Otherwise Compensated

Photo by Rachel Rose Brown

I am surrounded by artist-types: actors, improvisors, writers, directors, editors, painters, and musicians. Not one of whom is making their living in their respective field. The majority work at Groupon doing menial tasks. While it is tempting to say these tasks are beneath them, I object to the phrase. Nothing you do is beneath you. It is precisely the lowest level you have accepted. I, for instance, have worked the same retail job for over a decade. A. Fucking. Decade. It hurts to see it written down. And while I imagine it to be beneath my skill level and talents, it isn't. It is exactly what I have demanded of the world. Until the day comes when I insist on more, nothing changes. But that day isn't today.  

My peers eschew financial stability and the comforts of careerism for the nebulous promise of creative fulfillment. I discovered comedy roughly the same time as a friend of mine started med school. Next year she'll be a doctor. Next year my web series might hit 10,000 views. After roughly the same time commitment, she'll be set for life and I'll have blown my savings to write a play that might be seen by a hundred people in Chicago. There is a better chance of being drafted into the NFL than geting pulled to SNL. No one gets paid to do improv in Chicago. Hell, you can't even get people to watch a web series that you give away for free. So, I ask myself, what's in it for us? 

We are paid in self-righteousness. Our reward is quiet satisfaction. And though it can't be entered to a box on a 1040, it keeps the train moving forward. Fame isn't even on the horizon. It's not a distant mirage being chased in a barren desert. It isn't even on the table. The scale is embarrassingly small. Your paycheck is a cute girl coming up after an improv show and saying you're funny. Your 401k is having an answer when someone asks what you've been up to. Your PTO is a handful of retweets. 

It was never about money, or fame. A creative life pays its dividends in the promise of an unordinary life, not an extraordinary life. The bar isn't that high. It is a fear of answering "Eh, work and the kids" when asked, "What's new?" Don't pity artists for their lack of financial compensation. They more than make up for it looking down their nose at you with smug self-satisfaction. 

I should know. In this sense, I'm rich. So enjoy your boring life of prosperity, successful and fulfilling romantic relationships, and the unconditional love of your children. I'll be here writing.

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