I don’t know which message to listen to.
On the one hand, there’s Amanda Palmer’s #FuckPlanB hashtag on Twitter, encouraging people to jump buttfirst into the thing they want to be doing instead of planning fail-safes and sell-out plans. On the other hand, there are articles like this one, about “selling in”: http://www.wbez.org/story/groupon-employees-dont-sell-out-they-sell-87240
It feels especially relevant to me because a) I work at Groupon and b) Bobby M, who they quote, was in my iO Level One improvisation class. So this article makes me famous by association, or at least cool by same. (Right?)
The “Don’t sell out, just do the thing you love” argument has a lot of romantic appeal. Don’t let anything get in the way of your dream! Without a safety net, you’ll have to grab success! You can burn your furniture for warmth! Cardboard makes great bedding!
It’s the kind of life every teenaged diva who sees “Rent” wants to be able to live. Maybe they don’t want to actually live it, but they want to have it in them to suffer and go hungry for their art. I was the same–heck, I’m still there a lot of the time. That’s the me who scavenges food from the office so I can save $3 on a meal in case that $3 will get us closer to a venue for our production of Rocky Horror.
But there’s a different between not having a Plan B and committing financial suicide. And it’s a lot harder than you think to get by on a hope and a poem.
Last year I worked as a waitress at the Flat Top Grill. We’d get a half-price ($5) meal every day or so, and I’d fill up a big container with rice, stuff it with toppings and sauce, and use that stir-fry to last me four meals. It saved me time and money, and I liked the stir-frys. But was I doing it because it was easy and tasty? No, I was mostly doing it because I was scared.
Let me tell you–and I have only the tiniest amount of experience with this–when you’re scared about making rent, or being able to feed yourself, or how you’re going to pay for a prescription you need, you’re not living your dream. Even if you’re doing what you dreamed of doing, it’s really hard to enjoy it before you’ve reached a certain level of financial comfort. It’s Maslow’s pyramid, folks: Until your basic needs are met, there ain’t no hope of reaching that shiny triangle of self-actualization.
I don’t want to imply that I think the #FuckPlanB people (or Amanda Palmer) are saying that you should blow a big raspberry to the world of employment and just do the thing that makes your toes curl without ever wondering how you’ll support yourself. I’m actually on their side. The place I fall these days is with the comedians and theatre folk of Groupon and with the med-school-by-night, data-entry-by-day people who slugged it out to get to where they want to be. I’ve found that in the Chicago arts scene (and most arts scenes, really) you’re going to be the rare exception if you don’t have to juggle a day job and your plays or paintings or concerts. Is it challenging? Hell yes. Coming home from eight hours of staring at a computer screen, a lot of the time all I want to do is sit, read a book, and drink some wine. But that’s when I remind myself that what I want to do is create memorable stories, and I pull out my notebook or I email that venue manager or I drag myself out to a rehearsal or a show.
Maybe I’m just trying to justify the fact that, by working for the fastest growing company in history and a Corporate Entity, I’ve sold out financially. My modest little salary isn’t much, but it sure is nice to have. But I would argue that this is a more reasonable way of looking at a balanced life. They say that we make time for the things that are important to us, and when you come down to it I don’t know many people who don’t find their food, rent, heat, clothes, medical expenses, and small entertainment budget important. If your art, or that thing you love, is also important to you, I bet you’ll find a way to fit it in too.
What I’m saying is, I’m right there with the #FuckPlanB folks. My Plan A has changed a little from my early struggling-actress dreams, that’s all. As long as telling stories is a part of my life, everything else is flexible. Even if that “everything else” is a high paycheck and lots of benefits.
That, I will definitely suffer for my art.
**I’m going to try to be regular about this and post on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for people who actually care to tune in. I can’t make too many promises other than the “try” bit. **