I’m good at something. Now what?

Scene de Cirque by Marc Chagall

When I was in high school, I read an essay in English class about a girl who wanted to grow up and play with Lego. When told that “playing with Lego” wasn’t a career like being a doctor or a teacher or a lawyer, the girl was undaunted. She went to university, eventually completing a master’s degree in architecture (incidentally, her final project model was built with Lego), and somehow or other she landed a job with the Lego company developing the new Lego sets. Now her office is filled with every Lego piece she could ever need (with people on call to provide her with additional pieces if required) and she makes her money playing with Lego all day long. The moral of the story for all of us high school students preparing to go out into the world and seek our fortunes was “Make your vocation your vacation!”

I guess this means that we’re supposed to find that thing we’re really good at doing, our calling, so to speak, and make pursuing it as fun and awesome (and lucrative) as possible. Appealing, but easier said than done.

The fact of the matter is that many people, like me, are decently good at several things but aren’t necessarily geniuses in any one thing. Our vocation is not obvious, and the means to turn whatever our calling is into our livelihood (i.e. into money we can LIVE on) are vaguer still.

It has now been almost three years since I finished my BFA in Theatre Performance, and finally it has begun to become abundantly clear to me why I have not jumped at every performance opportunity (for the most part unpaid) that has come my way since. At first, of course, I said I couldn’t possibly get time off work to audition or rehearse, and then, of course, I couldn’t quit my job because I had over $20 000 in student loans to pay off and then, of course, I moved into Vancouver from Burnaby and rent was simply too high to allow me to give up my job and then, of course, I got hired on a continuing contract WITH BENEFITS (and you’d be a fool to give those up), and then, of course, I was travelling, and then, of course, and then and then and then.

The result of all of these “and thens” is that I am not an actor right now. And you know what? I think I’m not supposed to be, at least not as my vocation. Obviously there are many actors in this city who aren’t acting all the time, but they are trying– they are getting flexible jobs that allow them to fit in rehearsal schedules, they are auditioning, they are continuing to train through workshops and intensives, they are performing in every damn thing they can perform in, and when they aren’t performing, they are itching to fulfill the artist within by getting back onstage, sinking their teeth into a role, and performing the hell out of something.

These people are actors. These people are not me. Firstly, I am either too lazy or too cheap (or maybe both?) to find a more flexible (i.e. less secure and well-paying) job, audition, pay for workshops (which are pricey!), etc. Secondly, and more importantly, when I have gone through static, less artistic periods of my life, it wasn’t performing that I itched for. It was creating.

Although I’ve always loved performing, and when I do perform I will always try my damndest and have lots of fun, I’m not itching to be Blanche DuBois, or Electra, or Lady Macbeth (well, maybe Lady M because WHO WOULDN’T?). I’m not really itching to be any character, or any thing. I’m itching to be the one to call amazing things into being.

Being an actor seemed to be a natural choice for me because I always loved to play pretend. But was it being somebody else that I enjoyed, or was it the creation of these other versions of my childhood self (their world, their powers, their adventures) that I loved? I think somehow I’ve always wanted to be all the characters, I’ve always wanted to make their whole world. I want to manifest what exists in my imagination and try to communicate it through language. I want to tell stories. I want to plant images in people’s heads. And I don’t just want artistic fulfillment, I want intellectual fulfillment. I want to write.

And that is why I do. That’s why I blog. That’s why I loved co-creating Troika! last year with my friends. That’s why I’ve got a bunch of (mostly crappy) unfinished work languishing in notebooks and, more recently, on my computer. That’s why I agreed to adapt a Greek tragedy for some theatrical friends of mine. That’s why I went back to school to study English literature and am currently studying writing poetry. THIS is what I’m not too cheap or too lazy to do. THIS is what I’m itching for.

And you know what? I’m decently good at it. I’m not being vain. I’m just owning up to what is becoming more and more obviously my vocation. Funnily enough, it’s in poetry that it has been suggested that I pursue graduate studies. Apparently, I’m decently good at it. At poetry. Huh.

I know I’m no genius poet. I’m not Inger Christensen, whose alphabet (brilliantly translated by Susanna Nied), a 70+ page poem based on the Fibonacci sequence, is the most elegantly constructed piece of literature I have ever beheld (and all this intense mathematical form without sacrificing contact and image at all!). I’m not Franis Ponge, whose obsession (and faculty with) describing the thingness of things has been intriguing and inspiring to me this semester. But I’m decently good at writing poetry. I feel good about it. Writing poetry is, to me, a delicious act.

I found something I’m good at! Yay!

Now what?

The last time I checked, being a poet was not a…lucrative…career choice, and unlike acting, there is no way to “make it big”. Studying poetry at the graduate level would be incredibly artistically and intellectually fulfilling. It would also financially impoverish me (and let’s not forget I want to continue to study other creative writing forms too! $$$!).

I am at the point in my life where I have realized that I can’t live my “double life” forever: the life of a responsible full-time administrative assistant combined with the life of the unpaid creative. Though I’m delighted that I’ve found a vocation (and delighted that I have a job that allows me to live comfortably for now), there’s no vacation in working at work and then going home and working on my creative pursuits. It’s taking its toll on me, and when I’m older and have kids and a mortgage and backyard chickens or what-not I simply won’t be able to do it all.

I’m also at a point where I realize that to go any further into any kind of career (except within my admin job, I guess), I need to further my education through either graduate studies or professional certification. While on the one hand I am worried that it would be irresponsible to spend money and time on an education that will not advance my career and earning opportunities (like a graduate degree in poetry), I am even more uncomfortable with the idea of spending time and money obtaining certification or a graduate degree in something that will not make me happy, especially when it’s not really the thing I’m really meant to be doing anyways.

So what to do? I’m not sure. At the moment, I’m grateful that I can make my life work for me. I’m grateful that I’m beginning to understand what my goals are. I’m grateful for my job and for all the amazing things that I’m learning in my classes. I’m grateful for my theatre degree–without it I would not have cultivated the work ethic and artistic questioning necessary to be as creative as I want to be. Hopefully I’ll find my way. We can’t all play with the proverbial Lego all our lives, but I’ll build my magical cities for as long as I can. I’m meant to.

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