A title of some yet-to-be-written work popped into my head last night: “Mourning the death of the artist within.” It’s ironic that I would have such a thought at the end of the year in which I received my second Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women.
But despite the honor and my excitement about the project I will be paid to pursue because of it, I feel a little part of me dimming. I have spent the past year trying to redefine myself and my capabilities in an ongoing attempt to make this blog moot and to shed “Pink-Slipped Girl” from my identity. (I don’t know what I would change my Twitter name to, though.) In the process, I have accepted assignments from business publications and begun a monthly column in a life and leisure magazine. I have jazzed up my LinkedIn profile, taken classes in internet marketing and website design, redesigned my business cards and promoted myself at networking events as a do-it-all woman who can crunch your numbers just as well as she can write television commercials for you. I have created an e-newsletter for one non-profit, written grants for two others and written one for myself. I have received advice from seasoned business professionals on valuing my time and skills, pricing my services at their worth and dealing with clients who don’t pay. I have proven my ability to stay focused and productive while working independently, I have met strenuous conflicting deadlines and I have been rejected from countless full-time positions that asked for any or all of the very skills or experiences I have just listed.
I’ve had one copywriting assignment for the whole year, four if you count the assignments I completed as part of the application for a job for which I was interviewed for over two hours but didn’t get. Dialogue for scenes that may or may not eventually become full-length plays still runs through my head routinely, and sometimes it’s original enough for me to write it down, but to turn such words into a radio or television commercial seems like an assignment so far from my life that it’s almost as if I never held the job from which I was laid off.
I don’t bemoan the work that I was given in 2009. I’m grateful for every byline, and the corresponding checks have helped the unemployment insurance continue past the point at which I had calculated it would expire. Also, I can’t underestimate the potential value of every connection I make in the professional world by writing the business stories.
But I am more exhausted than I remember being at the end of 2008, and the more leads I follow, the fewer hours I spend in creative output. This blog may be the best example. Started in January as a cathartic tool to prove that I can write, blog and play alongside everyone else is this crowded internet space at least once a week, it has lied dormant for over one month, the longest I’ve ever gone without updating it.
In part, I blame my own boredom with the subject matter. When things start to get old, it’s hard to revive them, and I’ve known marriages that were shorter than my employment hiatus has been. But I also blame the break from the blog and the general feeling of creative famine on the constant hustle of always pursuing the next opportunity and on the burden of always having to say yes.
To never be sure when your state is going to go bankrupt and send out IOUs, to never know if the job sites you check most frequently will have anything you can tolerate posted, to never know which assignment or connection will be the one that changes your life is to be bound to an incessant hamster wheel whose speed changes but whose destination doesn’t.
Not that it’s impossible for business and creativity to coexist. Every ad agency owner I know was in the creative department when s/he struck out on her/his own. But eventually they all hired a creative department to be creative while they ran the business. Since I haven’t been the creative being hired, I’ve had to do all the running.
I admit there’s a great sense of accomplishment in DIY employment, and I don’t miss the drama inherent in working in a place where there are other people around. I just miss clocking out at 5:30 p.m. and remaining downtown for a nearby rehearsal at 7:00. I miss having a work load that allowed enough time in the day for script ideas to interrupt the “real” work for 15 minutes or so. I miss the ability to be so unconcerned about where clients/checks might come from the next year that I could spend all of December writing and revising in creative overdrive.
And so explains my Twitter updates from December 29th. If freelance journalist, independent contractor or grant writer is to be my title for an even more extended period of time, where does the playwright go? Does she flee to a grad school in a snowy land free from distractions and full of stages for two years? Does she choose a low-residency MFA that promises to show her how to integrate creative writing into her daily life? Or does she devote all of her energy to the hustle to make the sporadic work so steady that she can stop herself and others from living life laid off?
The year 2010 will tell.