When last I left off, I decided to take both a day job and a night job at the same time.
My workplace parking lots. Guess which one is my day job?
And also run a business, by the way, which thanks to a sponsored post on A Practical Wedding and some good word from shooting a (very large) small business event, was starting to look up.
I was so excited to have more than one job, I almost puked from the epic victory dance. And then I slowly made myself sick.
December of 2011 was probably the most physically challenging month of my life. I don’t say that in an I’m-stomping-my-foot-I’m-a-college-grad-this-isn’t-fair way, I’m just honestly not sure how I squeezed everything in.
I was sleeping about 2-4 hours a night. I had such a busy month I wrote every single shift and meeting down in my Google calendar, so that the email notices Google sent me would wake me up from naps and I’d make it to all my appointments. Otherwise, I’d have to set my alarm 2-3 different times a day. To illustrate, here’s December 8th:
11:30pm-7am - Night shift as a dailies operator.
12pm-7pm - Shift and prep for that week’s Sunday class at Williams-Sonoma.
8pm - Client consultation for photography assignment.
11pm-5am - Night shift as a dailies operator.
I know. This one of the more stressful days, but it wasn’t off par for the entire month. I had a conversation with a friend of mine that went something like this:
“Man, I’m so tired.”
“You should sleep in three hour increments if you can. I read that’s how long your REM cycles are. That’d be good.”
“That’s a good idea. That’s about how much time I have.”
“Wait, I’m sorry. That’s not good. That’s terrible.”
Hello gorgeous bed. You were not full of enough drool…because I didn’t use you enough. Get it?
So December was ugly. And then in my business, I was flanked by moments of incredible confidence and doubt so strong it knocked all the air out of my lungs.
I was having a really hard time finding the right subject matter. I had meeting after meeting without having contracts signed. I put hours into getting client inspiration ready and still just couldn’t manage to book. On the other hand, I invented small business photo essays, and found a surprising amount of support for a type of shooting that was essentially just me telling stories I found fascinating: stories about a business in action. But I was so hungry for work I would take an entire day to put together samples tailored to every person who thought about hiring me. I never stopped trying to make my style and my voice appealling to every person that glanced around my tiny corner of the web. It wasn’t the most business-savvy workflow.
So many estimates. So. Many.
And then there were the fucking holidays. Pardon the language, but I’m fairly certain even in the best of circumstances, the added pressure of the most favoritest time of the year beefs up emotions and sets everyone up for expectations that only are filled in Hollywood backlots. For 50 million dollars, before advertising.
Working at Williams-Sonoma could get really lonely too. I would watch the happy families buying the Big Family Present that cost more than a week of my wages, and it would make me so sad. Eating (a brought from home) lunch in a mall and remembering your office is the mall is just hard sometimes.
There is nothing dishonorable about working an unglamorous job in order to keep a roof over your head. Nothing. But it’s easy to let your mind wander when you work in customer service to every customer, every client that might have more creature comforts in their lives.
And the funny thing about money, is that no one has enough of it. Adults have told me this feeling of barely being able to cover bills never goes away because the bills keep rising. The creature comforts come at a price. I just hope I’ll find a way to work smarter.
I got my parents discounted presents from Williams-Sonoma, of course. I was so proud it was a Real Gift. If I could do it again, I would probably not put myself in the position where I was literally counting in my head as I worked: how many hours do I need to work in order to afford this gift, to afford shipping for so-and-so’s present? What bill am I deviating money from in order to afford this small indulgence? Something homemade would have been just as nice. Even some slightly stale air-mailed cookies probably would have done the trick. The truth is, no one asked me to do more than I could handle. I put myself in that boat with no provocation.
It was definitely not an option to go home for the Holidays. I worked from December 14th through January 2nd with only Christmas day off. James was hustling too and we didn’t see each other as much as we wanted. But, it was our first holiday season as a married couple.
I built a Christmas tree out of cardboard that was an excellent metaphor for our messy lives. It was haphazard, fell over a lot, and was a hilarious fire hazard, but friends showed up to help us through it. And the reason they loved it and supported it wasn’t because it was pathetic: it was because only me and James, in our classic complicated shenanigans, would make a Christmas tree out of cardboard and legitimately leave it up all holiday season. They didn’t feel pity for us, they just liked our wacky point of view. We have, if nothing else, absolutely no capability to disguise our enthusiasm and goofiness. Which is sometimes the only way to make it through a rough winter.
One way, a palm tree! The other way, a Pine tree! Both ways, cheap!
I was such a mess though, I questioned everyone’s support. It’s funny: I thought what was missing was money, some mysterious Daddy Warbucks figure to pop up and say, “You’ve worked hard kid. Here’s your Stamp of Success as an Adult! And here are benefits too!” Really the only thing I was missing was self respect. A bank balance couldn’t give me that internal peace of mind, and neither could respect of a mentor, my friends, or family. I just had it in my head I deserved this miserable schedule, and didn’t deserve to put my efforts into making a career take off when I could barely cover all my bills.
Looking back on it, it was only the mundane human interaction that made the month bearable. It was the million passive aggressive text messages sent to friends at the tail end of long shifts. The spare hour I’d spend with someone between jobs. My oldest friend Helen came to visit us, and we spent Christmas day on the beach with coffee cups full of triple sec mixed with hot chocolate and not a penny to spend on seasonal broo-ha-ha’s. But who puts decorations on the beach anyway? Didn’t need ‘em.
It was perfect. And a mess. And on New Year’s Eve, when I fell asleep at about 12:30am on James’ shoulder, with one friend over, watching cheap TV on the internet, I didn’t have the time or energy to analyze the year or make big promises. I just knew I had work to do in the morning. And a shift at Williams-Sonoma. It made the few quiet hours of my holiday deep, important, and full of more constructive stillness than the fanciest vacation money could buy.
We had some unavoidable travel coming up though…
Part 3 on Friday, “Been Through the Dessert in a PT Cruiser with a Name.”