I’ve had a dayjob nearly constantly since leaving college. I don’t think it’s really an option for normal non-trust-fund folks in their early twenties to not have a dayjob, though it feels like it should be. We are all paying our dues, hitting the pavement, getting rejected again and again, staying up late and giving our precious time off to the un-paid work of writing or sewing or what-have-you (things we LOVE), spending our days wearing shoes that don’t fit till our feet are all blistered and blue and we’re crying in our kitchen at night. It’s hard out there! Let me tell you, it’s been hard! And my dayjobs haven’t even been especially terrible! But none of them have been the right thing. All of them have been utterly exhausting for both my body and my spirit. When your vocation is to be an artist/seeker/something, there is no dayjob in creation that can contain that mission. I’ve been a nanny, a barista, a teacher sort of, an office-person, a bag-sewist, and a camp cook. In every situation, I’ve spent a good fraction of my every day on the job wondering, genuinely, “what am I doing here???”

Running this blog, though very job-like at times, is one of my and Jessie’s many passion projects. There are a lot of things we are doing, giving as much of our energy to as we can muster, purely because we love them. I’ve begun to become more and more suspect of capitalism as I’ve grown, finding myself, or training myself rather, to care less and less about money. But even with that mindset, I can’t say it isn’t difficult to show up week after week to a passion project with no compensation in sight. In our culture, it is our hope that our work will be rewarded with money. It’s hard to break out of that cycle and do work for nothing, to intend to work just because you want to. I recently finally launched an etsy shop for the flags and quilts I spend most of the hours of my free-time to make, and even that feels complicated and strange. How do I price these things I’m making? Wouldn’t I rather just freely give them away to anyone who needs them? Is my time worth money? I’ve made it my business to continue my other passion projects without pay for long as I need to, to work for free, to teach myself, to make my dreams come true even if I don’t have the money-success to prove it, but this means I still have to have a dayjob. This means I will always be coming at the things I love to do with depleted energy, a kink in my spirit, many of my hours given away to something very beside-the-point. This conversation is prickly, complicated. Money is hard to talk about, but we all deal with it so we might as well start. I would love to be paid for the creative work I do. That is beginning to happen, but it is an extremely slow and often discouraging process where you have to just keep showing up and doing the work whether any money at all is coming in or not. But the fact of it is that I do it because I love it. I write and sew whether I receive anything in return or not, whether anyone else’s eye see it or not, and that’s how I know it’s worth doing. Dayjobs are a different story. I do those purely for money. Money to live on. Annoying, annoying, money.

I’m currently stuck in the middle of the camp-cook dayjob. Forty hours a week, these days, I’m trying to make food at a camp (where I also live) for all the people around. I’ve learned a lot, mostly that I don’t want to be a camp cook anymore, but also how to cook. So that’s one good thing! Below, a conclusive list of what I’ve learned at my current weird cooking dayjob but also everywhere.

Scones I made at my dayjob!!!

But before you read the list, read this: I am so proud of us. We are all (those of us who have not yet hit our stride) stuck in dayjobs, hoping for a unicorn or no dayjob at all. We are all just trying, TRYING, to figure out how to make it, something, work. Someday, really, I think we will all have jobs that we are proud of, things that make money that also make sense to us. Someday, the way the work-economy of the world actually exists in a healthy way will come into focus for us. But today is not that day. We are the victims of a system that is built to diminish and punish us, the small people, the no-experience-ers, the hopefuls, the lovers. Capitalism is brutal, really. No matter how brilliant we are, we have to push through the crap. And I am so proud of us for showing up to our dayjobs every morning wearing the outfit needed to get the job done. I am so proud of us for self-teaching and apprenticing ourselves into REAL SKILLS. I am so proud of us for keeping it going. That is no small thing. This life, the waiting life, is still our life, and it’s still beautiful. I’m glad we get to wait together.

