Sunday, March 14, 2010

Workin' for a Livin'

I've been thinking about work lately. I am doing a job for which I am ridiculously overqualified. Lest that sound like bragging, let me tell you that the educational requirement for my job is a high school diploma and I am almost (but not quite) an ABD. I am not unhappy in this job - not in the least. As a matter of fact, so far I rather like it. But I wonder about all that money and time that was put into an education that I am not utilizing at all. What did it give me, besides an inflated ego/sense of self importance? When I was applying for work, of the fifty or so places I contacted, only three called me for an interview. Two of those I thought I was infinitely - perhaps even uniquely - qualified for. The third was this one. While both of the others showed a strong interest, they ultimately found someone else who they felt was better suited for the position. I'm not all I crack myself up to be. I need to find a way to be comfortable in this new role, and I'm sure I will. It's just - humbling.

This afternoon Tom and I watched World's Greatest Dad. I literally cringed in the opening scenes where they showed the stack of Robin Williams' character's rejected manuscripts while he fantasized about "earning shitloads of money" for writing a book that mattered - that changed people's lives. Literally cringed. Doesn't everyone want to write The Great American Novel? Isn't that the universal dream?

I suppose it's the dream for those of us who write, or read, or have a love affair of one sort or another going on with the written word. For others perhaps the dream is to be a rockstar or a professional/Olympic level athlete or an actor or... few of us fantasize about waiting tables or washing dishes or parking cars or wiping the noses of other people's kids. Some people have cleaning ladies and nannies and drivers; some people are cleaning ladies and nannies and drivers.

I was at the ballet Friday night (yes, even working class schlubs who live in shitty neighborhoods and don't make enough money to keep gas in the car can go to the ballet if they play their cards right) and I was astounded, as I always am, by the sheer strength and power the dancers possess. I imagine as infants our bodies might have resembled each others, but through years of training they have morphed theirs into something quite different and spectacular. These are folks who are - and have been from a very young age - completely dedicated to their art. I wondered - to devote yourself to something so completely surely you must love it very much. But would that same love exist without the promise of the standing ovation at the end of the show?

We are a family devoted to music. I recalled a day several years ago when one of Tom's co-workers gave him tickets to a major soccer game. We took the kids, wanting to expose them to athletic events as well as musical and artistic events. It was a hot day. It was the sort of hot where you really want a cold beer, but the 100 yard walk to the concession stand is just too oppressive a proposition. So of course, Olivia, who was quite young at the time, decided it would be a good day to be bored and tired and need to lay on my lap. I was miserable, but if her whining was to be believed, she was a lot more miserable. At halftime, a band played (Bowling for Soup, if you must know. And yes, I AM still preoccupied with 19-19-1985). Miss Olivia sat up, paid attention and clapped enthusiastically after each song. When asked why she was suddenly no longer DYING from the heat, she responded, "They're working very hard to entertain us. We need to pay attention." When I told her that the soccer players were also working very hard to entertain us, her whole demeanor changed. She sat up, watched the rest of the game, and clapped when everyone else did, even though she didn't understand a daggone thing. She understood entertainment.

During the first half of the game she thought they were playing. During the second she understood that they were working.

Not an artistic person myself, I got to wondering - when exactly DOES it stop being play and start being work? Or is it always some combination of the two? If there were no money or fans, would they do it for love?

I don't know.

I write because I love to. I know, despite the ever so kind comments a few of you have made, that I am AT BEST quite mediocre. I know this. I understand this. I will never make a dime, much less a living doing this. Yet my body of work continues to grow. Or should I call it a body of play? Without recognition, is it even real?

I'm a glorified babysitter. I've waded out far too deep. Me and Edie Brickell. Time to head back to the shallow end - and we all know why it's warmer there.


MiMi said...

Sheesh, Tammy! You ARE a good writer. And I think as long as you are happy, if you lower your OWN expectations of yourself (don't decide to vault the tallest bar if you don't want to; after all you don't NEED to)and do what makes you happy, than you are better and SMARTER than most.

singedwingangel said...

