Wednesday, July 28, 2010

For Better or Worth

I have really been questioning my value lately.  In fact, I use the word "value" a lot around my house, even if the type of domestic minutia I am evaluating cannot be measured by commerce.  As in, "What is the value in giving Zach raisins and cheerios half an hour before dinner?  He won't eat what's on his plate."  Or, "What is the value in staying up until midnight?  I won't be rested at 5am when our kids decide to start their day."   Or, "What is the value in reading the news?  It's crappy and it will make me feel badly.  What is the value in that?"  I'm always looking for a bargain, after all, and I need to know what the return will be on any of my energy-based investments, particularly before I drum up the energy to put the investments out there in the first place.

Since having my second baby six months ago, I have especially questioned the value of being an artist while also being a mother to two young children.  Is it responsible at the age of 37 to be an actor and writer (and hopefully one day director) when there is no financial stability in the work?  I have a family to help support.  I have retirement to think about.  Isn't it time for me to grow up and get a real job already?

I find a vast confusion in the lines I can't seem to draw between being the living example of prosperous creativity for my sons vs. providing them with the kind of financial security that was missing from my own childhood.  I want my boys to grow up believing that anything is possible for them because that's what they observe unfolding in my life.  I don't want them to grow up believing that life is hard and that money is easily attained by only a lucky few while the rest of the world is mired in struggle.

When I was growing up, the hard earned dollars provided for my siblings and me were procured by my Mother, a single parent, who worked two to three jobs at any given time to pay our way in life.  My Mom put all her own dreams aside because she had to work jobs she didn't like in order to keep us just above the poverty line.  I have vowed time and again that I would not live out her employment experience in my own life and yet I find myself questioning the value of my skills in the work force and whether they translate to anything other than waiting tables as I push 40.  If I have not made a living in my acting career for many years, then where exactly do I fit in?  Who am I?  What is my worth? What the heck am I doing here? And the most haunting question of all:  Am I meant to clash with money for the rest of my life?

Last night I dreamed that I was back in a restaurant that I worked at 10 years ago.   In my dream, I was applying for a serving position and I was filling out quite an elaborate application form with charts and tables and essay questions (possibly asking me to examine how exactly I landed back here again).  It was a bustling restaurant and the only space I had to complete the application was on the floor in one of the aisles off to the side.  I was on my knees (begging?) with pen in hand hoping against hope that no one would see me.  As I hunched over the form to study it intensely, I noticed someone standing over me.   I looked up to discover my dear friend Lisa from high school smiling down at me, witnessing my failure to earn a living in my acting career as I resigned myself to the employment standards of my younger self. 

It is fitting that it was Lisa of all people who had shown up in my dream.  Lisa has always been good with money, demonstrating a fiscal wisdom beyond her teenage years.  She worked her way through high school as a server in the local Smitty's and managed to buy herself a car in grade 11 with her wages and tips.  Plus, she began contributing regularly to her RRSP's before we even graduated from high school!  She has always made choices I've admired because those choices have provided her with a life of financial equilibrium.  My choices (opting to be an actor for a start) have provided me with a life of financial uncertainty.  So when Lisa showed up in my dream, standing over me smiling the sort of peaceful grin that one radiates as a result of being utterly taken care of, I felt so small.   It became very clear to me just how much I was not experiencing her peaceful, easy feeling.  I have never felt taken care of and I wonder at the job I've done taking care of myself.   At the age of 37, I am having nightmares of being a waitress again rather than dreaming of a reality in which I relish in the fruits of my artistic endeavors.  

I know it doesn't pay to look back.  But I have a hard time staying present for fear that I will design a future which replicates all my past employment regrets.  I have been working since I was 11 years old in one "pay cheque to pay cheque job" or another.   In one of my early gigs, I was a clown at the Portage la Prairie Mall during the Holidays helping Santa greet a gaggle of kids who were all lined up waiting with baited breath for Old St. Nick and the prospect of promised loot.  I remember feeling so embarrassed as a pre-teen to be dressed as a clown and praying that none of the cool kids would see me with my big red nose and plaid parachute pants get-up.   (Sidebar: What the hell were we thinking in the 80's?!)

