There comes a moment when you just have to recognise that things aren’t working out as you imagined they would. Typically, it’s a moment of awareness you experience ‘in the present’, to which you react and from which you move forward. I realised recently that I’d had such a moment back in late March/early April and that, due to various bits and pieces, I’d not been able to recognise it as such at the time. I experienced it ‘in the past’, as it were, and have found myself trying to ‘catch up with what this means for pretty much everything in terms of what I want to do creatively and professionally in my life’ for the last few weeks.
Going over old metablog posts, both on my personal blog and on The Five to Nine, it’s clear that this has been coming for a long time. For a while, I’ve tried to fit in creative bits and pieces on evenings and weekends, around the day job and other, ever-changing personal commitments. I’d been working under the impression that everything would ‘click’ suddenly; that these bits and pieces would come together and I’d find myself in the midst of the creative portfolio career of my dreams. But, no. And I write this month’s metablog post seeing this clearly for the first time – recognising that I’m not going anywhere fast in terms of making this happen. That’s what ‘clicked’.
A couple of collaborative projects (however wonderful) and intermittent blogging (however enjoyable) haven’t been enough. Even though I’ve accumulated so much expertise and experience through these in so many different creative industries, it hasn’t been enough. I’ve developed a good network of contacts at local, regional and national level, but it hasn’t been enough. I’ve projects and press exposure about which I can talk and to which I can refer to prove my history and potential, but they haven’t been enough. There’s something missing. There’s something that I’m doing (or not) that’s not enabling me to make things happen, and I’ve not been able to figure out what it is. And I’m going to take a break from looking for it, because I’m tired; and, when I’m tired, I make mistakes. And I don’t want to make a mistake with my future.
I’ve tried to take these varied bits and pieces and make them into something more than the sum of their parts for quite a while. For the last few years, I’ve had jobs at which I didn’t work a full week. I was regularly short on money, but I had more time to work on my creative projects and this portfolio career on which I’d set my sights. Yes, I managed a few freelance commissions, and, on occasion, became involved with industry and local government in terms of the development and management of the creative industries in and around where I live, but these only ever felt like one-offs and flukes.
I felt as though I were faking every time I became involved. I felt scared of being ‘discovered’ – of being dragged to the stocks and declared a fraud in front of the whole city. But, despite this, I lived in hope that these would increase in regularity and scope, and that I would be able to gradually work less and less for ‘the man’, and more and more for myself. That never happened.
I think I know at least part of the reason why. I’ve always been idealistic – someone once described me as utopian, in fact – and I found it difficult to follow when these projects began to lead away from the everyday interests of independent creative practitioners and towards earning money and prestige for larger businesses and organisations at their expense; and began to react not to their needs, but to the desires and politics of those with their hands on the purse strings. I questioned where possible, and complained where necessary. Freelance commissions dried up and invitations to participate in pretty much anything that may have contributed to the development of my local creative community stopped arriving in my inbox.
I’m not arrogant enough to think myself some sort of saint for that, and I’m not after being thought of as a martyr for it. It was simply a case of doing the right thing as I saw it, and this is just what happened after that. Should I have simply shut up and put up with everything? A difficult question to answer. I might be closer to where I’ve wanted to be for years if I had, but I wouldn’t – couldn’t – enjoy it if I’d made my journey ignoring my principles. So, where did that leave me? Well, as I’ve mentioned, with a few intermittent creative activities greased up and slid in between and around days behind a desk – a place I now spend a full five days a week.
Yes, I’m back to working full-time. I’m back to the nine to five. A couple of months ago, I realised that my financial situation had become untenable. The only reasonable course of action was to find full-time employment – a prospect that terrified me, as I knew it meant having to make the conscious decision to abandon the hopeful, balanced routine I’d developed over the past few years and go back to something that not only took up the majority of my time when I last did it, but also the majority of my capacity and concentration, leaving me unable to proceed with many of my creative plans and projects in the way(s) in which I’d hoped.
I found a full time administrative post. At the time of writing, I’ve been in this for around six weeks. Nearly eight hours a day behind a desk for five days a week. Evenings and weekends on which to live my life, and to try and make my dreams come true. My bank balance may be healthier, but I’m not. Most of the time, I’ve been too tired after work, mentally and physically, to engage that part of my mind in which new ideas live, or different perspectives, and work on the things I believe would help me achieve what I want.
Most evenings, I can barely pick up a knife and fork to feed myself, let alone a pen, pencil, crochet hook or knitting needles – (what used to be) the typical tools of the trade for me. On weekends, the necessary takes precedence – chores – and on those occasions I do find myself with some free time and enough energy to do something with it, it’s never enough to kick-start something creative. I can barely sit with a friend and find the oomph to say horrible things about people we both hate.
Speaking with other people about this they offer a peculiar solution: to not be as good at my new job as I’m trying to be. To not put as much effort into this as I have been or plan to, so that I can divert this to creative endeavours. I can’t do that. I won’t do that. It would mean being bad at something intentionally, and I’m simply not wired up like that. And that’s how I’ve ended up putting all my effort into my day job, meaning there’s nothing left over for anything else.
If you’re wondering from where the ability and motivation came to write this – comes to write anything – it’s the fact that this isn’t a creative activity. Writing is, for me, a cultural one, more than anything else. I don’t have to create anything; I simply interpret something that’s already happening or has happened in a different medium. That said, I’m exhausting myself writing this. I feel as though I’m caught between not wanting to do it but feeling as though I must do it. And therein I find the difference between this and my creative activities: there’s no ‘must’ there. They’ve always come from a place of ‘want’.