by Steve Bivans
Unemployment doesn’t suck.
You know what sucks? Being broke.
Currently I find myself in that foggy, scary place between doing a job because it pays me a pittance and doing what I was meant to do.
In a recent graduation speech, the actor and comedian, Jim Carrey said, “you could fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.” Personally, I think it’s the best advice ever given. But the transition from “what you don’t want” to “what you love” is a dangerous place to be. It’s the equivalent to the distance between The Shire and Mordor, and back again.
What do I love?
I love writing, or maybe it’s better and more accurate to say that I love expressing myself. Sometimes that comes in the form of words on a page, like this rant. Sometimes it comes in building something, like cooking dinner, making BBQ, building a fire-pit in my back yard, or a compost bin, or painting a Prancing Pony sign, or constructing shelves in my basement, or working on a project for my Shire to build a big-assed community greenhouse.
You know what I “don’t want”?
Working for someone else who hasn’t a clue what they’re doing, want me to do it for them, refuse to give me the proper tools and authority to do it, constantly interfere or meddle while I’m attempting to do it, pay me far too little to do it, then sack me or let me go when they’re done watching me do it because they were afraid that someone might discover that they weren’t the one actually doing it. That’s what I don’t want.
Sound familiar? I bet it does.
Most people I know hate their jobs, or they did at some point in the past. I know a few people nowadays that seem to like what they do, if not love it. I must admit I’m a bit jealous of that. I’m not jealous that they’re doing something they like or love; I’m jealous because they seem to be making a living doing it. I’m happy for them, too. I’m glad they figured it out because it means that it’s possible to achieve it.
Grant it, I haven’t been doing the writing thing that long, only about a year. Yes, I composed thousands of pages before that, as a student, but I’m not sure they counted. Maybe they did? I’ve only published one book. Either way, I’ve not made a dime off of any of it. Guess that puts me firmly in the writer’s camp. Most writers aren’t making money. It’s par for the course, I reckon. In fact it’s cliche. I’ve become a cliche; how awesome is that.
But having company doesn’t make it much easier when you find yourself on the deck of the Titanic navigating through icebergs or free-falling from an airplane with no parachute when ship goes down or you hit the ground. You know, that moment when you open the mailbox, the bills are there, and there’s nothing to pay them with. The pressure of the almighty market comes a knockin’ and we all start shakin’.
Somedays I really fuckin’ hate capitalism.
It’s funny to hear myself say that, having grown up in the theocratic state of capitalism: the United States of America. Never let it be said that we don’t have an established religion in this country. Maybe it wasn’t established by the founding fathers in 1789, since they were still worshiping Mercantilism, but it didn’t take long for Mr. Capital to move in and take over. Today he’s the supreme deity, and almost everyone bows before him. Most people are worshipers and don’t even know it. They’re like 21st Century Stepford Wives–without the gender specification (because there are plenty of men included in the number)–walking around like zombies, trying to shop their way into some kind of Walmart-y hereafter in the sky. Ramen!
I’ve found myself becoming a market atheist, or at least an agnostic, maybe an ana-capitalist? Is that a word? I reckon I’ll have to look it up. I’m not going to slip into an economic dissertation, I promise, so don’t sweat it. What I’m trying to do is to find a way to talk about how one divorces oneself from this system, while at the same time living within it, and manage to survive when the bill collectors arrive or when you drive to the grocery store. And don’t get too excited, I’m pretty sure I don’t have the fucking answer.
I have no idea how one does it. Some people, like Jim Carrey, have managed to do it, so it’s possible, and I’m not aiming so high. It’s not likely that I’ll ever be paid ten million dollars to write a book, or make a fool of myself on film. That doesn’t mean I don’t make a fool of myself. It just means no one gives a shit when I do. No, I’d be happy with just paying off my debts and eating food that isn’t poisoned. Okay, maybe a trip to a tropical island on occasion wouldn’t suck.
As I see it, there are at least two schools of thought on how to get where we want to be. There’s the let’s work the bullshit job while at the same time attempting to do what we love school. Many have done it. I’ve certainly tried it. It’s exhausting though. It works if you don’t really need or want to sleep or spend time with those you love, or even talk to them. Do we have to sacrifice our relationships and all of our free time to be successful? Maybe. I tend to get really stressed out doing it that way. And stress is what I’m trying to avoid by doing what I love, right? Ugh.
So then there’s the fuck it, let’s chuck it plan, where you just jump off the cliff and say, “Here I go! Let’s see what happens when I tell the boss to suck it!” school of thought. I’ve done that, too. It’s also very hard, maybe even more difficult because there’s no net. Of course, in my particular case, I didn’t jump, I was ever so politely nudged. I didn’t quit my job; I was told I wasn’t needed anymore.
“Well, there are budget cuts and we’re cutting back on people of your job description. We’re only going to need 12 next year.”
“You mean 10, right?” I said. “You have sixteen, four are leaving, and you’re letting me and another girl go. That makes 10. I know I’m just a historian, but even I can subtract double digits.” Whatever. The result was that I had lots of time to work on Be a Hobbit, which I did.
I also did it with very little money in my pocket. And that’s the rub.
