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In an effort to re-start my personal blog, and to focus my mind for the coming year, I’ve joined the #Reverb10 project, in which bloggers write on a prompt for every day of December. I’m posting right before I go to bed at the end of my December 1, even though it’s past midnight and the calendar says December 2. I plan to write every night this month before bed—maybe earlier sometimes, but #Reverb10 is likely to be my bedtime musing most nights.
December first’s #Reverb 10 prompt is: One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
This was a year of trying things out. In 2010, I’d come to see that my plan of living from house sit to house sit, rent-free, living on very low income, had become more a form of hiding than a way of exploring what life had to offer. The fully nomadic, low-money-usage life may have had things to teach me, but it had outlived its purpose. It was time to try something new.
On the other hand, I knew I still didn’t want a conventional life. Near the end of 2009, I turned down a full-time ad-agency proofreading job (at the height of the recession!) because it didn’t offer to teach me anything I needed to learn—but also because, I realized, I really couldn’t imagine working a standard, 9 to 5, office job ever again. I wanted to expand my career(s) and be part of the economy, rather than avoiding needing or using money.
To that end, I spent 2010 trying things out. I found wonderful mentors in two of my major writing clients, and now I’ve learned corporate ghost blogging, taking my freelance writing career in an entirely new, constantly educational, far more lucrative direction.
I tried living in one place, sharing a cabin in Evergreen (a gorgeous small town in Colorado’s foothills) with the boyfriend I met in the second half of 2009. From that, I learned that Evergreen was too far from the hustle and bustle of Denver city life for my taste, and my romantic relationship worked better when we lived in separate homes.
I slowly tested my acting skills in new directions, too. The start of 2010 found me in Chicago auditioning for MFA acting programs . . . to no avail. I learned that my lack of formal theater education, and probably my age, make it extremely unlikely that I’ll ever be accepted into such a program. I’ll have to find other ways to take my acting to a higher level. Back home in Denver, I experimented: I acted in my first scripted stage show in three years. I became a regular in children’s murder mystery shows. (Yes, there are such things. Don’t worry—we murder fictional adults and let the kids solve the cases. No children are murdered.) Most amazingly, I learned how to help train police officers by playing realistic characters in crisis—mentally ill people, the developmentally disabled, and people who were very angry or severely traumatized.
I spent the 2010 trying new things in all kinds of directions, still not sure what was the right path to focus on.
On New Year’s Day, 2011, I’ll already be at Shakespeare & Company, a Shakespeare festival theater company in the Berkshires, working my ass of in their month-long intensive training program for professional actors. I’ve known for three years now that this is what I most want to do with my acting career: perform live, on stage, in the classical and other brilliant plays done by Shakespeare festivals. Giving up on MFAs, I’ve chosen the most direct route I can find: the highly-respected, Shakespeare-specific training of Shakespeare & Company’s 40-year-old Month-Long Intensive program. I still don’t know exactly where my acting will go when I finish this “acting boot camp” and return to my regular life, but I’m confident that what I learn in the Berkshires will help me map my course.
Corporate blogging will continue to be my bread and butter from February on. I’ve already arranged with my best client to pre-write the blogs that will go live while I’m at business further as soon as I’m back home. I also plan to start writing fiction again—once my favorite art form, but one I’ve neglected since college. I haven’t felt I had the concentration to write my own stories these past . . . too many years. It’s time to find my focus again.
As for my home, when I finish my actor training, I will still have a home to come back to. I’ve been renting a room in the house of an old friend from high school, and I love it here. I’ve actually unpacked and set up furniture. I have a home base to help me focus on my next direction . . . or directions.
And my love life? That’s the one area of my life I don’t think I have the power, or good reason, to try to direct.
I haven’t blogged for three and a half months. I think I had a good reason: I put my entire life on hold to pursue a dream. I told my freelance and pet sitting clients I’d be away, I let my awesome roommate/landlady find a new renter, I put even more of my stuff in storage, loaned my car to my mom, said goodbye to my friends, and headed off to San Francisco for the summer. Why? Following my stated goal of kicking up my acting career, I applied for the 2009 Summer Training Congress, a seven-week professional actor training program through San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. To my great surprise, I actually got in! I set off for two months in a huge, new city, to spend my days steeped in what I love most: acting. For me, it was a dream come true, and a life so different from my usual Colorado ramblings that it felt like a dream.
Knowing that, with nine-hour days of extremely active training, plus rehearsals, plus getting lost and overwhelmed in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, I let the Nomad blog slide all summer. Instead, I kept those friends who were interested updated with Facebook and Twitter updates (I could handle 140 characters occasionally, but not a whole essay). As with my trip to Portland, this adventure brought out the paradox of blogging an unusual life: When life is at its most interesting, I’m too busy living to blog about it.
