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.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.