More people might take that leap, chase their dreams, if there were some kind of safety net or some way to transition instead of leaping out of a window and hoping you won’t become road pizza if your wings don’t sprout before you reach the asphalt. But how does one learn to fly without jumping? Is there some kind of metaphorical parachute that we might employ in the attempt? What might that look like? I have no fuckin’ clue.
Luckily for me, my girlfriend makes pretty good money, so we’re not starving. We struggle with bills like everyone else though. But is it fair to push all, or most of the financial burden upon our significant others? This is not a new problem of course, but I’m not sure there’s an answer to it. She says she doesn’t mind, and to an extent that might be true, but the pressure is still there to contribute towards the bills even if that pressure comes from society or from within our own minds. The latter is probably the toughest one because most of us were raised in a world where work is praised, only if it pays the bills. That’s why parents cringe when their children go off to college and decide to major in (gasp, shudder) ‘liberal arts’ to be artists, writers, musicians, teachers, or historians. “What are you going to do with that?” they ask. “How are you going to pay the bills?”
Can we eliminate the bills?
Yeah, one can cut back on some spending, for sure. But in many cases we’re already locked into some of them and there’s no easy way to extricate oneself from them once they’re in place. The most notorious of these is our student loan debt. There‘s a debt that simply must be paid. There is no way out, not even bankruptcy. Banks can declare bankruptcy, but not college students. That sounds fair. (That would be sarcasm you’re hearing). I’m not entirely sure that even death–whether the road-pizza variety or otherwise–will absolve such a debt. It’s probably passed along to those attending the pizza-party-funeral.
I don’t want to go into a discussion about student loans here, other than to bring up the point that most of us are up to our eyeballs in debt of one kind or another. Why is this? Answer: Capitalism, or more accurately Consumerism. We’ve been convinced that more is better and that college tuition exists to make a profit. We bought those lies—hook, line and sinker–and we’re being dragged into the boat. We’re headed for the gutting knife and a frying pan. But more isn’t better, and I don’t like fish anyway. So, no thank you Mr. Fisher King, I’m leaving the boat for the beach. I’ll take my chances flopping around for a while without oxygen. So we’re back to that. What to do to eliminate the need for gills and the water of consumerism and money.
I don’t know.
Yeah, I said it, “I don’t know.” There seems to be no transitional stage between fish and homo sapien. How did that first ancestor of ours crawl out of the proverbial slime to breathe on land? How do we do it?
I think we just have to leap.
Maybe the leaping off a cliff analogy works better? Yeah, we can do some of that work while you dream thing, but in the end, I suspect we just have to jump and hope our wings sprout faster than 9.8 meters per second, squared, or there’ll be a nasty splatting sound, the sound of bone, blood, n brains crushed on concrete and the crime lab’s gonna need a spatula to lift us into the hearse. Then CSI can split hairs on whether we jumped, or were ever so gently nudged. Either way we’re road pizza, and quite frankly the pavement is coming at me fast, and I’d be bragging to say I have more than chicken wings at this point. It might be more accurate to say a couple of frayed feathers and a gut full of gizzards. But gizzards tend to end up as meat on the pizza unless those feathers or future buffalo wings don’t sprout into eagle wings before you hit the ground. Here’s to hoping they do.
What’s the Point of This Article?
I really don’t know. I’m realizing that there’s an awful lot I really don’t know. Have you noticed that? I’m just meandering through my own mind, I reckon. I’m not really writing this to help you find your eagle’s wings. And don’t start singing that crappy Bette Midler song from the 80s. I’m not the wind beneath your wings, and I don’t think a couple of puffs from my lungs are gonna help much if all there is to catch them is a couple of featherless chicken appendages. I can’t help you avoid pizza status, unfortunately, because I’m looking for my own wings while flapping my feathers like mad. Sorry if the title to this article seems like false advertising. Sue me. You might win. Of course all you’re gonna get in the settlement is broken-chicken-wing-pizza.
I guess we could borrow wings from someone else or order them from Acme, i.e., more money from a bank, but I think that just accelerates the speed towards the ground. Maybe it does lift you up for awhile, but only to fall from a greater height with a Wylie Coyote, Acme anvil following close behind. But I reckon that the height doesn’t matter that much when you hit the bottom. It’s like my dad used to say, “It’s not the long fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop.” I would add to that, “and the anvil you passed on the way down.”
I reckon dad was right, to an extent. Of course falling off the last stair won’t kill you, usually. Falling off a thousand foot cliff, will. But so can falling off a one story house, or three. After you reach a certain critical altitude I reckon it doesn’t matter whether you’re squashed into road pizza or still suitable for roasting or frying. Dead is dead, as they say.
This isn’t a very uplifting article, is it? It’s not quite the inspirational speech I hoped it would be. I think ole Jim Carrey did a much better job of it. Alas, I’m not Jimbo. Jim jumped off the cliff a long time ago and managed to find some wings before smashing into Rodeo Drive. I’m still free-falling, flappin’ my chicken wings, looking for the rip-cord, and prayin’ I find it before the rooster meets the road. Luckily I have a really kick-ass recipe for Jamaican jerk sauce. It’s great on wings.