Only one pays.

You see, I have an MFA in Poetry and when I was in graduate school I knew that said degree wasn’t going to translate into a paying job. Are you kidding? You think playwrights have it rough? Try the world of poetry.
Poets hobble together a living. Some teach at non-tenure positions as adjunct, which means no health insurance, others simply write on the side while they work full time in some other unrelated profession.

And as for a Holy Grail position in poetry, well, I suppose getting tenure at a university teaching poetry might be it. Because you see, there are very few superstars in the world poetry. And I doubt that even they can write poetry full time or live solely off the revenue from their books. Most are professors. And getting published (a poet’s version of a theatre production), well, that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make money…or that people will buy your book because unfortunately people in this country don’t cram into auditoriums to listen to you read your poems like they did for Neruda.

My poetry peers and I had no delusions when we got our MFAs. This wasn’t a step on the career path to becoming a successful professional poet. We were taking time to hone our craft.

During my last semester in my MFA program I ventured into the genre of playwriting. After six years I now think of myself as a playwright first and a poet second. So, am I going back to get an MFA in playwriting? No. I have enough student loans to pay off thank you very much.

But, wait, this post was about my two jobs.

Last this week Gwydion wrote about his work arrangement which allows him to work only 25 hours a week. That’s pretty much my ideal situation. I’d love to work from home and only focus on, say, the social media aspect of my current 9 to 5 job.

But my reality, for the moment, is that I work a 9 to 5 job. Which I need to do in order to pay the rent, the bills, the student loans and cover whatever else might come up living in a city like San Francisco. It’s that “dreaded Pro-Am designation” David mentioned. Though I do choose to work a 9 to 5 job, it’s not because I don’t feel a need to pursue a professional life in the arts. It’s just that I have to pursue it and still somehow have money to live.

So maybe you’ve guessed what my other job is. It’s playwriting. For the most part playwriting doesn’t pay me. It does on occasion, but at the moment it doesn’t pay me regularly.

Yes, it is hard to balance my life, a full time job and playwriting. Yes, there are weeks, like last week, when it feels like my brain is melting-melting-melting and I can’t summon the energy at the end of a long day to jump back into rewrites. Yes, it’s not ideal.

But I am working hard at playwriting. And I am trying to pursue a professional life in the arts. One might argue that it doesn’t look that way from the outside. But I’ve come to accept that my career may not look like other people’s careers. But why should it? Some playwrights have careers that take off right away, other toil for years before being recognized nationally (I know a few).

So I’ll keep toiling away. Because I love writing. It’s who I am.

  • March 2, 2011
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