It was an amazing summer. I made wonderful new friends and impressive contacts, learned more about acting and Shakespeare and voice and speech and text and the power of movement to communicate than I ever thought I could cram into my being in two months, fell head over heels for a San Francisco novelist, lived in two fantastic apartments and one awful one, got to know San Francisco’s many neighborhoods, marched as Batgirl in America’s biggest Gay Pride Parade… and I may someday write about some or all of these adventures.
For now, though, I’d like to start processing my challenge of the moment: Having put one’s life on hold, how does one ever get it going again? After a summer of tuition and San Francisco prices, my non-retirement savings are nearly gone (and I’m still not touching my retirement funds, no way, no how!). My freelance and pet sitting clients have learned how to live without me for two months. I’m now sleeping in the storage-stuffed guest bedroom at my mother’s house. My car has been diagnosed with a terminal case of “Chevy Metros weren’t designed to last for more than 188,000 miles. It’s time to let it go.” I haven’t knitted in months (!) and I’ve lost my guitar callouses. I still don’t have a play to act in. Some of my Colorado friends know I’m back in their state, some don’t. My long-distance friends have fallen out of touch while I was overwhelmed with theatre thoughts. For the first time in years, I actually have a steady, fairly awesome love life, but it’s a long-distance one—as my mom likes to sing while giggling at me, “I left my heart in San Francisco.”
Still, life looks good to me, not just because I’m still high from my summer of acting and adventure, but because this life is full of possibilities. In the next few months, I will have to find new work, a new home (or rebuild my house sitting lifestyle), and a new (to me) car. I plan to jump start my art life: land some acting roles; publish more articles, stories, and knitting designs; and finally learn to jam on my guitar. I plan to reconnect with and better appreciate the people I hold dear, and keep in touch with all of the new friends and admired acquaintances I met in San Francisco. Oh, and I plan to convince one adorable novelist that, once he finishes his MFA in San Francisco this fall, what he really wants to do is move to Colorado. Hey, it can all be done, and given my list and my life so far, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.
Intrigued? Welcome back to the blog. I promise to post about updated on my life’s reconstruction, plus some related (or not so) great ideas from the rest of the world, with new posts coming at least once a week, and usually more often. Thanks for reading.
My friend Rachel dresses beautifully for many time periods, usually not the one we’re in. Sometimes she looks like a turn-of-the-20th-century suffragette, with a tailored wool jacket, matching ankle-length A-line skirt, and little boots. Or she’s the image of 50s casual, riding her cruiser bicycle in pedal pushers, eyelet blouse, and simple sneakers. Other times, she’s another vision from the 50s, in a floral, full-skirted confection of a dress, with high, spiky, shiny heels. She can be Victorian or Mod, too, but she’s always feminine, and almost always pumping up her 5’1″ height with impressively high heels. She particularly likes to display her femininity in a professionally powerful way (I often think of her when I see Dr. Cutty on House, with her curvy tailored suits and high heels.) when she is at work as a college professor. As one of the younger professors at her college, she finds that sharp nails, sharp heels, and dressy attire separate her from the young people she teaches, and add to her air of authority. And though she’s also a fan of super-soft, flat Skechers, she’s most often seen in heels between 2″ and 3 1/2″ high. Why? She has flat feet, which feel better in a bit of a heel, she likes the boost to her height, and most importantly, she just likes high heels.
One day, Rachel tells me, she was in a faculty ladies’ room, wearing a fluffy floral dress and not even her highest heels, when in walked Kitty, an “old guard feminist” by Rachel’s description—meaning she was older than Rachel’s 34 years, informed by the struggles of the 70s, and dressed in flats and baggier, neutral clothes. Kitty took one look at Rachel’s outfit and said, “How can you walk in those ridiculous shoes?”
At this point in Rachel’s story, I stopped her to wonder: Is anyone that rude when they don’t have a political agenda? Would Kitty ever say aloud, “How can you go out in public in that ridiculous tie?” In a world where we’re shy about telling someone her slip (or panty, or ass crack) is showing, Kitty is amazingly free with her opinion of other people’s shoes.
Kitty went on to complain that Rachel was just setting herself, and by extension, every woman, up as a sex object when she let men see her like that. Rachel countered by asking if, since Kitty clearly had such a low opinion of men that she didn’t expect them to control their own sex drives, all women shouldn’t wear burqas everywhere. By policing Rachel’s fashion choices and their effect on men who supposedly possess no free will, wasn’t she suggesting the same thing?
