Friday, June 03, 2005

Bread and Butter Work

I used to resent what I call "bread and butter work", you know, the "real" jobs writers and artists always have to keep their bills paid and pockets full of Starbucks money.

It seemed to me that the nearly universal truth about any type of creative career is that artisans aren’t able to earn a living doing only creative stuff. I always thought it unfair that the artist’s life is a sort of cobbled together patchwork of compromises that alternately feed and kill their creativity.

Over the past few weeks I’ve come to realize that there’s good, wholesome, multi-grain bread and butter work and there’s the floury pasty sort of stuff that makes your jeans not fit if you eat too much.

Unlike bread, you just can’t give these jobs a good once over and make a fair judgment based on the ingredients.

Four years ago, I took a job teaching art and promised myself that it was only until I got a "big enough break."

Last week I was giving a writing workshop at a library and I got the staple question that invariably comes up at these types of talks: What inspires you/ where do you get your ideas?

Of course, anyone who writes knows that is a ridiculous question. Ideas are simply a by-product of things experienced. And you can only amass a limited range of experience at a keyboard or in a studio. This need for outside stimulation, then, becomes the true value of bread and butter work.

My current human-interest newspaper feature is on a cast glass artist who has co- curated a glass exhibit that features some of her work. Glass is her passion, but two days a week, she’s a realtor.

I asked her if she resented this and she said "If I had only the art, or only the real estate, I wouldn’t be complete."

Four years in, that’s what my teaching is to me. It feeds my work and inspires me.
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to coordinate a Writers" Conference. I thought that might be a perfect way to work in the writing field and earn an (albeit tiny) payday.

At one point, I remember lamenting that the experience was like seeing this incredibly stylish pair of jeans on the rack and then realizing how dreadful they look once they’re on.

But it’s not the jeans. As much as I wanted a good fit, the job left me artistically bloated with a schedule full of unwanted poundage.

I don’t really care how many miles a presenter must travel before they can get reimbursed. I don't like drafting meeting minutes and drumming up corporate sponsors.

What I do care about is the fact that the characters I hastily abandoned to deal with all this have become strangers.

I’m pretty clear on how it works, now. I’ve resigned my post at the conference and I’m on summer break from school. I have eleven weeks to get re-acquainted with my characters.

But I’m excited for fall, too. After all, without bread and butter work, I’d truly be a starving artist.


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