On Dreams of Money, and Greatness, and Making Dinner for Friends Every Friday

soup and bread flickr

I’ve been stuck on yesterday’s “A Futurist Vision of Retirement Planning” post, as well as The Hairpin’s “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” in that I keep re-reading them (and I hope those pageviews count, because I don’t use ad-blockers) and trying to use them as some kind of way to predict the rest of my life.

Obviously I can’t. Re-reading articles to try to calm your anxieties about the future is a secular form of prayer.

It is interesting that I can read something like Romie Stott’s “In the next 50 years, ocean temperatures worldwide are going to rise between two and six degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels,” and still not be able to apply it to the imaginary version of my hoped-for life: the one where I live in a modest home with a modest home office and cook dinner for a group of friends every Friday. (How many of you read that Friday Night Meatballs article and immediately mentally hashtagged it #squadgoals?)

I mean, sure, if temperatures rise, maybe I won’t make soup. But I have no real concept of what this world might look like.

That’s pretty much why the Hairpin piece hit so hard, too. I studied both music and theater in college, which means I heard plenty about the “find a job in a record store or as an administrative assistant, then work on your art in the evenings” model. I got out of school and there were no jobs, and the few jobs that were available wanted to be, as Alexandra Molotkow put it, “your everything.”

(There was a time, shortly before I got my post-college telemarketing gig, when I thought I would do the “entry-level retail job plus theater in the evenings” thing. Then I learned about the inflexibility of flexible scheduling.)

So I found a new model of making cash and making art, and when that didn’t work, I pivoted. Now the hustle is my day job, and it feels like something that I can support myself doing, at least for the next phase of my life. (One of my ongoing columns ended this month, taking around 20 percent of my monthly income with it, and I hustled the cash right back.) It’s the phase after that, the one where I’m in my 40s and everything about the internet will be unimaginably different and Generation Z will be making up new slang terms that won’t look cute in my mouth anymore, that I worry about.

Like a lot of us, I listened to the Hamilton cast recording for the first time this week, and I had pretty much the same reaction that I did when I heard Fun Home earlier this year:

1) This is amazing.

2) They worked on this project for years without knowing whether it would be amazing.

That will be my hitch, my own financial vice that will get in the way of whatever amazing thing I might need years to develop; I want cash in hand now. I’ve got a diversified freelance career that currently includes blogging, reporting, and advertorial, to maximize the possibility that I’ll always have one client ready to pass me a check. When I started a novel that I knew would take me years to complete, I put the chapters on Patreon.

I mean, arguably, you do know at some point that your project might be a bit extraordinary. Maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda knew when he performed “The Hamilton Mixtape” at the White House in 2009. But I don’t feel like I know, yet, whether what I’m working on will lead to something amazing, so I focus my work on things that will lead to money.

(Does it have to be “something amazing?” I have no idea. But I do know this: I have twice in my life achieved what I would call “financial stability,” and both times I immediately started a big artistic project.)

And then I try to predict the future, and I try to predict it in a way where I will still have money. In my predicted future I have money and a home and friends, and those are the strongest parts of the vision; I also have some kind of middle-class-paying career that I like, although it’s harder to see the shape of that; I’d love to predict that I had written or otherwise created something that was in fact amazing, but that’s the part of a predicted future that you don’t want to say aloud.

Molotkow writes: “Compromises are the hallmark of a working freelancer, but Compromise, in the grand scheme, makes no sense at all. Aiming for greatness produces better work on the whole.”

Stott adds: “The future is a place we’re going to live, if we make it that far.”

I read each article one more time, press play on Hamilton’s “Non-Stop,” and tell myself that I’ll keep working.


Photo credit: Phil and Pam Gradwell



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