Things I have learned at this dayjob / tips for whoever comes after / general musings on being an artist with a dayjob:

  1. A surefire way to RUIN your hands is to wash them a million times a day in the winter.
  2. If it seems like your boss probably used to be / maybe still is a pirate, just roll with it.
  3. Cooking isn’t hard, but it does require a lot of doing stuff and also a lot of walking.
  4. Dansko clogs are excellent, I repeat, excellent, shoes.
  5. It’s okay to cry while doing the dishes because no one can hear you over the whirr of the industrial dishwasher!
  6. Setting the tables is a good way to get some alone time with a podcast.
  7. Even if no one tells you you’re allowed to bring your earbuds and listen to podcasts during work, do it anyway because it will make you feel a lot better. Literally, in every dayjob situation, do what you have to do to make it more pleasant for yourself. Don’t ask permission, just make it better.
  8. I am actually a quite-good baker, whatever that means. Probably that I’m good at following instructions.
  9. Endless tasks are a blessing. You know, the kind of thing when you’re chopping a giant mound of onions or portioning a huge vat of dough that never seems to get depleted at all. These sorts of tasks let you actually, finally turn off the judging, strategizing part of your brain. You don’t have to wonder what you ought to do next. You just get to do something, melt into it. My best times at work in any capacity (sewing, baking, writing…) are when there is no end in sight and I can just melt. It may seem counter-intuitive, and maybe it is, but learning this about myself has been huge. I think it’s why I like hand-stitching so much. It takes forever and lets you not think so hard for a while.
  10. Get to know your coworkers, but it’s also okay to just kind of want to be alone. They really don’t have to become your best friends. Ask for space if you need it (important for introverts!).
  11. If there isn’t anywhere to sit, sit on the 50 lb bags of flour.
  12. When faced with a situation in which you really ought to lift something that’s half your body weight, go get someone bigger. Don’t be a hero!!! Especially at your dayjob!
  13. Take a lot of coffee breaks, but make them decaf because nobody has time for caffeine addiction.
  14. The reason it feels easier to cook in a huge industrial kitchen than a home kitchen is that there is so much more workspace, dedicated time, and every tool and supply you could ever need right at your fingertips. I’ve thought quite a bit about this, and have also spent some time thinking about how I can make my home kitchen workspace (and sewing workspace, for that matter) more workable, how I hope to someday be able to dedicate actual time in my day to meal preparations (rather than just having it always be an afterthought), and planning to really invest in a kick-ass pantry.
  15. I don’t love Food. Big-F Food. And that’s okay because I can love the foods that make sense to me, the ones that are part of me. It’s okay to have a small food footprint, to gravitate to the same things again and again and again. As long as those things are whole and balanced and not lacking what you need to feel energetic and healthy, eat what you like to eat! I’ve passed on a lot of the things we’ve made this year, perfectly good food that just didn’t look good to me, and went home to make myself some eggs instead, and that isn’t failure! It’s knowing myself, practicing some self-forgiveness for life-long food anxieties, giving my little heart some love through food that feels possible. It’s sort of wonderful to be an adult who can choose what I do and don’t want to eat based on a lifetime of self-knowledge, chosen challenge, and softness.
  16. Raw meat is TERRIFYING. I’m so done with it – never want to see or touch it again.
  17. Vegetables can also become terrifying if they’ve begun to rot. Try to avoid this situation.
  18. There probably isn’t as much bacteria on everything as you think there is. But still be FASTIDIOUS about cleanliness if it matters to you. Do all you can to feel good about what you are making and feeding to yourself and others. Temp your meats, wipe your surfaces, wear gloves. Don’t skip it. You owe it to yourself and the people you are feeding. I’m kind of intense about this.
  19. Bake your own bread. You’ll feel like a thousand dollars.
  20. Dicing onions is fun because they’re really a fantastic vegetable, and you get to try to get better at it every time you do it.
  21. It is important to me to do a good job, no matter what I’m doing. And good, hard work really does get noticed and rewarded. Today, my boss gave me a few hours off this afternoon – this matters to me, significantly.
  22. If you find a recipe you love, make it over and over until you know it by heart.
  23. DIY garlic knots are WORTH IT.
  24. Jim Lahey’s pizza dough. Just trust me.
  25. It’s even better as stromboli.
  26. It really is fun to learn how to make bagels, or to make four kinds of scones for breakfast one day. The job has its joys.
