January 11th, 2013


Quit Your Day Job

I’m back at “work.” After taking a three-month sabbatical, October, November, December, which I spent in the UK, India and South Africa, respectively, focusing on writing. No—not “focusing on writing,” writing. Working on a novel and a memoir and essays and submitting work every week and doing open mics and reading literary magazines and discovering what kind of writing I want to publish. Now I’m in Tennessee and doing a school residency program. Which I love. At least, I love working on circus acts with students, I love collaborating with them and with my fellow coaches on ideas for the show (it’s going to be steampunk-themed), I love how we eat family dinner each night, with all of us chipping in money and one of my friends cooking great food.

What I don’t love is that right now I’m drifting in an ocean of fear and worry.

Last summer’s tour was pretty average. My main partner and I performed at festivals, mostly as a twosome. And the show was great, we had a great time, we love performing together, but the money was pretty bad. Bad economy, bad weather, bad festival scheduling over which we had no control. Dumbass stuff like the festival that gave us five shows and other acts had 15-30 shows. (The same festival put my indoor show in a venue 20 minutes away from the main festival site—it killed my attendance to the point where I gave away 100 free tickets a day just to have some people in the audience). So, it’s understandable that my partner would want to focus on her new solo show, in another country, where she can live with her foreign-national husband.

I’ve been trying to put together good work for the summer, which is a Catch-22. If I book good shows, maybe my partner will work with me again, but if I book good shows, I have to have a good partner or I’ll ruin our reputation. If I can’t get last year’s partner, then I need to start scrambling for someone good. Except I can’t promise that the work will be good, based on last year, and who wants to throw their summer in for something that might only be average?

I have a few options.

1) Do the summer tour, with a new partner. Maybe find out if my other partner, who is also on sabbatical, wants to come back and do another summer. Maybe get that intern who was so promising, or the newest girl in the company, who I like a lot and is easy to lift.

2) Do the summer tour as a solo show (not having to divide the tips in half means I can make less and still do OK). This does not sound appealing. Yes, I can get audience members to help me set up the rig, but it's not exciting to me to have to be funny and acrobatic all by myself.

3) Do what I’ve always advised to other people when they wanted to become an artist: Quit Your Day Job.

That’s always been my take—Quit Your Day Job. You want to really perform? Well, your day job is screwing up your schedule and making it hard to do that. Your day job is the safety net that’s letting you half-ass your art. You get funny when funny pays the bills. You get good when being good at your art equals food on the table.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. And I, a full-time artist, have had my art become my day job. And I love my day job, but it’s interfering with my ability to be another kind of artist. It’s filling me with worry and fear and heartache. As I line up summer work and spring work and lay out the schedule like an offering, I do not feel like a powerful self-employed trapeze artist and company owner, I feel like I’m begging.

I’m in the princess room at my host family’s house, the pink-and-lime temple to their adopted seven-year-old daughter, dollhouse, stuffed animals, pink crosses on the walls, an actual banner emblazoned ‘Princess’. I’ve been sleeping with the light on. I’ve been tireder than I can measure, with acrobatics and aerials and lifting children in the afternoons. I haven’t written in six days, my longest dry stretch since September. And I’m weeping, ugly wet tears rolling into my ears while I write this.

Maybe it's time.

Seven years ago, I gave up teaching with my previous partner to do circus. It also ended our marriage.

What am I ready to give up now?