Feminism and fashion add up to a delicate balance: Can we complain about fashions that degrade female power in the world, without restricting women’s freedom? Can we ask any woman, however sexily or tackily she is dressed, to cover up without making her responsible for other people’s thoughts and choices? I don’t think we can. If we argue that any person must choose her (or his! More on that in a moment.) clothing to control the minds of the people who see it, we’re removing personal responsibility from the viewers—an insult to women and men alike.
It’s tough to explain the problem in the abstract. Fortunately, I have a great example, with genders reversed:
I love taking stage combat classes—learning to create safe, but violent-looking theatrical fights with knives, swords, guns, fists, frying pans…you name it. It’s good training for an actor, a great workout, empowering, fun, and a great way to meet fascinating new friends. As an added bonus, most people, male and female, who are heavily involved in stage combat are very nice to look at. Of course they are: They’re actors, so looking good is part of their job, plus they use their bodies all the time. Stage combat folks are athletes, and many are real-life martial artists or dancers, as well. They’re pretty, pretty people. For example, check out the guys in the video below:
Nice-looking guys, aren’t they? The one in the tank top is my teacher, Benaiah. Yes, I and many of my female classmates agree that he’s beautiful, yes, that’s how he dresses most of the time when he’s teaching, and yes, I have to admit that I find it just a little distracting. It takes effort for me to focus on what I’m supposed to be doing (e.g. swinging a sword at someone or stopping them from swinging one at me!) and not to stare at those cut arm muscles, those pecs… I have been tempted to say, “Yo, Benaiah! Would you put on a real shirt already? How do you expect the women in the room to concentrate, with your rippling muscles on display?”
I never have said that, of course. If I ever would, I’d mean it as a joke and a compliment, but it wouldn’t land right. It would simply embarass the stuffing out of Benaiah, who is actually rather shy. He blushes easily, and gets flustered when even a slightly sexual topic comes up in mixed company. (It took him nearly five minutes of sputtering to tell the class, “When you’re doing this move on a woman, angle the cut to make sure you don’t hit her breast.”) He really has no idea how hot he is, or if he has, he’s very modest about it. So why the tank top? Because stage combat class is essentially gym class. It’s hot, sweaty, hard work, and one’s arms have to be free to swing in every direction. He dresses that way because it’s the most comfortable, most practical outfit for the task at hand. Also, I assume, he just likes tank tops. Who am I to complain?
That’s the most important question. If I were to seriously complain about Benaiah’s tank top, I’d be saying that I am incapable of controlling my own hormones, of focusing my own attention. Even if I were that weak, how would that be Benaiah’s problem? Isn’t it fair to expect that I can handle myself, even in the presence of a man in a tank top? Then why do we think so much less of men?
I think (and hope) it seems obvious, with genders reversed, that one can and should control one’s own thoughts and actions, and it’s ridiculous to expect other people to change the way they dress in order to control anyone else’s mind for them. Of course I can focus on the task at hand, and I’m in no danger of throwing myself at the pretty, scantily-shirted man. Why can’t men be expected to have that same self-control?
To suggest that women must dress in a certain way to control the political or sexual or other thoughts of men is insulting to both genders. Yes, what we wear makes an impression—that’s what’s fun about fashion!—but we should all be free to choose the impression we make, and to expect other people to behave well no matter what we wear. We should all wear what we like, and allow people around us to do the same. Or, to quote the poem “Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron,” from that great work of 70s feminist literature, Free to Be…You and Me, “A person should wear what he wants to. A person’s a person that way.”
Hmm…I suppose this means that, when I see women younger than me in low-low jeans with their thongs and ass cracks hanging out, I can’t say (at least not out loud), “How can you wear those ridiculous pants?” They’ll probably be thinking the same thing about me, with my Mom jeans that go all the way up to the top of my hip bone. This will take work and a sense of humor, but a world where every person took responsibility for his or her own thoughts and actions, where we could all wear whatever we like, without it opening us to attack, political or personal, really would be a better place. I promise to work on it. I hope you will, too.
As you may have guessed by now, I have trouble answering the common icebreaker question, “So, what do you do?” I do almost anything legal that I can convince people to pay me well for, and a lot of other things that nobody will pay for, but that are fun all the same. My favorite answer to this question, though, is, “I’m a freelance writer.” It’s true. And my most public, most brag-worthy writing is the work I’ve done for the Denver/Boulder version of The Onion A.V. Club, which has recently changed its name to Decider Denver.
Got all that? Let me take it slowly: We all know and love The Onion. If you flip halfway through any issue of The Onion, you’ll find a section that’s no longer parody, but real articles, all about entertainment—music, movies, games, TV, sometimes even books and theater. That’s The A.V. Club. In the back half of that section, you’ll find A.V. Club-type content that’s specific to your local city, which is now called your city’s Decider.Make sense now?
