The best job I've ever had was the summer I worked a gelato stand in Kalamazoo. I had just graduated from high school and was living in my first apartment. I had a very old, very beautiful Schwinn (since stolen in Chicago) that I would ride to work. I would often eat peanut buttery gelato for lunch, because that peanut butter swirl added a lot of extra protein. For dessert I might have the raspberry tiramisu gelato with some hot fudge added. Since then I almost never eat sweets because I'm pretty sure I used up my lifetime supply of insulin. Surprisingly, the ice cream was not the number one reason this job was the greatest, it's that I worked alone and spent most of the day sketching and writing while listening to whatever stack of music I had brought from home that morning. Some of the ideas I came up with that summer fueled my writing in college for the next four years. Also, I probably ate my body weight in free ice cream.
A few months ago I was approached by a dude at karaoke who started our conversation by asking me my major. It's been about six years since that has happened and while I guess I am old enough now to see that as a compliment, I was also grossed out because that meant I was being hit on by someone that I could have babysat for. I informed him that I was no longer in college but that I had a writing degree which prompted him to say, "So you work as a writer." Adorable. He was pretty sure that his School of the Art Institute degree in photography would get him a photography job right out of college. I miss those disillusioned days of art school when everyone thought their day job would be their creative careers. I was not willing to crush the baby photographer's dream in the smoky haze of the VFW, I believe years 24-28 will take of that sufficiently.
Last week my Uncle Keith passed away. He was an incredibly talented woodturner who practiced his craft diligently for six decades, was a founding member of the American Association of Woodturners, and taught free classes to anyone interested in learning the art. He did not make his living as a woodturner but he did not let his day job define his life and he never stopped attending to what he loved to do. Throughout my time in southern Illinois last week I found myself continually impressed and inspired by that part of his life. I spent so many post-college years trying to figure out how to come up with a career that would fulfill all of my interests and creative life. I came up with some weird solutions, started applying for grad schools, and then stopped this November. I realized that what I really want to do is a lot of little creative things. I want to have time to work on my podcast, to start a screenplay project with a friend and fellow writer, I want to take odd little freelance projects, I want to start banjo lessons (wildcard!), I want to spend a Sunday afternoon writing this blog and not worrying about Monday morning. None of this is to say that I hate my job, I actually find it very entertaining, but I have given up on the idea that I will have the kind of career that is straightforward, "I do this, so I am this." The other day I was having a conversation with someone who was lamenting how much she hates asking and being asked the question "So, what do you do?" I suggested that we instead start asking, "So, what do you doodle?" I promise you that the answer will be so much more insightful.