In 2010 I was looking for vocalist gigs on Craigslist. I came across this ad: “WHITE FEMALE REGGAE SINGER WANTED.” I emailed them: “Why white? Just curious.” I never heard back.
The idea that an ad would say purposefully that people of color need not apply sat so wrong with me. And it encapsulates so perfectly the upside-down, backwards-world tone one’s morale takes on while stalking what Stephen Pressfield calls “shadow jobs.”
Pressfield writes about “shadow jobs” in The War of Art (if you haven’t read it, read it). Shadow jobs are gigs or vocations you take up because they are close to what your heart sings to do, but are seemingly safer because they aren’t exactly that thing. You can get stuck in shadow jobs for years.
In my case — I got to think I was being all creative and that the juices were flowing because I was looking at film editing work or interning for a documentary filmmaker or trying to write for some inexperienced guy’s startup magazine that he really just wanted to use to get models into their underwear.
Shadow jobs. Not for you. And probably not for those gals in their underwear, either.
The best/worst place for looking for shadow jobs is Craigslist. The only good thing I ever found on Craigslist was a bike. Using Craigslist for jobs or gigs has been a lesson in futility and more self-flagellation than that albino monk with the cilice digging into his leg in The Da Vinci Code. I’ve turned into people’s therapists, have been an embarrassed girl singer, and have had to extricate myself on numerous occasions. It took me awhile to realize I needed to do my own thing and that the universe could not tell me in any clearer terms that I needed to stop signing on to other people’s projects.
I think my favorite (meaning: shittiest) Craigslist ad was a vocalist gig to which I responded, but then didn’t follow up fast enough for the guy’s liking.
“TO ALL THE IDIOT SINGERS THAT PROMISED SOMETHING AND THEN NEVER DELIVERED,” his email began (that’s another thing — responding to all-caps ads, emails, anything, is usually a mistake). I promptly wrote him back thanking him for his candor, because I’d rather find out earlier than later that he had less patience and grace than a starving rattlesnake and reeked of as much desperation. I also kindly advised him that if he was looking to collaborate with people, or even comfortably exist in the world, dialing back his venom would probably behoove him.
I go too far sometimes, in trying to make the world right, and assuming people can always be changed through kindness.
My husband always shakes his head at me and says I can’t argue with crazy. But I sure as hell try often enough. (Psychological aside: Maybe this is because I grew up with very religious parents who used someone possibly being the devil as an excuse to keep their hearts closed. I tried to argue with that, even though it was impossible. I couldn’t help it. To accept it seemed heavily depressing.)
I was also in cover bands that turned out leaving me sick to my stomach. I had one bandleader (for an 80s cover band) who would exhaust himself so heartily setting up hours in advance at a venue that by the time we got onstage he would be so tired that he’d fuck up constantly.
“They’re not paying us to painstakingly set up the stage,” I always wanted to scream. “They’re paying us to play these songs and play them professionally.” (I'd pick at my fingerless lace gloves and wish I was somewhere else.)
I remember him playing the entirety of U2’s “New Year’s Day” in the wrong key on the bass. I cringed as I played the piano part that should have sounded aurally harmonious. That might not seem like a terrible thing to many people, but it was my own personal hell, and one I had placed myself squarely into by not trusting my own creative juices and projects. If you’re scared you’re going to look like a dummy doing your own thing and putting yourself out there, don’t think you will escape looking like a dummy if you let someone else have the reins of your creative life. At least if you look like an idiot working on your own art you look like an idiot on your own terms.
I heard Brené Brown on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast some months ago say the thing we’re the most afraid of (in our creative lives) has probably already happened. Whether it’s that we’re terrified of failure, or that they’re all going to laugh at us, or that our ex-boyfriends will turn the whole grade against us (ahem, no, I don’t have any baggage), the fear is usually of something that has already occurred. I do a lot of work with the inner kid who holds old pain and kicks me in the stomach the moment I even consider putting my work out there. For various reasons — one being that if I don’t, “he” wins. If I don’t, I let others hold the reins, and I am far too much of a discerning artsy bitch for that. I want things to be a certain way, and the only way I can make that happen is if I do my specific thing.
There were a lot of italics in that last paragraph. I guess I had some points to make.
Anyway, the shadow job. Perhaps not to be confused with something you for money do in a back alley, but not that far off from that, either, when you think about it. The only thing worse than shadow jobs to quell your creativity is couch-potato-ing. Yes, I turned it into a verb, because I lived in that creative soda-spud-squalor for a while as well.
Have you had any shadow jobs? Any not-so-orchestral maneuvers in the dark? I can’t be the only one.
This "Expansion" card I just pulled from the gorgeous Moon Deck goes along well with my (longwinded) prayer for the Autumn Equinox.