I’ve been writing an article every month or so for the Denver/Boulder A.V. Club (now Decider), and it’s the most fun I’ve had writing for money so far. I’ve interviewed playwrights, directors, Molly Ringwald (yes, really!), and the fight director for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and written it all up in the hippest way I knew how. (Yes, it was a stretch. Hey, that’s what made it fun.) Sadly though, for the first two years I freelanced for them, the local content was only in print, not on the web, so I couldn’t point my friends and potential clients to my marvelous works after the week they first appeared on newsstands. I could only brag, hoping people would take me at my word.
Well, all that has changed. The Denver/Boulder Decider is now online, and I can now point you to one of my masterpieces. Yes, it went up last month, and it’s now out of date and in their archives. I’m still learning how to navigate the new site. I hadn’t been sure that my piece had actually been published until my paycheck arrived today. Ah, well, new technology has its learning curves. The point is that you can see that coolest thing I do for pay right here. Note my honest-to-goodness byline right under the photo caption. Cool, huh?
Happy new year!
I’m not always a fan of New Year’s resolutions. We all tend to make cliche ones (“I’ll lose weight” or “I’ll be a nicer person”) and then immediately ignore them. Lately, though, I’ve been setting down some lofty, but exciting goals for myself, and now looks like the perfect time to share them with … well, whoever, if anyone, is reading this blog. Keep me honest, folks. Knowing that someone is out there watching me, ready to be disappointed in me if I should fail to meet my goals, will spur me on. If you’d like to share your goals with me in the comments here, I promise to cheer you on, too. Let’s make this the best year of our lives! All righty. Here’s what I have in mind for 2009:
- Get my own home. This is part of the plan that I came back from Oregon with, and I still haven’t completed it. I’m tired of jumping from house sit to house sit, having nowhere to sit still, to organize my mind and my stuff. Still, I’ve been stalling because it’s hard to go from paying no rent to coming up with a check every month, and to go from total freedom of travel to, possibly, living with a lease. It’s time, though. What I’m doing now: Today I turned in applications for two possible rental homes—both rooms in houses with roommates. My recent employment and rental history (or more to the point, lack thereof) make me an unlikely choice, but I’m hopeful that one of the two landlords will be willing to take a chance on me. This should make a big impact on my effectiveness, my peace of mind, and the next resolution, which is:
- Get rid of all of my extraneous material stuff. The room in my mother’s house that she kindly lets me use for storage is full of some pretty strange junk. There’s the usual knitting fanatic’s stash of yarns and needles just waiting to be made into something wonderful (and half-done somethings wonderful waiting to be finished), and there’s the layer upon layer of boxed-up life necessities that I haven’t needed in my nomadic days (dishes, bedsheets, and such) or haven’t used because I haven’t been able to find them in years. There’s clothing so out of date that even I would be ashamed to wear it. Weirdest of all: When I was a teenager, my mother dealt with the junk mail and miscellaneous papers that piled up on the kitchen table by shoveling it all into a grocery bag once a week or so, then dumping the grocery bags in my room. There’s a sea of them still in there: college application packets, homework that my brother or I had to do again because we couldn’t find it, catalogs from 1991. That room is an overwhelming place, altogether, but it’s time I cleared it out. I want to own very little, and to know where everything I own is, and why I own it. What I’m doing now: See above. My main excuse for not sorting through this stuff already is that I don’t have a space of my own to spread it out in, or to organize it back into. Once I have my own home, I’ll have no more excuse. I can use the process of unpacking and moving in to unpack everything, then get rid of all of the stuff I don’t want.
- Become a much better guitarist. When I first took up guitar four years ago (!), I learned fast, practiced nearly every day, and had some great teachers. Now I haven’t taken lessons for nearly two years, and I’m thoroughly stuck in an embarrassing beginnerish state. I barely know how to play, and I haven’t gotten any better for a long, long time. I’ve started practicing more regularly, but I don’t even know what to practice anymore. This is made more painful by the fact that several of my friends are really amazing musicians. I want to be able to jam with them, to play out with pride, and to see myself growing again. What I’m doing now: So I just need to find a good teacher and take more lessons. I have a place in mind, Denver’s Swallow Hill Folk Music Association, and I promise to call them tomorrow.
