Time and money have been on my mind.
It's been almost exactly six years since I stepped into my first corporate job at an advertising agency in NYC. Before that time, I worked mostly as a freelance actor and educator, averaging an income of about $20,000 a year. I lived like a gypsy and performed in a lot of shows all over the US and Europe. Other actors said, "You can't grow an acting career doing regional theatre and staying out on the road!" So after about a decade, I decided it was time to stay in the city, work with my manager, audition as much as possible, and make new work that influential people would see. I put out my cigarette and put on my big girl panties. The elevator led to a cubicle in a corner of a big grey building.
After all, I had to have a job. No one was paying for my apartment, unlike many of my friends who had parents who supplied their rents or grandparents who passed down their old places in the city. You know the old saying about New York, "If you can make it there, you probably have a trust fund." Now that I've been out of NYC for a couple years, I've realized that it's not common to come from that kind of money. My social circle just happened to include an incredibly disproportionate amount of trust fund kids. It was confusing, especially when they'd talk about how exhausted they were from the circus contortion class that morning or how emotionally drained they were from seeing a beautiful new piece at BAM the night before. I was wiped out from working a 10 hour day at the office before going to 3 hours of rehearsal and taking an hour long train ride home at the end of the night. And still, I was just barely able to make my rent.
Hand in hand, Justin and I refused to let our art lives die underneath our day jobs. Neither of us wanted to be actors who didn't act, writers who didn't write or musicians who didn't make music. We became hyper efficient and produced original scripts, theatrical productions, music and aerial pieces all while working full time jobs in the city. The math of this kind of life is pretty insane. In one week, it would break down to about this: work 45 (ha!) hours, commute 15 hours, sleep 50 hours, work out 7 hours, rehearse 20 hours, eat and prep food 10 hours, shower and dress about 7 hours - which leaves a very small window for socializing or spirituality or running errands or seeing plays or taking classes or doing ANYTHING else.
Now here I am in Colorado, six years deep in the cubicle. I'm working the most intense day job that I've ever had, still corporate, often clocking 12 hour days and extra on the weekends. Justin and I are rehearsing the most we ever have on our instruments. Even on work days, we can squeeze in up to two hours (sounds small, feels huge). Acting is totally out of the picture at this point and aerial is just barely hanging on. I've had to really prioritize these art projects in order to make anything grow.
Is it delusional to still think I'm an artist? Am really I growing anything or is it time to call it a hobby? Such a tiny island of my time is dedicated to art and the sea of my job is always threatening its boundary. My art time is incredibly sparse compared to the amount of my heart that is dedicated to it. Also, I live in a white washed suburbia. I eat expensive organic food. I can't hide behind the thin veil of being poor and living in the city and smoking cigarettes and doing downtown theatre to make me feel alive and creative.
It's been three weeks since we worked with our producer or took a real step toward making the album. Our time has been eaten by late night/early morning work emails and family visits and moving houses. When I consider the possibilities of recording an album up in the mountains in a barn without cell service every weekend this summer, I am thrilled and terrified. My old gypsy heart is out of her mind happy and my dedicated worker bee is awfully worried about missing important emails.
Somewhere I heard that all of the cells in a person's body completely change every seven years. If that's true, then I have one more year until my mutation from gypsy artist to corporate executive assistant will be complete. As I mentioned, time and money have been on my mind.
I tend to shy away from calling myself an artist. I don’t really know why, but I feel weird attaching that label to what I have done as a musician, actor and performer. One thing I can say with confidence is that I have always been something else in addition to being a musician or an actor or a performer. I've been a bartender, an administrative assistant, a terrible finance headhunter and a karaoke host (or "KJ" for those of you interested in the finer points of karaoke terminology). Perhaps this is why I never felt quite comfortable calling myself an artist. I always felt like I was moonlighting. I realize this is completely back-asswards as I never once in my youth said, "When I grow up, I want to schedule meetings about meetings for people who sell cars," or, "I can't wait until I can fulfill my dream of serving Jager-bombs to over-privileged Upper East Side undergrads.” But if I have learned anything in my 13 years of creating things, it is that the majority of creators have to get scrappy to make it work.
Nobody forced me to pick up a guitar and play it. Nobody told me that I should get two degrees in acting (something I still question the logic of from time to time). Live at Waltz AstoriaNobody pushed me down the road that lead to creating a band with my wife. To be honest, I should feel damn lucky to be in the position I am: a roof, a bed, food enough to eat, a healthy family, a wonderful wife and the ability to create. The rub is to not get greedy. The time to create is worth so much more than excessive money in the bank. I work so that I can create. Do I wish that wasn’t the case? Every damn day. But perhaps it is the day job (and the time and energy it consumes) that forces me to be more creatively active. Sure, I don’t wake up in the morning and spend every second of the day writing music, practicing scales or running our set; but I try to do well with the time I have. (Very big side note: if it weren’t for Steph, I wouldn’t be half as productive as I am now).
So here is the challenge with this current recording process: don’t stop. If the day job punches me in the stomach and all I want to do when I get home is down a few pints and go to bed, fine; but when the next day comes, pick up that guitar. Claim it. I’m not going to get any further shying away from calling myself an artist.
Here’s to moonlighting.
PS. Our intonation is still getting better.
PPS: If you live in the Boulder area, come and see us play at The No Name Bar this Saturday (April 9th) at 10pm. It’ll be fun fun fun.