  27. Literally, don’t forget to drink water! Don’t be a dummy! (This is directed very, very much at myself, but also maybe at you if you’re, like me, nearly constantly dehydrated. WHY?)
  28. It is not fun at all to watch other people eat, especially if you haven’t eaten breakfast yet yourself nor have you had any coffee.
  29. The dishes are always going to be gross. Sorting silverware is the most tolerable part of it.
  30. If you see something that needs doing, do it. And it’s okay to feel good about helping run something, to look at the meal going out to people’s tables and think, I did that! Even if you don’t love your job, you can feel good about it. That’s something I’m learning all the time.
  31. I just don’t like having a dayjob. I really don’t. And I really am pretty insufferable with how much I complain about my dayjob. I know I need to work on this, but it’s hard. I even annoy myself, though Isaiah gets the brunt of it. But it really, really is so hard to go every day to a job that feels like a slog. It will never not be hard – unless you find the magic unicorn of dayjobs that becomes not a dayjob at all but something else entirely. A real part of your life. That’s the goal for dayjobs, really. The goal of dayjobs is to find the right one. Or to get rid of it entirely. I’ve determined that I don’t want to have a dayjob anymore, but I do need to have enough money to live, and the equation does not add up. So, for now, I’m insufferable, since I haven’t found the right one yet. I don’t want to be like this, but I don’t know how not to complain about wearing shoes every day that don’t fit. The blisters! The way they rub! The pain in every step! It’s hard! Does that make sense?
  32. Not liking my job doesn’t make me a bad person, right?
  33. I haven’t liked any of my dayjobs (to varying degrees), and all of them have been very different. None of them are a dayjob unicorn, and REALLY none of them are “the thing.” And it’s really quite possible that I will just never ever like anything (work-wise) that isn’t “the thing.”
  34. I don’t think that makes me spoiled, I think it makes me human. Life’s too short to settle for half of a life. But it’s hard to balance discontent with realisticness. I don’t know how to talk about this without sounding like I think I’m entitled to something. I do think I’m entitled to something! I think we all are! I think we all are entitled to work that feels possible! We are all entitled to “the thing”! Right?!
  35. What is “the thing” exactly? The real work? I’m still trying to define it. Some matrix of sewing and writing perhaps with dance and theater somewhere nearby. Basically what I do in my spare time. The really hard work I do that I don’t get paid for.
  36. When in doubt, clean up.
  37. You don’t necessarily need to know the right temperature to cook something at. Just throw it in at 375 degrees and check it a lot and it will almost definitely turn out fine.
  38. It’s okay to want to know that you’re doing things right, though.
  39. When given a lot of instructions, insist on writing them down! Ask the instruction-giver to repeat as needed.
  40. Having to have a meal ready for 25-50 people three times a day is NO SMALL TASK. It just will be stressful sometimes. And exhausting.
  41. I didn’t know how exhausting it would be.
  42. As you work various dayjobs, notice what you don’t hate about them. I don’t hate baking. I actually kind of like it! It’s the parts of my job that aren’t baking that really tire me out and make me feel small and sad. Given this information, I really would consider working in a small bakery in the future (possible unicorn!), and I have gained the skills to make that a possibility. This is good to know. If you have to have a dayjob, try to figure out how to narrow it down to the right one. Maybe the right one for me will be part-time work in a bakery someday, who knows!? (Or maybe I won’t have to have a dayjob someday, fingers crossed!)
  43. There are few things worse than coming home exhausted from your dayjob and seeing your work, your real work, something connected to “the thing” all laid out on the table ready for you. In those moments, I so badly wish I had it in me to pick up the fabric and start sewing, but I can’t. I need to stop expecting that of myself. I can’t sew after work, and that’s okay. My real work, “the thing,” is so important to me that I want to give my best self to it, my freshest most encouraged self. That is not who I am after my dayjob. So lately, I’ve been knitting after my dayjob instead, or picking up some hand-stitching. Something small and simple, no large plans to carry out or business goals or tasks to accomplish. Just a few stitches to add, a show to watch, music to listen to. Self-forgiveness is what I need to practice on my dayjob evenings. Softness, slowness, treating myself like a tired, gifted child. (That’s something my dearest teacher would say to us often “treat yourself like a gifted child.” I will never ever forget that.)