- Become a much better fiction writer. This doesn’t say much, as I haven’t written a fictional story in years. In high school and college, I always seemed to have a natural aptitude for fiction, just waiting to be honed with a lot of practice. It is just a matter of practice. I need to make a point of writing often, make fiction part of my life again. What I’m doing now: I’ve dug up my favorite books of writing exercises. Starting tomorrow, I’ll practice writing for at least a few minutes a day … most days … barring emergencies … okay. I promise I’ll write something today, before I go to bed.
- Attend advanced professional actor training. This is an extension of the acting portion of my post-Oregon plan. I auditioned for lots of plays, and plan to continue auditioning, even though I haven’t been cast in a play yet (unless one counts the many murder mystery shows I did this holiday season, which, I suppose, I should). I took one acting class, which was okay, but I want more immersion and more challenge. My goal now is to get into and attend one of the many professional-level summer intensive actor trainings I know of around the country. There was one in Denver, but word is that it’s not happening this year. Now I’m looking at programs in San Francisco (my top choice so far), Chicago, and New York. What I’m doing now: A local teacher who I’ve worked with and grown to respect offers coaching in such things. I’m going to email her tomorrow and find out if she can advise me.
- Pay better attention to friendships and potential friendships. In my little brainstorming notebook, where I first came up with these resolutions, this was a very specific resolution regarding my treatment of one particular friend, but that’s too private a detail to post on a blog. Besides, I think the more general point is the best one to keep in mind. Here’s the crux of the story: Over the holidays, an acquaintance that I don’t see often (because he lives halfway across the country) blew into town for a few whirlwind days with all of his Colorado friends. When I saw him again in person, he acted like he was one of my best buddies in the world, and to my surprise, I realized that he was absolutely right. It turns out that the boy is a total nerd (a wonderful thing, in my book), much smarter than I ever gave him credit for (and I’d always thought he was pretty darned bright), and fun in the quirky, goofy way that I click with most. This just blew me away. I had a wonderful time, and even as he flew away to visit other folks in other places, I was excited to have discovered such a compatible, fun, brilliant friend—but why hadn’t I discovered him before? I’d hung out with this guy off and on for years. He’s a high-school buddy of one of my best friends on the planet. Why hadn’t I noticed the possibilities before? Who knows how much fun, brilliance, support, and inspiration I’m missing out on with everyone in my life? I promise to pay more attention to people this year, to appreciate them more. What I’m doing now: I’ll call my far-away friend in a day or two, when I’m sure he’s back home and settled in, (I can’t remember for sure how long his trip was. I’m not good at paying attention yet.) to remind him that I’m glad he’s my friend and ask how 2009 is treating him. I’ll also remind myself daily to pay more attention to all of the people in my life.
- Complete the Body-for-LIFE Challenge. Really. This is a scary thing to say in a public place like cyberspace, because it’s a big commitment, but I really do want to do this. For those of you who haven’t seen the bestselling books or heard the hype, Body-for-LIFE (BFL) is a 12-week fitness program used, largely, to advertise EAS Myoplex brand nutritional supplements. I first heard about it six or seven years ago, when the boyfriend I was living with tried to get me to do the challenge with him. Our efforts fizzled, mostly because the relationship wasn’t going well and I didn’t want to spend that much time with the guy. Still, I learned a lot about the program, and I came to respect it. Yes, it pushes products, but the supplements are good and helpful ones, as far as I can tell, and they aren’t necessary to complete the program. The program, itself, is a simple, easy to follow (and easily available online and in library books) combination of exercise and nutrition. Body-for-LIFErs do short, moderate workouts six days a week, lifting weights (which I actually enjoy) and doing their choice of cardio exercises, starting at whatever level feels challenging to them and gently increasing intensity as they grow stronger. Taking classes or meeting with personal trainers to learn correct form is strongly encouraged. Eating is sensible, and involves real food in small, balanced meals including protein, carbohydrates, and lots of vegetables. Unlike the plan I tried last time I really thought about improving my body, (when I was about 20. Step one: Berate self for not looking like Kate Moss. Step two: Stop eating entirely for two weeks. Step three: Try eating. Get severe stomach pains. Throw up. Step four: Terrified, learn to eat again. Give up on dieting. Step five: Berate self for not looking like Kate Moss …) Body-for-LIFE could actually teach me to kick my junk food habit, while making me strong enough to do all of the adventurous things I’ve been wanting to do, if only I weren’t such a wimp. Some examples: Surf all day long. Rock climb. Snowboard. Cross-country ski. Spend a day snowshoeing with my super-tough buddy, Brian, and not once have to ask him to slow down for me. What I’m doing now: I have to do some preparation for this. Over the past few months, I’ve slowly trained myself to run for 20 minutes straight, (Yes, I was an incredible wuss to begin with.) as I’d like to use running as my main cardio exercise. Now I’m working on gently weaning myself off Pepsi, as it’s not on the BFL menu, and right now, I’m so thoroughly addicted that a day without caffeine is a day spent in bed with a withdrawal-triggered migraine. I’ve also checked out the latest BFL book, Champions Body-for-LIFE, from my local library. In about a week, I should be caffiene free, studied up, inspired, and ready to get started.
