in San Francisco.
A year went by, then two, and I started to self-destruct, again. Shopping stopped being fun, and I was bored, miserable, and started doing stupid things like not eating to see how skinny I could get (ending in more treatment). My husband got me to sign up for a class at the local college and it was like my spark came back. Pretty soon, I was in school full-time and I was writing music again and playing out at open mics, though I still didn’t have the drive I have now for my artistic pursuits. I needed to flounder and explore for a few more years.
I don’t knock hard work. What I have a hard time with is working my life away at something I don’t want to do when there is something I really, really want to do (music, writing) instead. I’ve reached a compromise—I enjoy working part-time at the library because I work with the teen programming and I get to do things like make a Tumblr account for National Poetry Month and play Rock Band and go to Juvenile Hall to sign up to volunteer without being in handcuffs. It covers pesky adult things like health insurance. I also do a lot of freelance writing.
My heart is, and will always be, in music. But like most musicians, I need to have things I do to bring in the bacon (or at least enough to buy me some bacon so I don’t starve), things that don’t take away from being able to gig and record and collaborate and write. It seems, as long as I don’t get too sick, that I am partially succeeding in that regard, though it’s all still a work in progress, a grand experiment.
My husband definitely earns more than I do, because he’s 11 years older and has been working at the same career (hair stylist) for two decades. He likes it. He can go to work and not bring it home with him, and it used to be something that would allow him to buy all the things he wanted to buy.
Unfortunately, he thought my degree (in Creative Writing) would guarantee a job once I graduated. It didn’t (I never promised it would). The publishing industry, where I worked for a time, tanked, and I also decided the 9 – 5 lifestyle isn’t my bag at all, after a year and half of full and then partial unemployment. And now, after ten years together (where does time go?) my husband is finally realizing he married a musician/writer/poet person who will always put art before money. Without him, I wouldn’t have a car. I would likely be living in a flat in Oakland or the city with probably 4 other people and shopping at Grocery Outlet. Not necessarily the funnest life, either, but creature comforts can only soothe you for so long, is what I’ve learned.
In the Bay Area, I am surrounded by people who can have their cake and eat it too. Whether because of inheritance or a silver spoon or savings or software jobs, there are a ton of people who get to live the high life, not sacrifice and not have to make the choices I make every day (do I buy a new shirt or do I buy some potatoes and meat for tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast?) It’s not much different than how I grew up. Everyone around me had money, we were the only ones who didn’t. We were in disguise, lived in the nice neighborhoods but didn’t own our house, didn’t have new cars, didn’t wear Abercrombie and Fitch, got handouts from the church. I’m used to it. I work very hard to make the small amount of money I do make, but I still don’t break even without being extremely creative and trusting in the benevolence of the universe.
I have no doubt I will learn how to use my talents to cobble together enough work to more than squeak by, but pursuing the path I’m pursuing will not make me rich. I’ve accepted that, and I don’t very much care. Sometimes, I get frustrated because I’d like to finish the partially done sleeve on my right arm and buy a nice guitar for once in 17 years, but I do have two nice mid-range guitars, and a lot of resources many people don’t have.
I only share these things because I think others are probably experiencing similar quandaries, and I know that when I read about other people’s lives, I often feel better about my own because I don’t feel alone. And that’s mainly the reason I write this blog. Lately, I am genuinely appreciating hearing your experiences in the comments section–I started this blog because I wanted to find other like me, and connect with them, and I am blown away by how I’ve met that goal, in spite of it taking years at this point.