Auguri di Buon Anno; or, The Year of the Lists

Happy New Year, so to speak. I hope it’s been treating you well so far. I’m not usually one to do the resolution thing because I find they never work and I find that true change needs to come from necessity. Not to be too “nose up” about it, of course.

Let me tell you a little about what has been going on over the holidays.

  • I lost my job due to my personal health issues.
  • I’ve been looking for muggle work, but without much hope.
  • In the interim I have been focusing on theatre, art, dancing, and writing.
  • It is still taking up so much of my time that I have no idea how I managed it before.

Seriously. I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe I’m just filling whatever time vacuum I have with art and that’s why it feels longer? Maybe I’m just painfully slow? I don’t know. Either way, the first thing I did (after assembling the massive backlog of projects I had shoved off to the back burner) was tackle the murder mystery party I wrote for my friends for our New Year’s Eve party. (If you are interested and would like me to write a murder mystery party for you, too, please inquire!) The theme was time travel and everyone chose a historical figure to play. I gave myself (and the lovely and wonderful Lakiah, without whom I would still be writing it) 3-ish weeks to write it, which should be more than enough time. Even when I was writing and researching all day into the night, it still took us right up until the day of to get it done. It took just an impossible amount of time to do. But, I’m told, a good time was had by all, so that makes it worth it in the end.

I’ve also given myself a few goals, but I don’t think of them as New Years’ resolutions. While I was working, I told myself that I would do X, Y, and Z, if only I had the time, which of course is what all working people say. And then I left my job and suddenly I had all this time on my hands. It just so happened that it fell just after the holidays but right before the new year. Normally, I try to give myself specific goals (as NerdFitness says, “that which can be measure, can be changed”), but this time around, I can’t seem to find anything specific. I did some “soul searching” (if you want to call it that) and I was literally just…unable to find an actual tangible thing to work up to, like I had in the past. Handstand? I’ll live if I don’t do that. Lose weight? Nahh. Produce X amount of work? I don’t think so. In the end, I was only able to find “general” and “more specific” goals for the foreseeable future. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

General:

  • Produce good work
  • Love my body, and myself
  • Show people I love them more
  • Consume good work
  • Figure out what beauty is
  • Keep Moving. <—-This one turned out to be the one I’m holding onto the hardest to get me through.

More Specific:

  • Keep at the yoga (I do a sun salutation every morning, which started by accident), and then make it harder.
  • Sign up for a race. Aspire to the Spartan Race eventually.
  • When one project ends, start another immediately.
  • When you see something wrong, fix it.
  • Get a job, or not.

I’m very privileged (in general and) in that I have the luxury to decide if I want to work right t this moment. In my situation, it would be better if I had a job because bringing in money would be the best thing for me to do. With the money I would be bringing in, I could pay for lessons, pay my student loans, buy pretty dresses (which is something 7 year old Jackie would never stand for), and generally just have Patrick’s back when shit gets rough, as well as feeding the all-important Savings Monster. Patrick has told me, even a shitty part-time job would take some of the edge off.

But you know, the more time I spend with myself and examine my actual health and well-being, the more I wonder if I am even cut out for working in the real world. I haven’t been diagnosed officially yet (because, shocker, it’s hard to go see a shrinky-dink when you can’t afford her rates), but I undoubtedly have some kind of unholy combination of old spinal injuries that never healed/anxiety/depression/suicidal thoughts and tendencies/unresolved grief/PTSD (actually, I lied, that last one was diagnosed) and it makes it extremely difficult to function in normal people society. I heard a good friend of mine, a woman who is disabled but able-bodied-presenting, once say the following:

If you’re disabled when you do things you don’t like, but you can do things you do like just fine, then you’re not really disabled. You’re just uncomfortable.

I suppose, in the end, that I should take her word for that, being that she is the disabled one, but I can’t say as I agree wholeheartedly. In my experience, I find that I have a tremendous amount of difficulty motivating myself to do even those things I love and couldn’t live without (auditioning, dancing, writing, cooking, etc) but that I find it easier to motivate myself through love than through any other medium. It’s much easier for me to force myself to play guitar because it makes me happy than it it is to force myself to go to work which makes me actively unhappy, but I really must emphasize that none of it is ever actually easy.

I’ve told Patrick before that it’s not that I want everything served up to me on a silver platter. It would be nice, but I certainly don’t want that. Everyone needs a challenge to grow and develop as a human person. But you know what would be great? If maybe one thing weren’t so tough. I’m trying to avoid being melodramatic here, but please bear with me for a moment. Because of the injuries I sustained as a very clumsy child, I’m in searing pain every moment of every day. Getting out of bed literally hurts to do and, like every normal human, I have to do it every morning. The yoga helps very minimally, in that it’s keeping one small but persistent kink in my shoulder at bay for the moment, and I’m told that generally “being more active” will “help” with the pain. “Help,” not “heal” or “stop.” Just “help.” Which means, in Layman’s terms, that in order to avoid a life of Pain Level 7, I must force myself to be in Pain Level 9 for a little bit every day in the hopes that one day I will be living at Pain Level 5 or below. Forever.

If you know me very well, you might know that I hate the concept of “forever.”

But I didn’t want to get into that particular discussion today. I apologize. (Although, on a more personal note, I am going to be going back to therapy soon and seeing if I qualify as being legally “disabled.” I would much rather not be disabled, of course, but I very well may be. In any case, I need to consult a professional before I go around labeling myself.)