- Start my own business. This one is scary to say out loud, too, as it will require a lot of learning and a good amount (for me) of financial risk. And yes, I realize that I have my own business already, sort of, by selling my time as a freelancer. What I have in mind here is my own business selling something besides myself. I’ve been reading about internet stores, marketing ideas for new gadgets, manufacturing, packaging and selling information (e-books, craft patterns, informative audio, etc.). I don’t know what I’ll sell yet, but this year I plan to give an online retail business a try. Whatever happens, I’m sure to learn a lot. What I’m doing now: I’m reading books on small business, and contemplating. Actually taking this huge step will wait until I’ve landed a regular home and settled into it. I intend to cherish the time and energy I save on packing, unpacking, and driving around, and use it to take this leap.
This post is exactly 2009 words long. Happy New Year!
My apologies for being silent so long. I’ve just finished a month-long temp job, the kind I like least: I was doing work I didn’t like, using none of my most unusual and marketable skills, at a company who had hired more help rather than figuring out why their processes didn’t work in the first place. It was the kind of job that reminds me why I try so hard to avoid getting a job.
Meanwhile, I was extra busy, and extra well paid, in every “free” moment I had after work, because opportunities were suddenly pouring in for all of the strange things I do for a living besides sitting at a desk and working a “regular job.” Here’s what I’ve done for money, though not as a job, in the month of November so far:
• transcribed a nine-hour audio program on holistic health so my friends at my former employer, Sounds True, could write well-informed catalog copy about it
• wrote two theater features for the brand-new Denver Decider web site
• acted in three murder mystery dinner theater performances, all holiday parties for various companies
• took care of cats and a house for one weekend
In these economic times, when everyone is arguing over whether we’re in a recession or a depression, and just how bad things are going to get, I’m being begged from all sides to come to work, but only for the strangest jobs I know of—which, fortunately, are also the most fun jobs I can imagine (so far. I’m working on improving my imagination). My employed friends are watching their companies’ budgets carefully, slyly looking at “help wanted” ads in their off hours, and waiting for the axe to fall. One dear friend, for whom the axe has already fallen, has spent over a month sending out her resume, which is overflowing with experience in telephone customer service—a very practical and useful skill, one would think—with no job offers. She’s just signed up with a temp agency, but she’s counting her pennies just in case the temp jobs have dried up, too.
I’ve tried over the past few months to land a “normal” job. I have to admit that I do miss the illusion of security—the health insurance plan that will try its best to deny coverage if anything serious happens to you, the regular paycheck (unless there are layoffs, pay cuts, or your company invokes its right to fire you for any reason), the regular schedule and regular people to see every day. I miss having a job to tell me where to live, when to get up each morning, how to plan my day … but apparently I don’t miss it enough to make a solid effort at landing one. Besides, such jobs are becoming more rare, and economists expect them to be even harder to come by in the near future. Like my telephone-expert friend, I’ve sent out carefully-written resumes, mostly with no reply.
Instead, I get calls from friends and past clients, I notice Craigslist ads and notes on writers’ and actors’ web forums, and I think of ideas like: If I want fingerless gloves, why not knit some this weekend, write down the pattern I’ll make up for them, and sell it on Etsy? Wouldn’t Decider love a blurb about that funky new gelato shop I just discovered?
Perhaps the world is shifting more towards creative, oddball work. It’s more likely that my oddball brain (and outward personality) are better attuned to such work. In any case, it looks like boom time for me, if only I put my focus in the right direction. Here’s the kind of offers I have coming up:
• It’s the holiday season, and every cat lover needs a cat sitter. I’ll spend this weekend and a bit of next week with the same cats I care for every Thanksgiving, and I expect to be busy with kitties at least through New Year’s Day.
• The Decider needs content, and based on what my friendly local editor tells me, the opportunity is limited only by my ability to come up with fun, funky things to write about. Here’s how it works: The Onion has long had a section in the back of the paper (and buried within its web site) called the A.V. Club, which contained real articles about entertainment—famous bands, new books coming out, the history of The Simpsons, and so on. In the back of The A.V. Club was more real information about local happenings in whatever market the paper was going to. (Denver/Boulder Onions, for example, had different back sections from Seattle Onions.) Sadly, the local versions never appeared online. For the past two years, I’ve been writing the occasional theater interview for the Denver/Boulder A.V. Club, carefully grabbing physical papers and scanning my clips into my computer for my portfolio. But now, at last, they’re putting the local information online, under the new name Decider. Some features and blurbs will still appear in the back of the back of printed Onions, but far more information will be available on the new web site. It still pays well, is still run by the friendly, helpful, very bright editor I’ve been working with these past two years, and now it’s begging for more content. I’ve get to get brainstorming.
