I was speaking with my mom before Christmas. As we talked about how things were going, she asked about my day job, and if I was enjoying my time off, (a bit of background here: I usually take the month of December off, since I have vacation days that must be taken by the end of the year or forfeited). She also asked about my work as a composer, how it was going, did I write every day, and so on. As we finished that subject, she said something to the effect of, “it’s great that you have a hobby that you love”. This caught my attention since I view my life and my work as a composer more as a calling than a hobby. So, I gently explained that being a composer was what I considered my real purpose to be; that my other role as a civil servant was something I do to pay the bills, have medical insurance, and help fund my musical projects. Her response was, “Well, you know what I mean-the music is something you enjoy”.
I do know what she meant. I’m sure she still sees me as her child, no matter how old I get, (I’m 53 now). I imagine she still sees me as that little band kid I was, lugging instruments to rehearsals, while she drove, till I was old enough to drive myself. I imagine I’m forever young in her eyes, and I love that. It’s also a lot cheaper than cosmetic surgery, (so we need to figure out how to bottle and market that). Still, it got me thinking. I began thinking about how, what we view as our identity, what we consider our job, work, or profession to be, what others perceive us to be, and, how that affects our future opportunities.
More than anything, it’s important how we see ourselves. Now, as you know, if you have read my previous posts, my musical career has not been what has now become the traditional path of a composer, and I’m grateful for that. Still, it comes with its own unique set of challenges.
If we see ourselves as artists, but are required to do other kinds of work to pay bills and, here in the US, (the only industrialized nation to not have a national health care system), receive medical care, how do we still view ourselves as artists while doing those jobs that feed and keep us alive?
I know there are lots of us out there. In fact, in DC it is quite common. This is known as a workaholic city. I know authors, visual artists, and the heads of non-profit dance companies, that are quietly working day jobs and leading successful lives as artists too. In New York and Los Angeles it is not uncommon for dancers and actors to be working other jobs. It’s not unheard of for composers either: Philip Glass was, among other things, a taxi driver. Charles Ives worked in the insurance industry, and Borodin was a scientist and chemist.
In my role as a civil servant, I am an expert in my field. Because the work is so specific, there are only a handful of people who know and do what I do. It is challenging work, and it brings in a good salary. When I am working in that role, I am present and in the moment. The specifics of that position are my primary focus. Still, I am an artist.
So, I ask again, how do we still view ourselves as artists while doing other jobs? In short, we need to see everything we do as furthering our artistic work. We need to view what we do for money as a means to an end.
There are going to be as many different combinations of jobs and tasks that people put together to earn a living and fund their art as there are artists, and it’s easy to get lost or frustrated sometimes because we all have had the dream of just being able to freely create whatever we want and not have to do anything else. Of course, this is a fantasy for most of us, at least here in the US, due to lack of government funding of the arts. So, we do what we need to do to fund our work. (I like to look at my work as a civil servant as a roundabout way to get the government to fund the arts by paying me, even though I know they would pay me for what I do regardless of whether I composed music or not). There is a saying that applies well here: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”.
One of my favorite things to say when people ask how I am is to say, “I’m here”. I know that some people may interpret that statement as apathetic. I view and use the statement “I’m here” as a reminder and an affirmation that, I am fully engaged in the present moment. I’m here. I’m present. That means that all aspects of myself are present as well.
So, as I prepare to return to my day job next week, and, even though I may be engaged in a role that, on the surface, does not appear to be musical work, the artist is present too, whispering in my ear, reminding me that it is.