How to Juggle the Passion and the Grind

Safety net

I’m 23 years old.

I’ve worked at a local mom-and-pop joint since I was 15. Yes, eight years. The job kept me busy in high school, it kept me fed in college, but since then, has it kept me from practicing my art? It’s up for debate.

As much as I admire those who take the leap, slide the chute, and walk the walk, I have never been able to make a dramatic life change without seeing what awaits me on the other side. I depend on some sort of overlap — a Mario-like, moving platform that I jump to with certainty. I fear a lack of security. This is my nature.

I decided to become a writer during college. At that time, I was already juggling school and work, but because I was taking several writing classes I was permitted the stability of sustained workshops and constant deadlines. My schooling was my writing; showing up to class was showing up to work.

When I graduated in May of 2012, it took several months to regain the structure that college granted me. I immediately went in search of a job that would challenge my artistic tendencies. I even took the train to Santa Fe with a backpack full of resumés and handed them to the directors of as many art galleries as I could walk to, thinking that surrounding myself again with others’ creativity would cause my own to flourish. I was unhappy and wayward toward my restaurant gig, and I complained about not being stimulated, about drowning in the mundanity.

I finally realized all my complaining was preventing me from happily writing.

I buckled down, developed a schedule. Now if I have a serving shift that begins at 10am, I am at the coffee shop at 8am writing until it’s time to put on the apron. When I end a shift, it’s off to the studio. Raymond Carver worked any job he could get from janitor to mill worker in order to support his family. Yet he always made time to write that story.

I long for the time in my life when I may become a full-time artist. The catch-22 of not being established enough as a writer to make a living, yet having to work a side job that takes away from time writing, is one that I have accepted as an up-and-comer’s reality. In spite of it, I have learned to call myself a writer.

I show up to the restaurant as an artist, not as a server, and I frequently converse with interested regulars about the projects I’m working on. This has provided me with many opportunities, including a connection with a film producer who is awaiting a screenplay I’m writing, and some irregular voice work with a local radio station. Beyond these associations, the job is flexible; it grants me opportunities to take time off to travel, go to art openings, writing workshops, and run off on the occasional 48-hour writing bender. It pays my rent at a fine apartment, as well as my studio, where I write, paint, and co-direct the online magazine Humbird.

Much like T.S. Eliot and his long-held position at Lloyd’s Bank, I am not prepared to leave a steady job and jump into the hazy unknown without assurance or security. Luckily, I have found a way to juggle my grind and my passion. Because I am now able to write, albeit part-time, I have avoided becoming a disgruntled veteran server who smokes cigarettes behind the restaurant kvetching about 13% tips. I recognize my side job as a safety net. Without it, I imagine the stress of making rent each month more cloistering than the job itself. Besides, I’m a real bitch when I’m hungry.

So I show up to work and I calm my anxious feet with a strong dose of patience. The trick is being mindful enough to recognize when it is time to take that leap.

Yeah, let’s not get too comfy.

Photo by Andrew Skudder.

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