• The murder mystery company I’ve been working with, through Denver’s Adams Mystery Playhouse, assures me that, even with the stock market falling, they expect to have plenty more corporate parties coming up in December. The bulk of my income this coming month may actually come from three nights a week of putting on a cocktail dress, feather boa, and fake Southern accent, and murdering a fictitious person with my Tic Tacs.
All of this makes me wonder how many of us are looking to the wrong place for our livelihoods. I’m far more successful when I embrace my weirdness and learn how to market it. What might other “normal” folks be missing by trying to fit in?
Have a break from my worries about the upcoming election! I’ve just received excellent news on the stage combat front! You see, I am an Actor Combatant, as recognized by the Society of American Fight Directors, a national organization dedicated to the creation of safe and entertaining fake fights for stage and screen. This means that I’ve taken classes in many kinds of stage combat (unarmed, single sword, and rapier and dagger, in my case), and I’ve passed tests in each. Each test involved acting out a two-person fight scene in front of a judge, convincing him (It could be a her, but so far, all of my SAFD judges have been men.) that I can do certain required fight moves, act, and avoid injuring myself or my fellow actor, all at the same time. In the course of all of this training, I’ve become quite addicted to stage combat. It’s goofy! It’s fun! And as much as it pretends to be about violence, it’s actually about meeting lots of very nice people and taking care of them throughout the scene.
Well, in May 2008, I got to feed my addiction by attending the Rumble in the Rockies, a weekend-long intensive workshop in Denver. The Rumble happens about once a year (whenever its organizer, super-busy SAFD President Geoffrey Kent, finds time to put one together), and always revolves around a particular theme, culminating in a big mass fight scene, which is videotaped so we can share it with the world. This year’s Rumble was (appropriately for Colorado) all about the Wild West, so I got to spin pistols, get tossed over bars, crack whips, brandish knives, and punch lots of cowboys. And, in the end, I got to be part of a giant barroom brawl.
The great news is that the video of our final scene has just been released on YouTube. You, and everyone else on the web, can now watch me get punched, get thrown over a bar, and have a bottle smashed over my head! What fun! You can also see my talented classmates doing all kinds of fun things—my favorite is the cute little saloon girl who jumps on the cavalryman’s back and starts punching cowboys. Check it out, below! I’m the cowgirl by the bar on your left, in the 70s Neil Young fringed jacket and the light hat … hey, does than mean I’m the good guy?
I’ve been back in Colorado for one week, and I’m already overwhelmed by everyday life … which is surprising, actually, as I went on my road trip primarily because there wasn’t much to my everyday life. The two plans I’ve been living on for the past three years, freelance editing and house sitting, had largely ground to a halt, my other life passions (acting, writing, and chasing men) had been largely forgotten, and I was feeling lost, stuck, and a little desperate.
The road trip helped immensely. A total change of pace, with plenty of time to ponder, plenty of new information, and a great lecture by Martha Beck on my iPod, actually did (as I’d naîvely thought it would) give me a much clearer view of what I really want in my life and what I think I can realistically acheive. The biggest boost for my plan, though, came from two lunches and a happy hour with Portland’s own wonderful Ted, who, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, seems to charm and delight everyone he meets. When I whined to Ted that I felt lost at sea, he told me he, too, was feeling stuck, and then proceeded to talk himself into a very exciting life plan. Bored with his day job and heartbroken that he gave up teaching music (and significantly cut back on performances—he’s a fantastic jazz pianist) to work there, Ted has decided to take night courses to improve his work skills, but only so he can quit his job and become a part-time consultant. Then he’ll have enough income, plus the flexibility to teach, perform, and fulfill his long-term dream of earning an MFA in music.
