Sunday, July 10, 2005

In Praise of Doing the Day Job--nearly a sermon

Day Job is the label we aspiring, creative types give our ‘real jobs’ to send the precise and clear message that ‘we are more than we appear.’ Some, so afraid of being mistaken for a mere cashier, waiter, computer technician, dental assistant, or file clerk, reflexively blurt out that they are ‘really’ artists, actors, writers, acrobats or musicians, which annoys disinterested customers and offends coworkers who actually are cashiers, waiters, computer technicians, dental assistants or file clerks. A job is a contract---while we’re in it, we are it, no matter how talented we may be or how much Vonnegut we’ve read. Conversely, serving coffee at Starbucks doesn’t make a pianist less of a pianist. I’m thinking, it could actually make someone a better actor---keeping a straight face while asking $9.85 for two coffees probably takes real talent.
If we constantly remind ourselves that we are capable of more than our day jobs we can become resentful of the job. Sound familiar? Of course. We should all be in well-lit studios, with top-notch equipment and an adoring assistant, making masterpieces! Why aren’t we? (We all have our own reasons. Figure yours out for yourself, get over it and move on.)
So, these attitudes---resentment to apathy--- only can keep us from performing the “day” job as well as we could, thwarting potential pay increases or advances that might allow us the well-lit studio, or supplies, or classes that would make us better artists. Are we afraid that if we do a really good, honest, informed job of selling audio equipment or packing boxes it will diminish us as artists? Why? We can do both. Our brains are plenty big enough.
For me, it seems to take a lot less energy to concentrate on what I’m doing (e.g. paying bills, cleaning the studio, chauffeuring the kids) at the moment than to be wishing I were making art instead.
That’s not to say that I’ve never been inspired while scrubbing pots. It happens. I jot it down and get to it later. Sometimes I’m frustrated that I can’t just drop everything and start welding armature. But, once in a while it is possible, with a little creative re-arranging. Picking up my son from daycare can’t wait. Folding the laundry can, as can seeing a movie with friends. It’s all about choices. We can be flexible and moderate, mostly, and go hog-wild, once in a blue moon, just to keep sane. ( A supportive spouse, friend, or offspring can be a real help here.)
Except for an imaginary few, professional artists have day jobs too. The paying jobs are not necessarily the inspired ones. Maintaining a studio requires a lot of work that isn’t remotely artistic. The same balance applies. We can easily fall into the trap of ‘saving’ our energies for our personally inspired works so we end up holding back our best. I would imagine an artist who has moved through many phases of work, asked to go back again and again, to the unicorns he began with, or a successful musician who has evolved styles and is required to play old favorites over and over, must have to make a real effort to perform these 'jobs' well.
Is it possible that by ‘holding back’ on our day jobs, just slogging through, counting the hours until we get out and on to work that is ‘worthy” we are cheating ourselves of satisfaction and self worth? If the day job is so tedious or stressful to us that we just can’t motivate ourselves to do it well, then maybe we ought to think about another day job.
This is ancient advice, I know, and may not apply to you. Perhaps tomorrow morning you’ll drive to a great location to be greeted by adoring supporters (and fresh coffee with gourmet Danish pastries) and begin work on an inspiring, fulfilling project that will better the world we live in and pay you lots of money and only enhance your artistic goals. Good for you.
For the rest of us, maybe we should apply ourselves to the tasks at hand with a bit more effort, with a little more enjoyment, and see where that leads us. Not because it’s the ‘right ‘ thing to do, but because it just makes more sense than slogging.
Tomorrow I'll work on projects posted on a list on the wall. I may glance longingly at the mock up of a new “inspired” kinetic piece sitting on a corner shelf, but I’ve promised myself I’d take a few hours “off” on Wednesday to work on that one.
Tonight I’ll load the dishwasher, fill out insurance forms, order supplies and give Orion a bath. Tomorrow I’ll make my own coffee and skip on the Danish and remind myself that the things on my list are worth doing well, though I'll definitely be looking forward to Wednesday.

On the Gurtie front: I tried the picking up thing again. I thought I heard a purr for a moment but I think maybe it was vibrations from the fridge I was leaning against. There are several packets of rejected 'kitty treats' on the counter, but I'm pretty sure she ate one of the "Cosmic Kitty" nuggets. She is looking at me askance these days, possibly wondering things, likely just waiting for the sound of cellophane ripping. These looks could be considered an improvement, since she usually only looks at my feet, but I'm not counting on it.

Have a good Monday.



tom said...

thanks, will do my best to have a worthwhile day!

On the same note - I'm almost sure that when I had the day job before this one (Communications Manager for an engineering firm, and now, much to my surprise, lecturing on design and design theory) I found it easier to work on creative stuff. There's a lot to be said for creative bloody-minded-ness when you're doing a job that you know 'doesn't fit' with the grand plan. I do get time for personal projects now, but as I actually enjoy thye breadwinning work more than I used to, it can get shoved to the back of the list.

I should probably organise things more...

ivenotime said...

Day jobs are great for creative fodder - either by daydreaming or exposure to people/places/things that one might not ordinarily choose. Congrats on your Chelsey nomination, and best of luck with your cat - mine hasn't forgiven me yet for the inclusion of a puppy in the house, ah well....

Really_Rather_Not_Nice said...

I agree with the spirit of what you're saying essentially, and I do agree that one shouldn't think of themselves as less of an artist/writer/music-maker/mime-or-whatever just because they work the night-shift at the local Stop, Shop, N' Roll.

But I still effing hate my day job.

bluewyvern said...

A very thoughtful and insightful post -- I'm not really an artist, but I'm a recent college grad with loftier ambitions than the cashiering job I've held throughout school for the past almost six years, and this is the kind of resentment that plagues me every day. I'm currently looking for a new job while trying to get through essentially having become a full-time grocery store cashier since graduation. As you suggest, I have been trying to temper my impatience with my lowly station in life by doing the best I can in the job -- I recently applied for a promotion to shift leader. Even if I'm leaving the job soon, there's no reason not to advance while I'm in it. Thanks for the reassurance that others are dealing with the same thing.

I've been lurking and reading your blog for a while, and I just wanted to say that I really enjoy it, especially the artwork that you post. The latest White Queen sculpture is amazing. Great work.

Steve said...

Thanks, This is one of the most inspirational blogs you've written.
...and I like my job...