What followed was a 26 year-old thread of "paying my dues" style of work as I chased the dangling carrot of my own prospect of promised loot.   This thread consisted of minimum wage paying jobs, mixed in with some uninspiring though decently paying jobs, and some rather fabulously high paying acting contracts thrown in for good measure.   As an artist, I could never bank on what was around the corner, financially speaking.  When I did have money, sadly it came to me in the absence of good budgetary sense, and as a result I burned through it faster than I burn through whipped shortbread at Christmas.  I have only now reached a point where I've learned how to save money (by the demand of impending survival, not the luxury of happenstance) and the delay of absorbing this education has cost me the financial security I could be presently enjoying had I demonstrated this skill earlier in life.

I feel overwhelmed by the success of others and by the lack of my own.  I feel like a 1950's housewife depending on my husband to be the main breadwinner while I raise our children (which is deeply unsettling now that he is out of a job).  I love my children dearly and I love being with them on a daily basis (most of the time; some of the time I want to pull my hair out).  Yet, I would gladly alleviate the pressure my husband feels in his role by going back to work myself.  If only I had a career to go back to.

Perhaps that's why I met with my agent recently to discuss getting back into the biz.  We talked about what kind of roles I wanted to audition for (she is wonderfully supportive of my choices).  Did I want to get out there and make some money and read for smaller parts or save myself for more stimulating roles, resulting in fewer auditions and fewer opportunities?  In other words, if bridging the gap between financial anxiety and the place of feeling a little more flush while my husband looks for work is the goal then would I be okay going out for a nurse role with 5 lines, even if that's something I went out for ten years ago?   I could feel the anxiety building in my stomach at that question because the lack of really fulfilling work and the constant rejection were my reasons for extricating myself from the industry a few years ago in the first place.  Perhaps I secretly wished that things would have changed in my absence but in fact nothing has.  Except for a small kernel of my own disposition which was somehow altered the day I met with my agent by a message the Universe has been trying to send me for many years and which I finally seemed to absorb, a little bit, that day:  Stop seeking your worth in outside form.

I have always looked outside of myself for validation.  Always.  Whether I've looked to the amount of money in my bank account, the success in my career or the type of home I live in, I have always sought identity in external factors.  But on this day, I felt the Universe saying to me, "Look, kitten.  No matter what, we promise that you will never find the answer to all your questions about your worth outside of yourself.  You don't need anything out there to prove that you belong or that you matter.  Whether you play a nurse (and hey, it's nice work if you can get it) or not, the only role that will matter is the one you play in your own life.  The only relationship worth having comes from the commitment you make to yourself. So, have fun, be young and don't drink Pepsi.  Because it's very bad for you.  But being present and thankful for who you really are is very, very good..." 

And this is part of the "mid-life awakening" I have been having these days.  I am being called to make a commitment to myself and to accept myself exactly as I am, with all my perceived flaws and shortcomings, for better or worth.  Self-acceptance is where the freedom comes from.  It's where the relief is.  And where the celebration can begin.  I have had moments of truly comprehending this idea, right down to my Ukrainian bones.  These moments usually involve the shedding of many tears because they are accompanied by an indescribable relief as I lay down my armour and dare to trust that I am enough and that I am supported by life.

One such moment occurred recently while I was watching an animated Disney film with Zach called, "Meet the Robinsons".  The IMDB summary reads: "When 12-year old orphan Lewis can't seem to get adopted or make his inventions work despite repeated efforts, he begins to seriously doubt himself and his abilities as an inventor. He sets off on a time-traveling journey to find the family he never knew."
I was struck by this character's journey.   After searching so obsessively for his birth Mother, this little boy comes to a place where he is finally able to let go of the past.   He sees that it just doesn't have the same hold over him that he once thought it did. 

I pray for that revelation in my own life.  To let go of the past and the beliefs I developed in it about money, work and my worth.

Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” - Walt Disney

This awakening of mine is not easy.   But I will keep moving forward.  And I will keep looking inward.
And I will see what kind of new paths I can find.

I wish you all so much joy...  

Thank you for joining me in my quest for bliss,

The Happiness Detective


Sébastian Hell said...

Hey, Detective.

You write: 'Self-acceptance is where the freedom comes from. It's where the relief is.'

