*Let me preface this by saying that it’s only a matter of time before the high of freedom wears off, disillusionment sets in and, over my afternoon glass of wine, I will inevitably start crying, “What was I thinking? What am I doing?!” But until then…
When I was a teenager I would spend hours working on art projects – constructing a collage on my economics notebook, painting a giant eyeball on a piece of canvas my parents had lying around – and I would completely forget about time and the social hierarchy of high school. (By “completely” I really mean only vaguely as screamy ’emo’ music blasted in the background and I outlined my tears in charcoal on an old copy of Catcher In The Rye. But pretty much, completely.) I could shut out the world and create whatever I wanted for hours on end. Nights were spent watching TV movies in the basement, and summer days, (when I avoided sunshine and exercise,) I would cut, paint, glue, and write my heart out.
My parents, being life-long artists themselves, encouraged every sort of creation, buying us art supplies and letting us browse garage sales and thrift stores for hours. While they valued art and creativity more than most of my friends’ parents in Fargo, North Dakota, I’m sure it also gave them peace of mind to know that my brother and I were dorking out to glue sticks and Ace Ventura Pet Detective while the rest of our friends were getting drunk in Nick’s basement. Either way, this was the last time in my life I could remember creating totally and completely freely.
Unafraid, unembarrassed, and with absolute authenticity.
I came to this realization a few months ago, when I stumbled upon an article titled, “Why Creatives Don’t Succeed In Traditional, 9-5 Work Environments.” Sitting at my desk at work, clocking hours for a reputable nonprofit, I took a ritual social media break and found that several artists I respected had reposted this article online. It stated that the reason creatives can’t do the ‘9-5’ thing is due to rigid schedules, lack of creative freedom, and mandatory routines. I looked at the tools on my work desk: file cabinet, stapler (with my name and “Don’t take!” written on it,) tape, a phone with a ridiculously long cord. These did not make up the toolbox of an artist. I listened to others typing and answering phones around me. I watched the clock tick time, and opportunities, away. Snap out of it! Here I am in an open, fun office environment, surrounded by intelligent, passionate people. I have a salary, benefits, paid vacation, and there are even beers in the fridge. Beers. But it was all too organized, and far too predictable. i knew what I would be doing on any given day for the next year. I had a specific grocery shopping day. I knew which streets to avoid during the five o’clock rush. My days had become routine, monotonous, and void of creativity. Spreadsheets had become fun. Something was terribly wrong.
So I quit.
That’s it, just quit. I had nothing lined up, no reasons other than I wanted the space and freedom to make, build, write, and dream as I pleased. As soon as I made the resolution, I felt like jumping up like Julie Andrews spinning in the fields of wildflowers. Such blissful happiness! But that show-tune inspired fantasy soon fizzled away when I handed in my resignation letter.”What do you mean you’re quitting to write?” Maybe if I were leaving to administer vaccines to starving African babies they would have understood. No, really, I just want to wander around all day, look at graffiti in the alleys, and frequent the coffee shops with all the daytime weirdos. <Insert Little Mermaid “…wandering free, wish I could be, part of that world…”>
While they finally came around, in all honesty, the only people who I could relate to were the artists, the restaurant cooks and servers, the outcasts of society. I told one girl about my resignation, whom I had never met, while shopping at an art store, and she shouted out, “Congratulations to Jenny who just quit her job!” Everyone cheered. These were my people.
I made plans to sleep in, drink more wine, garden, cook, and write whenever the feeling struck me. I prepared for lots of free time, plenty of alone time, and feelings of boredom. But I didn’t prepare for what has struck me after several weeks of unemployment: a creeping sense of failure. From somewhere deep inside, a little voice keeps telling me, you can’t do it. You’re not good enough. It won’t work. Most days are filled with beautiful strolls, journaling in the park, and cups of dark coffee, but in between moments of happiness, unexpectedly a wave washes up and tries to take me down. You are nothing.
I was not prepared for this. In passing, I brought up my fears (and attempted to downplay my mental breakdown,) to a fellow artist and business owner. “Oh that? Totally normal! And get used to it, because it happens a lot.” A little bit of comfort in a sea of worry. Kind of like someone showing you a life preserver from the boat as you’re drowning. Oh, you want this? It’s right here. You just have to swim and get it. It’s reassuring to know that other people have struggled to find their passions, to make it work in a cut throat world where worth is often determined by hedge funds and square footage owned. But there is a subset of people who have said, fuck it. They struggle socially, financially, and even mentally to forge ahead with their dreams. From it has evolved the most brilliant paintings, symphonies, architecture, delicious dishes, and social movements. But they all started at the beginning, with a vision. And I guess that’s where I’m at. I may be treading water desperately, but I can see the life preserver. And I’m still swimming.
I’m still swimming.