Living “The Dream”

One afternoon, maybe eight or nine years ago, I was sitting in the office of a particularly sullen performing arts organization Executive Director who had been (I found out later) actively looking for ways to fire me. Our non-profit was in a tough stretch – the fallout from the 2008 crash was the new normal, and public support was waning.  She was feeling it from all sides – hence the sullenness.  Also – full disclosure – I had fucked something up. It was not great, but it was not the end of the world.

My ED, however, thought that I was a liability. She laid it out, saying, “Your heart’s just not in this.” If she had been referring to the admin work, she would have been right, but it wasn’t that my heart wasn’t in the work itself. Trying to implement change that would make the organization work better and ramming repeatedly into the brick wall of defensive and resentful colleagues and superiors was the thing which my heart was not “in.”

I remember getting the impression, however, that she was going much wider than normal, petty administrative foibles, or the fuck up that landed me in her office. I took her comment to mean that my heart wasn’t “in” the work of the organization, the mission. This could not have been farther from the truth, but I was less than articulate in my response (I actually don’t think I said anything, I was doubting myself and tumbling in her statement as she sulked). Something was happening in those moments, though, as I cared less and less about the thunder clouds in her cramped office.  I know now that I was at the beginning of understanding about Profession (capital P), which would take a while to gel into an understanding of my profession (lowercase p).

At that time, I was (in addition to working as a multi-hatted admin) teaching private lessons and group classes, singing professionally, filling in to conduct and lead rehearsals at my church job, and composing, self-publishing and producing performances of my pieces. Every waking hour of my existence was fervently devoted to the creation, performance, and education of the musical arts.

None of that mattered to her, but the question’s asking was providential. If I – in that fraught moment – had been asked what my true heart’s desire was (and had I had the wherewithal to fearlessly answer such a question, which I most surely did not), I would have painted a hazy picture of what occupies most of my present professional life – writing, self-promotion, and getting paid for it all.

The life my wife and I lead is, indeed, unconventional. To say it is “living the dream,” as we are frequently told (both admiringly and enviously) is a misrepresentation of both what we do, how we do it, what (and who) we have to deal with, and what things look like when we are not “at work” (which is, not frequently).  From the outside, we are living in Europe, writing and performing Art, mingling with other artists and living a charmed, Instagram-ready lifestyle of glamorousness, fun costumes, and fabulous experiences, replete with hashtags that boost our own mythology.

But in our unconventional existence, there is still workplace politics, personality conflicts, massive internal and external pressure to produce or perform, the isolation of knowing that we are the only ones looking out for ourselves and our careers, the triumphs and stresses of supporting and raising a child in the midst of it all, and seriously ridiculous tax situations in which we find ourselves with alarming consistency. Also, being away from those who have known us the longest means missing significant family events, holidays, birthdays, deaths, funerals, and having to organize staying on contact with the people in our lives within the window of a six-timezone difference.

Sometimes – sometimes – my wife and I can create something meaningful in and of itself that allows us to think that we are indeed fortunate to work in the fields that we do.  But in most instances, our work is a job like any other job we have had, and like those had by everyone we know – we work, we produce, we finish tasks, we go home, we do it again the next day, and we keep an eye on the long game.

The Frank sitting in that office seems small and lost to me as I write this – he was. He was also confused, angry, restless, and longing for “the dream,” like it was a solution to everything, and without a clue of what it really meant or how to achieve it.  He didn’t know that there was no path, no script, no amount of proper connections or accolades that were needed for him to learn to do the work. He was idealistic and absolutist, and terrified that he hadn’t the tools – or worse, that it was too late – to fight for “the dream.”

His heart – one might say – wasn’t in it.




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