I didn’t have such a clear idea when I left Ted, but I had another whole week of rambling planned. By the time I returned to Colorado, I had a three-part vision for my new, improved life. Now comes the scary part: Since I’m in my home state and have all of my resources available again, it looks like I’ll have to actually do something to make my vision a reality. Scary stuff, indeed! So far, I’m running on leftover road-trip optimism, but like most things in the real world, my efforts are disturbingly slow in paying off. On top of that, I have only the slightest idea what I’m doing. Still, I’ve had some lovely rays of hope (more on the best on in my next post). I’ll be refining the practicalities of my plan as I go along, but here is what I want to achieve:
Constantly house sitting has its appeal because it make rent-free living possible, but it’s also exhausting. I’m tired of packing up all of the possessions I use day to day and moving every two weeks, or worse, every two days. I’m tired of knowing that I have a storage space (in my mom’s house, because she spoils me—I’m also tired of feeling that I’m taking advantage of my mother’s goodwill) full of possessions that I haven’t used for three years, because I can’t find them in the crammed-together mess. I’ve thought of getting rid of them, but I won’t be able to until I have some space of my own to spread my things out in, so I can, for the first time in years, get a good look at them. I’m tired of not being able to get to most of the useful things I own, tired of always worrying whether I’ll have a place to live next week … just plain tired of this plan. House sitting has overstayed its welcome in my life, for now, anyway. In these past three years, I haven’t accomplished as much as I’d hoped to in other areas of my life, either, and I think it’s largely because too much of my focus has been on hustling for house sits and moving around.
So, though I know it’s a novel idea, now I actually want a home. I’m looking for a room in a house, condo, or apartment, with interesting, quiet, and respectful roommate(s) who won’t mind that, though friendly when I do see them, I’m shy and I spend a lot of time in my room. In fact, I’m very, very shy, and need a very, very quiet space to recharge myself in, but I’m still charged up with road-trip optimism, so I truly believe I can find like-minded roommates with an open room at an affordable price. I’m even hopeful that I can find them before the house sit I’m on right now ends. The room-hunting process is on hold, though, because I think it would be best if another part of my plan were set in place first:
Yes, I said “job,” that hated word I’ve been avoiding for three years. I do want a job, within specific parameters: It must be part-time, ideally 24 to 30 hours a week. I hope to find one that uses some of my most salable skills, like copy editing, typing really fast, or understanding how MS Excel works, so that I can make the maximum income possible for my time. Also, I really do like to feel smart and useful. However, it could be almost any job … well, I’ve decided any job that pays $10 an hour or better.
The goal of The Job is to give me enough regular income so that, no matter what my freelance life does, I will easily be able to cover rent on The Room, yet The Job must stay part-time enough and emotionally comfortable enough not to eat more than 30 hours per week of my time. I need to save my time and energy, as I do not intend to give up on freelance writing, acting, knitting design, and chasing any other wild idea that occurs to me. The Job is there to stabilize my life, allowing me to focus more on each of my eccentricities. And the number-one area of focus will be:
I figured this part out when I attended two plays and a backstage tour at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, America’s largest and longest-running such festival. I was blown away by their productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. (If you’re familiar at all with Ibsen’s original Hedda Gabler, you understand the problem with this title. Yes, it was a very surreal play—right up my alley!)
However, the festival left me rather depressed. I have been acting in plays, Shakespeare and modern, experimental and children’s, old standards and brand-new workshops, regularly for 14 years now, but I’ve never given it more than a half-assed effort. I majored in English and minored in anthropology, rather than theatre, because I was convinced that making a living doing what I loved most was too much for a dork like me to hope for, and I should really be responsible and choose a practical major. I took classes here and there, in college and after, but I never got any kind of solid, focused, long-term training. Lately, I’m convinced that the level of professionalism in Denver/Boulder theatre has outgrown me. I’ve done a little improv lately, and a few scavenger hunts and murder mystery dinners, but I haven’t been in a scripted play for nearly two years. Before my trip, I’d largely given up auditioning. I’d see an audition announcement, andsay, “What’s the use? Somebody better than me is bound to show up.”
Well, here’s my new acting plan: less of a half-assed effort. In fact, like Ted, I’d like to earn an MFA in my favorite art form. I’m not sure if I can convince any MFA program to take such an old lady, (I’ll be 35 by the time I get through anyone’s application process, and for an actress, that’s way over the hill, especially for one just getting her training.) and I’m not sure how I’ll pay for it if I can, but just the process of applying would do wonders for my skills. I’ll have to take more classes, and hopefully work on more plays, to get directors and teachers for letters of reference. I’ll have to work hard and get coached to build up two or three wonderful audition monologues. To audition, I might have to go on a few more road trips. (Hooray!)
So I’ve signed up for a two-month advanced acting class that starts in October. I’m considering another, shorter workshop, as well. (I sure hope I find The Job before I’ve emptied out my savings accounts!) I’m also auditioning for every play I can even remotely imagine myself fitting into. I’ve been back in Colorado for one week, and I’ve already auditioned twice. No dice on either one, but I’m just getting warmed up. My first audition, though it didn’t land me a part, convinced me that any joyous thing is possible. I’ll write about that in my next post.