So you’ve dedicated yourself to living an art-committed life, I can hear you saying. It’s one thing to proclaim that. But how do you maintain it during those moments when real life interferes?
I have capitalized on the flexibility of self-employment over the last year to grow this blog; start an MFA program; and begin teaching. I’ve approached each day like a baker, mixing together the sugar of creative writing with the flour of commercial writing. Some days have been sweeter than others, but each has been filling.
Two weeks ago I returned to full-time salaried work. What lured me back was not just the comfort of a predictable paycheck, but the opportunity to serve my country in a truly meaningful way. There are jobs the art-committed work so they can afford to do what they really love; this is a case where it’s the job itself I really love.
What a delightful dilemma, I can hear you saying. A great day job, with a fun side pursuit.
It is not a dilemma. But it is a challenge. Because of the dedication I bring to this job, and because I find it rewarding, it will actually be easier for me to neglect the muse to which I have dedicated myself as a creative writer.
I spent too many years neglecting my muse. I believed creativity was finite, that when I gave my creativity to my employer, there was none left for my art. But creativity is not a fossil fuel of finite supply that must be transported in pipelines and on ships and driven around in automobile tanks. Creative thinking, I’ve learned, begets more creative thinking. A creative breakthrough at one’s day job can inspire a blizzard of creativity with one’s late-night or early-morning art.
I will not remain true to myself if I do not continue living an art-committed life. So to keep me on the path, I am proclaiming here these vows:
- I vow to make time for my art. I returned home from a long day at work at 10:45 pm last night. I awoke at 5:15 am this morning to write this post. That is not a sustainable daily schedule, but I am committed to carving out at least an hour a day for my personal muse. Today my muse wanted to write this post.
- I vow to bring full creative effort to my employer. This is easy to say now, when I am loving every minute of my new job. But there will come a moment when my muse tells me she misses the time we used to spend together. Her call might come in the middle of the day, perhaps during a dull meeting or when a project I’ve been working on has suffered a setback. I vow to tell her I’ll call her back that night.
- I vow to continue my MFA in Nonfiction Writing. It already is clear to me is that the work I’m doing in my degree program brings daily value to my new job in communications. But it is tempting to think that perhaps I should take a hiatus from the program, that producing thirty solid pages of creative writing each month along with critical reading and writing will take too much of my time. I will remind myself that the MFA is a core part of my art-committed life, and will increase my efficiency at my salaried job.
- I vow to be fully present while on the job. If you look through my tweets over the last month, you’ll see two trends: 1) I’ve sent far fewer the last two weeks, since I started the new job. 2) Those tweets I’ve sent during East Coast working hours were sent via Hootsuite. In fact, they were scheduled each morning before I left for work to go live while I was at work. I made a decision when I started this job that I will not engage in any personal media while at work. That means the social media conversations I allowed myself to engage in during the day as a freelancer must now wait until the evening or the early morning, just as my muse must wait.
- I vow to remain engaged with the artistic community. I’ll still answer your tweet, just not right away. I’ll still chat with you in the comments field on this blog, but again perhaps not right away. Everyone I interact with in social media not only shares my passion for living an art-committed life, they also share the challenge of balancing art, work, and family. They will understand.
- I vow to maintain a separation between my worlds. Longtime readers of The Artist’s Road know that I never blogged about my freelance clients. My professional and personal code calls for a firewall between work and social media. As it happens, my new employer mandates that. Consider it done.
- I vow to remain open to possibility. When I chose to return to freelancing at the end of 2010, it was the third time in my 20+ year career that I voluntarily became self-employed. Clearly I have a bit of an entrepreneurial bug. But a good entrepreneur, like a good artist, remains open to possibility. This new professional possibility was too good to refuse. And so I voluntarily adjust my day parts to accommodate it while remaining committed to my art. Now my mission is to remain open to possibility with my art. As I restructure my engagement with my muse, she may wish to take me in unexpected directions. I trust her enough to follow.
I love to learn, and I’ve just embarked on a major learning process, determining how best to balance a commitment to my salaried employment while honoring my commitment to my muse. What lessons have you learned as you seek balance in your own artistic life?