Another dreaded family event. Dun dun dun! I take a deep breath, attempting to call upon my early-morning yoga high and release the stress in my shoulders that has already returned. And then, I rehearse my sound-bite response to the inevitable, repeatable question, “so what are you doing now?”
You see, I graduated with a Masters of Performance Studies in May. I’ve already had plenty of trouble describing what that degree means. (“It’s like a combination of performance theory, philosophy, anthropology, and gender studies all in order to talk and write about performance.” Cue the glazed over eyes from every member of the group.) But at least the general public understands what being a Masters student means. “Oh, so you read and write papers.” Sure, we’ll just leave it at that.
But now that I’ve graduated from the program, everyone—family, friends, new acquaintances at the bar—all want to know what I’m doing now.
I step up to the plate, clutching a glass of wine while one of the aunts focuses in on me. And then, the dreaded question: “So, what are you doing now?”
“Well, I’m really busy actually. I have two part-time jobs, both writing and editing, and I’m working on my own projects, while also doing a little extra freelance work and babysitting on the side. It’s going really well!”
Phew. It’s a mouth-full, but it’s an honest response and I think I’m in the clear.
“Oh. So are you looking for a real job?”
I want to scream. If I were a cartoon character, steam would be shooting from my ears.
A real job? What is a real job anyway? In my book, a real job is one that pays you. Period. And there’s an extra bonus if it’s related to what you actually enjoy doing. Maybe it even will further you toward your long-term goals. Check, check, and check. My patchwork schedule isn’t ideal, of course. I would love to find a magical job that pays me for my theater expertise with full benefits and vacation time. But I’m not crazy—I realize that positions like that are few and far between, and certainly unavailable to someone directly out of school. So my current schedule is pretty great, all things considered. I am paid to write and edit, about theater and performance no less. And my other freelance copyediting jobs and babysitting are both on my own time, allowing me the time and energy to work on my other passion projects. In this economy, what other choice do I have than to create my own work?
Why these judgmental faces when I list my multiple real jobs? Please refrain from comparing me to your fourteen-year-old nephew who you say is also having trouble finding a job; or from assuming that I must only be twenty-one and therefore naïve to the ways of the world; or from offering me the data entry temp job that just opened up in your office. I appreciate your interest and concern, but the concern is misplaced.
So, what am I doing now? I’m living the misunderstood and under-appreciated lifestyle of the freelance artist, stuck in a society where if you’re not working a 9–5 job, you must not be working. What am I doing? I’m doing more than I can possibly describe to you. And from now on, I will stand tall in this assertion. What am I doing? I’m making it work.