I think it is entirely possible to love what you do and do what you love and have it as both work and play. I think infinitely we were all designed with a dream that can only become a reality when we entrust it in God's hands and allow him to open the doors for us..HE gave us that desire and dream for a reason and to view ourselves as unable to achieve it sells not only ourselves short but God short..

Housewife Savant said...

I love your closing line.
It hit me like a kick in the arse with a soft shoe.
All this thoughtful stuff and then PEE.
I hope you weren't refering to something cerebral like hydrothermal circulation. (I was thinking about PEE before I read the post, so either way; meh.)

I am WAY overeducated to wipe other people's kids' noses.
The problem is we expect kids to decide what they want to do FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES when they're 18-19.
And a lot of us go into tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pull it off.

The magic turns work into play when we realize raising children is our gift.
Three dollars AN HOUR still sucks.

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

Well, I could say something motivational like I usually do.

But I'll be completely honest instead. You're probably right and I feel the exact same way as you, about my own writing. That I'm okay but really not great. And I don't even work that hard at it, not the way others do. And I'm coming to grips with that now and accepting it as where I am right now.

The only thing I can say is that most writers, good ones, are older (40 or 50+) so I do think that the best is yet to come. With age, comes experience and better writing or just more to write about.

So what if you don't get your book deal? If Tom and the girls give you a standing ovation in their own way each week AND if you like this mediocre job you're currently doing, isn't that really friggin' cool too? :-) (Okay, so maybe that was motivational..... sorry, I just can't help myself.....)

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

I thought of one more thing -- (then I'll shut up, I promise) Someone told me recently that it's not just what you create from your life (books, writing, children, etc.) but HOW you create your life. Just think about how many people have probably never experienced the ballet, or a soccer game, etc. The fact that you expose your family to art and exhibit an appreciation for art, makes you an artist!

So there!

Sandy said...

I LOVE the way you write. I almost always sit here bobbing my head in recognition and agreement.

We have all heard that if you turn something you love to do into a job, the love eventually goes away. I can believe that.

Regarding musicians, stage actors, etc., often when I sit there watching them I wonder how they make every performance look like it's the first performance.

However, if you write it, I'll buy it! Providing I get a personally inscribed copy.

Tsquared417 said...

Very thought provoking post today, Ms. Mommakin! And, I'm a total space cadet sometimes, and thought it was just Liv...not Olivia. Yeah, you have an Olivia too! ;)

K said...

I think are better than mediocre. And if you declare yourself to your art I bet you could earn some money at it.

I've definitely read a few books lately that were far less skillful than your blog.

Gibby said...

Are you in my brain?

I think about this all of the time. While I sit here writing, for free, for no reason other than to make me feel good, I always wonder, is it worth it?? Am I wasting my time? Should I find a better way to spend it? I can never shake this nagging voice in my head.

But then I heard on some movie or TV show or maybe a's not wasting time if you are working toward your dream.

I would never tell my girls to not try for something, to not create, to not do something they love, so why can't I do the same for myself?

Oh, and keep writing!!

carma said...

I've been thinking lately how cool to say I was a "this" or a "that" - to be completely proficient in SOMETHING. ANYTHING at this point.

I share your pain :-(

And I have a degree, too, that I do not use in my mundane job...

Tater Tot Mom said...

I could tell you what a great post this is, how inspirational and how it hits me right in the gut, but instead I'll're awesome. Your writing is great and it is real with or without recognition. I'm not saying recognition isn't great, but there are a lot of bonehead people out there, who cares what they think?

Joanna Jenkins said...

I disagree with you Tammy. I believe you are a significantly better writer than you give yourself credit for.... and I know you weren't fishing for compliments either. I really believe it.

All the time I hear really successful people (Hello Oprah!) telling the rest of us to "find your passion" and the rest will follow. So I'll line up with you (and our passion for writing) and we can wait for the rest to follow together.


MaryRC said...

what i am is what i am you what you are oh why...

do what you love and the money will follow.. i know you'll get paid for your writings, they're worth every penny.