My Equinox prayer and intention is that we each see ourselves in others (and vice versa) so much that things have to continue to shift. That this simple truth and clarity become unveiled and obvious, and held by the majority. That we would have to try hard *not* to see it, so that some of the deep human injustices inflicted by fellow humans on this planet start to take care of themselves. Because while we have our evolutionary tribal stuff (isn't all bad, of course), which makes us see "other" instead of "brother," we also are filled with the capacity for change, joy, compassion, nurturance, and sisterhood across all perceived (and in many cases, illusionary) lines. May our next evolutionary steps be toward those lines. May we have an abundance of compassion and grace, so we can put down the venomous words, the sticks and the stones, and all the forms they take. May we marvel at and celebrate the vibrant differences among the people on this planet, and the living spiritual and encyclopedic resource we are, to each other. If there is an enemy, let it be hate itself.Lofty, perhaps, but you can't get a spiritual raise unless you ask.
Happy Equinox! I consider it a personal triumph that I didn't scour our new neighborhood for cake while hemming and hawing over my book proposal this week (as seen above)! What did you do? Do you have transformative, expansive things in the works for this season?
Reading this week's Full Frontal column about women policing women on what we should and shouldn't wear. "That's e-fucking-nough," Real Housewife of NJ, Danielle Staub, says about something else, but I think "that's e-fucking-nough" applies here. That's e-fucking-nough. It feels good to say.
What are you into wearing that they'll have to pry out of your "cold dead hands," to quote Charlton Heston? (He was talking about guns, but whatever, let's just throw American quotations around and apply them however we want, like miniskirts and mixed metaphors.)
It might not look like it to the naked eye, but I long to be the nude sunbather. There used to be one in every movie about sexual awakening — a woman on a terrace a few doors down. Happens to take off her bikini top. Thinks no one is watching. Likes the breezes on her skin. Can’t be bothered to use a pronoun.
The nude sunbather is always peeped by the neighborhood boys. She is the Mrs. Robinson archetype. Never is a nude sunbather depicted as simply a person enjoying the sun on her skin. She’s always an object. And often she’s considered too much woman — fearsome in her epidermal freedom.
What would be great is to be the nude sunbather without the eyes on her. To simply be able to exist without the weight of a culture’s worth of judgments and attention. Just to be a body being itself in the sun.
After having a winter where my body was medicalized every day for a few months I started getting this huge urge to skinny-dip. I wanted to feel my body as a body in the world again. Something that naturally derives pleasure from being touched by a breeze. This human body in her entirety endured a lot. It would feel nice to treat her to that kind of gentle simplicity, as opposed to radioactive rays and the occasional needle.
I would like to replace the feeling of having a physicist poke my nipple with a pen.
I think I’ve only skinny-dipped once — in the pool at an ex’s parents’ house, and that was fine, but I did it just because I wanted to be sexy and cool. I can’t say I had any real urge to do it. Now I do. But by the time summer was almost over, do you think I’d put my bareness into a body of water yet? No, of course not. Spandex on, like a respectable person.
What was I waiting for? Permission? Maybe. I think I was waiting for there to be no eyes around. I was waiting to be close enough to an unpopulated body of water at night. Preferably in the darkness of the new moon.
What is this strange feeling of not wanting to be seen but wanting to feel? It’s what advertising and our culture are designed to keep a woman from experiencing. But I don’t want to think about any of that. I just want to be nude. For a minute.
So I take my shirt off outside for a minute on the deck at my family’s beach house in the middle of the night. It helps. It is exhilarating. And it really turns my shit around.
Finally, appropriately (or inappropriately, depending on where you're standing), by the light of the most recent full moon, I get my nude body into a body of water known for a certain transcendentalist writer taking up residence near its peaty shores. My husband and my best lady pals and I creep from a secret parking lot, pull off our bathing suits (which we wear in case of chickening out), and wobble into the pond, averting our eyes to allow each other’s jiggly bits their jiggly, vulnerable freedom.
And it is glorious.
Happy full moon! There’s still time to put your full moon into a body of water. But only if you feel like it, homes! I showed you mine so if you feel like it, show me yours. Except for you, Anthony Weiner.
(By “show me yours” I mean tell me about your skinny-dipping escapades or when you’ve felt like you just needed to be a sensual beast in soothing environs.)
Basically eating chocolate and doing creative things on my birthday. I have always loved this Peter Murphy song. So I recorded it.
Rest in peace, Toots Thielemans! Here I am reading my Full Frontal column (from the Newport Mercury) about my favorite harmonica player who passed a couple weeks ago at 94. He kissed me on the lips when I saw him play in 1999, and the rest is harmonica history!
You might want to listen to this. Because it's beautiful:
This song came to me while on a beautiful yoga retreat put on by my dear friend Jenn Falk, and it pops into my head from time to time. This morning the rest of it came to me and I decided to record it.
I've been thinking a lot about back to school and learning and the various places (and people) from which (and whom) we learn. I learned so much from my mom and my grandma -- to try to encapsulate it in one song is ridiculous. But I think it captures a little bit of the feeling of being together with them and how I felt visiting my granny with my mom, where she grew up, in Upstate New York.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I was not present at my granny's feeding of the hobos (because I was not yet born during the Great Depression). I did eat a lot of her pies, dream of jumping the rails, wrote another song about pork and beans in a can over an open fire, and do have a strange love of bindles. Which I thought would make a great business, but since it's not my passion, I didn't do it. Naturally (as predicted) someone else has.
To bindles and to you! XO
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.