Moving on.

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Above, we discussed the idea of working.  Having a job and all that. But what actually is “working”? I ask because, shortly before losing my job, I started making a list on the first page of my brand new notebook that I bought for just this occasion. The list was titled “Jobs for an Artist.” It had bullet points like:

And on and on it went. But art is a full-time job, I began to think to myself. Why can’t I just do that? On the next page, I made another list. It was titled “My Day as a Working Artist.” It had a sort of chronology for how my “work day” was going to go from start to finish. I won’t replicate it here, because it’s a bit naive, if I do say so myself, but more or less it consisted of:

  • Wake up
  • Eat and work out
  • Work
  • Apply for work
  • Do chores
  • Work some more
  • Pick up Pat and take the evening off. Weekends off as well, unless something was planned for that day.

What even is a working artist? What even is work? Now, I ask that you don’t think me so naive that I somehow made it to this point in my life without realizing that art doesn’t pay. I know it doesn’t. I also know that sometimes, it does.

I met a woman in college who described herself as a “working actor.” I don’t remember her name, which an old teacher of mine joked meant that she must not be very good, but I believe it was Katherine. She was giving a talk to us in my freshman year, so naturally I was too dumb to know what a good question was, and I wasted it on a dumb embarrassing one that I don’t even remember. Someone else had the good sense to ask about her daily schedule. What is it like to be a working actor? What does your day look like? At that moment, this look crossed her face that I’ve never forgotten. She looked exhausted, frankly, and like she wasn’t too enthusiastic about what she was going to tell us next. Again, I don’t really remember what exactly she did with her day, but she was a member of a musical in residence in Boston where she sang and danced in the chorus, and I think she also said that she was teaching and giving talks all over the area. The way she described it, she was working well over 40 hours a week, taking more or less every gig that came her way, and she was barely making ends meet. I never forgot that, despite how much I forgot the details.

Similarly, I follow Humans of New York on Facebook and I saw one picture not very long ago that really resonated with what I’m trying to say here. The quote associated with the photo was this:

“I’m a classically trained singer in a culture that values classical music less and less.”

I find this to be truer every day. Art is valued less and less as time goes by, but it is still very much needed. Can you just imagine what would happen if one day people just stopped making movies, or television shows, or writing books of magazines, or if they stopped tattooing or illustrating comics or telling jokes? We are so necessary it hurts. We are so very, very needed by our society, and we are needed by ourselves. I’ve tried to give up art. I’m sure most artists have. But we’re in the same boat that most pilots are. We are born with a fire inside us that we can’t ignore. We feel the drive to do whatever form that fire takes (painting, singing, flying a plane, whatever), and everyone takes advantage of us because they know that we must do this, no matter what, pay or no pay.

Then, they demand that we not only do what we do for a pittance, but that we be the best at it, a veritable expert. Being an expert requires classes, years of experience with little or no pay, often promising only “exposure” (Malcolm Gladwell states in his book Outliers that no less than 10,000 hours of practice is required to make you a master of any craft, though the verity of that statement is debated), college degrees, excellent training, connections, appropriate clothes and shoes, taking care of our bodies, the instruments through which we channel these desires, and multitudes of considerations that would be too tiresome to list in full.

And what do we get at the end of it? More often than not, nothing but the satisfaction of having done it. But satisfaction isn’t enough to make a home or raise a family. It’s certainly not enough to pay my student loans, my bachelor’s degree being another theatre-related expense.

So I ask again. What is work? Is art work? Do we deserve to be compensated fairly for our work? What is “fair”? I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot, considering it is now my every day reality. I’ve wondered if it wouldn’t be easier to go back to the patron system, or if there were some kind of government subsidy or something. I don’t know. I’m not an economist. I’m an artist, and I work very hard. I just feel like I deserve to be compensated for making the world a little more beautiful.

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Thanks for listening to me up on my soapbox like that. I appreciate it. Let me give you a little rundown of some of the things I’ve got on the “Projects To Be Done” list:

  • Practice guitar and make more guitar videos
  • Produce a show with my fledgling theatre company, Mischievous & Troublesome Productions. (Official announcement!)
  • Organize a weekly open-mic
  • Write more. That could really take the form of anything, but I want to write and distribute a few films and plays.
  • I have a small collection of poetry I’m working on, and I’d like to arrange them in book form.
  • I have some costumes I’m working on that need to be finished and photographed, like the patchwork cloak.
  • I’m writing an article that I hope will be accepted by Cracked, one of my favorite websites.
  • I have 4 or 5 auditions lined up for the near future, and hopefully I’ll be telling you I have more shows coming up soon!
  • I want to write and record an album with some friends of mine.
  • I’m working on a handful or practical art projects that use plastic bags and bottles because they make me uncomfortable to throw away.
  • I want to play around with my new tech gear, a quality webcam and USB mic, and see what I can produce with them.
  • Arrange my home play library, make it fully functional to the “public.”
  • Organize my home office, which I hope to think of as my home base.

I think at this point that it’s a good thing I don’t have a job right now because it’s looking like I’ll be real busy! Let me know what you folks want to see from me, and let me know if you want to get involved. I love collaborations.

A presto con amore,

JW

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