  44. BUT ALSO, not everything you love has to be “the thing”! Like knitting!  Let some of your hobbies just stay hobbies. I’m never going to try to make money by knitting. It isn’t my work, it’s just a thing I like to do! It’s nice to know the difference, especially when creative endeavors sometimes seem to meld together and it can all get confusing. Sewing is part of “the thing” and knitting isn’t. Try to make those distinctions in your mind whenever you can. Narrowing down “the work” slowly and carefully is part of inching toward it, working on it, and hobbies are IMPORTANT and holy in their own way.
  45. I was listening to the Dear Sugars podcast today at my dayjob (which is brilliant and hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond), to an episode where they were talking about dayjobs! Really! (This one: The Price of our Dreams – With George Saunders). In it they talked about the idea of apprenticeship, about paying your dues, which literally stopped me in my tracks. I was reminded that so many brilliant creative people slog through day jobs, spend their days doing something that makes no sense to them, just waiting, letting the potential energy inside them explode when it has the chance. Goodness, just go listen to this episode. From Cheryl, “Those times that I thought I was spinning my wheels and not developing my craft, I was actually developing my craft. And all that stuff ends up in the work, either explicitly or implicitly… The artists have never existed in these rarefied environments, they’ve always been among us and they come from all social classes. You could have all the money in the world and all the support and you’ll still never finish that damn novel. There’s some other engine that drives the finishing of the novel, and it’s not privilege, right?” WOW. Yeah, go listen to it.
  46. So maybe it isn’t dying to spend my days doing something that doesn’t belong to me. Maybe I’ll be okay. Why does it feel so terrible, though?
  47. I know the yearning fuels my work. What would my work, my real work, be without the yearning?
  48. I think I’ll always yearn, though, whether I have a dayjob or not.
  49. It is a nice feeling to know where everything goes in a huge kitchen. Mastery of a space is universally rewarding. It’s probably why we like our houses so much — we know all about them!
  50. I do like having unlimited access to limes because one of my favorite snacks is lime juice squeezed on tortilla chips and I always forget to buy them!
  51. Everything is temporary.
  52. Very few of my problems would be solved by eliminating my dayjob and getting to work full-time on “the thing,” I know that. But still!
  53. If you don’t like your dayjob, decide when you’ll leave it and stick to that decision. It’s always okay to quit and try something new. Say “no.” Advocate for yourself. If you have to have a dayjob, don’t settle till you find the unicorn.
  54. Still, sometimes it takes a long time between the “saying no” and the actually leaving. That’s the hardest part of all.
  55. You’re an artist if you feel like there is nothing else you could possibly do than the thing. “The thing,” whatever weird combination of things that is for you. If you’re an artist, you know you are. And you’re not not an artist while you’re at your dayjob! If you’re an artist, you will always sort of be suffering, because life is full and does not allow much room for “the thing” no matter who you are. This is what I’m learning. This is hard.
  56. The day that our teacher looked across the table at me and Jessie in a random restaurant in Wicker Park and called us artists was a really important day. I think he didn’t know at all how monumental that moment was for both of us. But it was. It felt like PERMISSION.
  57. I’m allowed to yearn to escape my dayjob. But until the day I’ve chosen for my escape, all I can do is show up, do the work, try not to complain so much, pay attention to what is going on around me, feel proud of what I’ve done well, let it be joyful when it is, let it be terrible when it is, treat myself like a gifted child, work HARD for “the thing” on my days off, and just wait and see. Wait and see. Counting out the tally marks of paying my dues – what are our twenties if not that?
  58. Prep work pays off! (In the kitchen and elsewhere!)
  59. Being able to cook creatively and well sometimes makes people look at you like you’ve done some sort of magic, and that’s not nothing. It’s really not nothing.
  60. These days are not a waste. These days are not a waste. These days are not a waste. My life is mine, no matter how my days are spent. Remember this. I need to remember this.
  61. Isn’t is sort of wonderful that we get to try to solve the unsolvable mystery of work? Isn’t it wonderful that we all do it differently? Isn’t it wonderful that we get to try to live?

One comment

  1. This post strikes home. I had a job last summer at a greenhouse, and was anxious all the time. But if you’re going to cry silently at work, you may as well be surrounded by roses. (Or so I tell myself) Thank you for your words. 🙂

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