The Valley of Artistic Agony

Bloggified by Jake on Wednesday, August 11, 2010

There's an old adage about the grass always being greener on the other side, but lately it seems the grass is dead everywhere.

Monday, I wrapped up the majority of my edits on Book 4 with no discussion yet about a contract for Book 5 and beyond. Until school is back in full swing and we get a full sales report around October, my publisher cannot even broach the subject. I have another project I'm working on that I can't talk about until Monday, but it's a collaborative project which means any money from sales will be split four ways, and given the nature of publishing, I've decided if I see more than $25 before 2012 from this, I'll chalk it up as a win. Worst case--yet entirely possibly--scenario, Monday afternoon may have marked the end of my professional writing career.

While I was facing this fact, I got a phone call and subsequent interview for a job in an investment firm. It's precisely the kind of job I would hate, but it would pay well, provide me with health insurance from day one, and finally make use of that MBA I still owe $70,000 on. Clearly, if I get the job offer, I have to take it--unless Paramount makes a million dollar offer for movie rights in the next two weeks... COME ON, PARAMOUNT! I just wonder how long it will be between my first day on the job and the day I start window shopping for a pistol with a built-in mouthpiece. I'm putting the over/under at two weeks.

Strangely, I'm not the only one struggling with this same dilemma. I mean, obviously I'm not, but it's strange that in the 24 hours that followed my phone interview, that theme popped up several times from others.

Tuesday morning, Phil Hester tweeted this:
Career diagram: Thing I don't want to do that pays very well. < Me > Thing I love that doesn't pay at all.

Within an hour, Chris Sims reviewed a new Archie comic that uses Veronica and Betty to represent Mr. Hester's two situations, respectively.

In that review, Chris made a reference to his friend, Eugene, who recently walked away from a lucrative law practice to pursue a rap career.

I had two unrelated phone conversations with two friends along the same lines about writing and art. I suppose it stands to reason that given the large number of artistic-type friends I have, this would be a common theme, but it's discomforting to have everyone independently on the same subject at once.

Going back to my opening statement, the idea of the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence is born of wishful thinking. "If I was over there, things would be better," is so old that Moses made a comment about it on those tablets everyone makes such a big deal about. Something about coveting your neighbor's wife's ass or something. But the Valley of Artistic Agony doesn't have any green grass. The wishful thinking isn't about things being better. It's about things not being as bad.

On one side of the Valley live those with money who hate what they do and wish they could pursue their artistic desires. On the other are those pursuing their artistic desires who wish they had money. Each side is keenly aware of the sacrifice needed to cross the Valley, but few are willing to make the move.

And anyone who thinks he can set up camp in the middle and live the best of both worlds doesn't take long to learn why it's called the Valley of Artistic Agony.

I am fascinated by the idea of divergent timelines. I don't believe in heaven, but if there is an afterlife, I hope it offers the answers to all the "What if...?" questions. How would life be different if I'd moved to San Jose in 2000 and married Colleen instead of staying in TV and going to Florida? What would my daughter be like if her mother and I had broken up before she was born? If I'd gotten my GED at 13 and started college at 14 like I wanted to, would I be more or less fucked up in the head? Essentially, I want the afterlife to allow me the free reading of the entirety of the Choose Your Own Adventure book of my life.

That wish, however, is born of a hope that somewhere, somehow, maybe in another dimension or an alternate universe, I'm happy. We want to believe that while life might be miserable, if we'd only made one left turn where we made a right, we'd be in the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately, I know that's mostly not true.

During the rockiest years of my relationship with Colleen, three years of trying to maintain a long distance relationship, I wondered whether things would be better if I'd never bothered pursuing my TV career, took that web design job I'd been offered, and stayed with her. My mind didn't let me follow that train of thought for long before I admitted I would always dwell on wondering how things would be different if I'd pursued my TV career and would probably come to resent her for robbing me of that opportunity.

And that's my fear about reading Choose Your Own Adventure in the afterlife. What if ever divergent path is equally miserable? In a way, that almost worse than if some are particularly horrible while some are only mildly depressing. In the latter case, at least you can be certain that your life wasn't as bad as it might have been, but in the former case, the message is clearly, "Nothing you did mattered. You were destined to be equally unhappy regardless of any efforts you did or did not make."

4 sarcastic replies:

David Anaxagoras said...

As a fellow denizen of That Valley, let me say I've spent the last three weeks feeling like I'm being slowly crushed to death by a 3,000 pound rock. But at least I have health insurance.

There's something truly horrible, though, about working the day job and still not being able to move out of my parents' house.

Even if I give up my artistic ambitions, my prospects for life/financial improvement are pretty much nil. I went with an MFA in Screenwriting rather than an MBA, so I win the useless-degree-I'm-still-paying-for race by miles. If that helps you feel better.

And if it doesn't, there's this: a well-paying job with benefits is not the end of the world (asshole) and the adventure is not over yet.

Jake said...

Asshole? But... but I didn't even insult your hometown!

I understand that it's not the end of the world. However, there are jobs some jobs that you just know aren't right for you. If Sarah Palin offered me a $80,000 to be a speech writer or a media strategist, I would have to take it, but would hate myself every second of every day. Working for an investment firm wouldn't be that bad, but it's not far off.

David Anaxagoras said...

When I say "asshole", I mean it in the most affectionate, respectful way possible. It's a term I reserve only for my dearest, closest friends.

When I graduated with my MFA, I moved back home with my parents and got a job as a preschool teacher. This is exactly what I was doing before I spent three years in film school, where I was supposed to make something of myself. I have to say, I was weirdly relieved to land that teaching job, but the hardest part was that it pretty much negated the previous three years of my life.

It's hard not to resent my job, hard not to resent anything I'm so dependent on but isn't really in line with my dreams, goals and ambitions.

It's been five years in this job and I have to wonder how long a dream can remain on life support. I can't imagine what it's like having a taste and then losing it (though that's still too early to call in your case). Maybe you deserve a break and a steady paycheck for a while. Just don't let it become a habit.

Theresa said...

Jake,
Every relationship and job opportunity adds to the fabric of who we are. We can all be happy, productive and creative in a variety of ways, not all of which may earn our primary income. A job is only miserable if we choose that for ourselves, and when we find ourselves in a place of discontent, we must find a productive way to attract new energy into our world. Some people are able to have a career that satisfies them personally, professionally and intellectually. But no one I know is in that position everyday. We must work toward our goals realizing that it is about the productive journey, where we can find joy along the way, not an endless marathon toward a finish line that is elusive.
There is also a lesson for our children in seeing us both work toward our dreams, but make the best out of every opportunity that we encounter.
And Jake, that "hating everything" may be getting a bit in your way of finding a more optimistic path of opportunities personally and professionally. Please also realize that your bashing of people and places comes across very bitter and petty, and your few valid points get lost in your vitriol.

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