You're also the best judge, because you've probably known yourself the longest.

You're not perfect, but we've all been told pretty much since birth that none of us are. There's a lot of relief in accepting that - and then trying to become better anyhow rather than staying in stasis.

As for the rest, only you can have final say on decisions that will have an impac on the rest of your life, but I can tell you, at 31, I too have dealt with self-doubt, with letting go (then going back to) an artistic career - and choosing what roles I want to play in it. I know I'm always comforted in my choice by remembering countless musicians, actors, athletes, writers and directors who have the simplest messages: just keep at it and it'll happen.

Sure, it only happens for a lucky 1%, but sometimes it's when that one genius - a Kevin Smith or a Tarantino - has time to kill and watches something just to kill time, and he feels he needs to get in contact with that person who played the nurse and will write a role for them.

But just that dream's not for everybody, and then even if it is, it'll only happen to a select few.

I don't know.

I just wanted to say 'thanks for this post', actually. For the self-acceptance thing. I really like how you write, I just wish it didn't have to be about your family struggling - not taht you should write about anything else, just that I wish you weren't. Struggling, I mean.

Oh, and by the way, I actually do realize that, at any time, I could have changed a word in that paragraph and not have to keep explaining where I was going with this, but I don't 'believe' in editing and correcting when I'm writing, except for spelling mistakes and conjugating and whatnot.

Sorry I took so long, even after my conclusion. Good luck.

KJ Konkin said...

Hello? Are we the same person? Did you jump inside my body to write this post?

To say I relate to what you are feeling would be an understatement. I left theatre because it was a soul sucking lifestyle and, yet, years later it is still what I fall back on for income. And why? Because you tell me what other highly paid skills I possess? Exactly. So, in hopes of going forward, I sometimes feel that I am going nowhere. In gentler moments with myself, I am soothed by the thoughts that perhaps it's not linear, but a spiral, and I am going UP.

Not that I can say I am unhappy. Right now, I am silly happy. And that might be because I have so much freedom in my life. Moving back to Saskatchewan has been a great decision after all. We afforded a house, flipped it for lotsa moolah, became big fish in a small pond work-wise & now have the means in which to go back and buy on the coast. Being an Artist In Residence -- even in a small village -- means good pay, creativity and STILL GETTING TO SLEEP IN EVERY DAY. You can imagine why Leon and I both question whether or not leaving this province is smart:-)

Now, I don't have children, and I get that that might make all the difference, but I have to wonder if you two have ever considered moving somewhere all together new? A fresh start, affordable real estate, work opportunities, etc? I just had to throw that out there...

Still, my happiness right now does not sandpaper out the overlying question - if not this, then what? What can I be as passionate about AND make stupid amounts of money at? How can I find work that travels where I travel so that I don't have to spend 8 of 12 months a year apart from my actor husband? It is a question I've asked since 2004. Do I feel closer to an answer? Yes. Much. But there is still more leg to this journey...and, so, until then, I will just try to find new things to love about the soul sucking-ness of theatre.

Could be worse, right? I could have to clean up road kill.

Also, something that has changed my world drastically is giving up sugar. Hardest addiction to crack, I know, but my waking up in a funk almost daily has almost entirely stopped. The change to my diet has seen a radical change to my moods. And you know us artists...we can be so moody;-)

Whichever way your path unfolds, I wish for you ease, joy and grace. And if there is anything I can do, share, help with, I'd love to be of assistance. Otherwise, I'm gonna keep reading your blog and be grateful that someone else out there is so much like me...

Thanks for sharing.

KJ Konkin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Happiness Detective said...

Thanks Mr. Hell. (Cool last name!)

It's always great to hear from you and it means a lot to know that some kernel of my experience resonates and contributes in some way.

Here's to self-acceptance...

Happy Saturday,
The Happiness Detective

Happiness Detective said...

Hi Krista,

I did, in fact, jump inside your body to write this post. But I got out so that I could have some cake and ice cream last night.

I wish I had your balls lady! Because then I would give up sugar and wake up like a normal person instead of waking like the grumpy git that I am.

I love that you're making some great dough in the arts. I'll have what you're having!

Thank you for your kind wishes. Looking forward to seeing your pretty self when you return to the coast.

The Happiness Detective