Saturday, July 23, 2022

spotlights, stage managers, and the kittens I will no longer be herding....

When I was in college, I did a lot of backstage work, including stage managing for both student and faculty-directed productions.  On one hand, I preferred to just work tech, which gave me a social outlet and a sense of involvement in making something happen, especially since my only friends in college were other theater department denizens. I was really good with light boards, costumes, even dangerously high spotlight handling. I took a class devoted to stage management, did really well, and the next thing I knew was sort of in demand for it, including a community show that, while fun, was also sort of a nightmare--the sort of bad dream where you are running lights and sounds and going off cues that aren't happening because no one knows their lines. (Had I seen that as a precursor to the work world, I might have realized a lot of things about my future much earlier. )

But the department productions, both student and faculty had their shit together in a way that made it much easier and yet, I was sort of miserable.  In fact, it made me feel like there was no room for mistakes, which kind of made me crazy. One night after dimming lights a second too soon at the end of a musical number, I cried in the office of our tech advisor, to which his response was "Don't worry, it's not brain surgery, no one died."  It was sweet, but I felt like someone had. And I wasn't entirely convinced he meant it. If you'd asked me, I would have said I loved it. Took every opportunity that came my way, mostly unpaid outside of a couple tech jobs that paid. Bouts of social anxiety made things difficult.  I was always sick. Like monthly. I was stressed, except in those brief windows I wasn't working on a show. I missed my grandfather's funeral in Wisconsin because he had the audacity to die during tech week. I did well in my classes but probably not as well as I could have. The show must go on. It was a lot like herding kittens, something I also dreamed (then and now) about a lot. 

Once I graduated, I put my theater days behind me, since it was already dawning on me that group efforts are not my cup of tea. I preferred the more solitary aspects of poetry far more. Ditto on teaching, which didn't seem to mesh well with all that anxiety.  Even after I started the lit zine and the press, these still felt like solitary things....the roles were clearly defined..the writers did their thing, I did my thing, and together, we made something great happen.  While some things were collaborative--cover designs, the layout process--we had carefully defined roles. And granted there are a lot of moving pieces, to just to be a writer, the work of it, of creating it, of promoting it. And the press as well, the world of layouts and production and promotion. It is a job, jobs plural, even when I had another job paying the bills. 

I am still probably a good project manager, and the press and my own work have been long-term projects that I enjoy placing my managerial efforts on. My work at the library for years  in the beginning involved little effort besides some daily paperwork and book processing, some supervision of evening student workers.  Slowly, more was added, not only because of people leaving, though that was part of it, but also because I took on a lot that was additional, things I wanted to do--things I wanted to happen.  And again, I am a good project manager, so they were mostly successful, and even when not successful, rewarding and worthwhile. Soon, people seemed to realize that I was good at certain things and offered me more opportunities.  Then sometimes, there was no offering, just expectations that far exceeded both my available bandwidth and pay grade. I took on more in the hope that it would be rewarded with more pay and a better title. It sounds egotistical to say I may have been too good at project management for my own good, but I think I kind of was.  

We all have limited mental energy. I found when I turned on a faucet in one part of the house, the water dried up in another. I'd spend weeks embroiled in projects and meanwhile the pipes failed upstairs.. It was an endless back and forth. There was so much oversight--general library things like managing ILL but also programming, social media, heading committees, launching exhibits. I laughed and told myself I was having fun, because I was.  Kind of, but I also think it was killing me. I would consider the time I had for things, which was limited, of course, and could always make time. But I couldn't create bandwidth from nothing Time is nothing if you just don't have the brain space.  I  would try to explain this to people, but they usually would not listen. What I wanted was not less work, but less overseeing and managing things.  I needed not every faucet in the house (departmental work, programming, the press, my writing)  trying to run at once. But then again, I had a tendency of wanting to take things over to get the results I wanted. It's also hard when you are a control freak. In a number of cases I did it to myself entirely. 

While I still have a lot of work to do and occasionally work long hours, there is one thing I am reveling in about this new freelance life.  My only project-oriented endeavors are my own art and writing and the press / press/shop.  The other ways I make money, the writing and lesson assignments, I do them and am done. There is no keeping track of a million pieces. I research, I draft, I finalize, I submit. Repeat. I do my part and move on my merry way. I deal daily with the content managers and editors who keep the machine whirring, who sometimes send things back for edits. But once again, I submit and am done. I am not the one keeping track of things or herding kittens and this makes all the difference. Many of the advice columns and youtube videos I watch focus on writers who run freelance businesses and the arduousness of querying, pitching and hustling. I think the pay is better when you set your rates and market yourself on places like Fiver.  I am willing to trade slightly lower pay (though still more than I used to make and daily freedom to boot) for not having to run another business on top of an already existing business.

In my more panicked moments during the spring when I was worried about money, I would eye job postings of all kinds, full time designer gigs, editor and marketing positions, other library programming-related things I probably had the experience for. Some were really tempting to relieve me of my money-related anxiety.  But I would back away before applying, thinking those were the last things I needed now that I was beginning to feel so good and on top of press-related business and my own creative work. Some jobs eat bandwidth while others eat less. Managing people and keeping track of a hundred little details takes away room for something else.  Running a spotlight is less stressful even 20 feet in the air, than trying to make sure every single thing is in its place and running smoothly on stage. I feel like if I'd came to this realization a decade ago, I might have saved myself a lot of angst.  

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