Sunday, November 6, 2011

Keeping or Quitting your Day Job

For some of us a 'day job' is necessary to keep a studio space outside of our homes, maintain supplies, food in our stomaches, etc., etc. Some people that have work (day/night jobs) aside from their creative pursuits often hope or dream of a time when these creative pursuits will be able to take centre stage.

Etsy Metal members share their stories of the work they love, sacrifices made (or not made) in being artists, metalsmiths, makers, etc. This series is about achieving a fundamental sense of fulfillment and purpose, of finding your place in a community of your peers. It's about sharing the truth of what it is to be an artist in the 21st century, in all of its forms. We all walk different paths in the expression of our work, yet we came together through Etsy.

Some of our Etsy Metal members are famous in more ways then one! Norsola Johnson is an amazing Human being to be sure! She's highly talented in seemingly any subject she puts her energy towards. An amazing and generous person, I feel lucky to know her and call her my friend!

I'm a Jill of so many trades it sometimes makes my brain hurt... I'm interested in pretty much everything, which is both a blessing and a curse. I often admire and wish I was one of those people who figured out what their calling was early in life and have since honed their skills on their path to mastery, with great focus and single-mindedness. I am not one of those people. My life has not been a straight line by any stretch.. more of a jumble of intersecting spirals. Which makes a 'day job', in the 'punch-in, do the grind, get paid, pay rent' sense, almost unthinkable...

My first love was ballet. I started at around age 6, and continued until my mid twenties. Meanwhile, I also attended a fine arts high school, which introduced me to music, which became my second love. Dance took me to all sorts of fabulous places, including France for a while, where I first started to feel this sense of vague dread that remaining cocooned in the hermetic world of ballet would lead to me missing out on life. A few years after my return to Montreal, I stepped away from dance and took a job booking shows at a local punk rock club. It was there that I saw Tom Cora play 'cello with the Ex and every cell in my body reawakened. So I saved up and bought a 'cello, and played and played and played. The club got shut down by the police, and I wound up working for a music promoter, which paid well, and accepted my perhaps unorthodox ways. But this soon became a drudge, and I quit to go on a self-booked, completely disorganized, altruistic and unforgettable tour with my band. I'd found my home. And the next decade of my life was dedicated fully to Godspeed. We toured the world, made a bunch of records, and music that was, to me, the only thing that mattered. A pleasant surprise was that we actually were able to make a living from our music, and a decent one at that. In many ways we were living the dream of so many.. to live, to travel, to survive in a capitalist society doing what we loved, while maintaining our ethics and beliefs.

It was between tours that I first learned metalsmithing. I took a course at a local art school, and from the first solder flow, I was hooked. Metal instantly became my third love. It was a completely new and foreign way for me to express myself, and therefore highly alluring.
The band eventually went on hiatus and I continued to travel, spending the last dregs of my royalties on experiences. An important trip I took was to Nepal. I love climbing (my six or seventh love, probably..) and mountains (perhaps my fifth love, chronologically) and so set out to this land of majesty to wander in the Himalaya. What I found there blew my little privileged north-american mind to bits. I had never seen so many smiles in my life. All these people I encountered, toiling harder than any union here would ever permit, living in what we of the rich part of the world would consider squalor, in this third world country of unimaginable natural beauty... they were happy. I was greeted at least fifteen times daily by joined hands and a 'namaste' cheerfully uttered through crooked teeth. I met a wonderful metalsmith there called Saran, who showed me how they did things there, soldering by blowing through a brass pipe on the flame of a kerosene lamp... I came close to passing out, and was rather unsuccessful in my attempts at making a simple ring band without acetylene and oxygen. It was great. And it shifted my perspective entirely.

I returned to my huge apartment in Montreal, broke and invigorated, and took at long look at my surroundings. "How did I manage to accumulate so much STUFF?"

I thought to myself... And so I began the process of selling some of this stuff... meanwhile, having spent every last dime I had on my travels, I had no choice but to take a real day job. It was at a outdoor gear co-op, so at least somewhat in line with my interests and beliefs, and my workmates were fantastic, but it was still a low pay, crap hours, mind numbing, dead end job. I eventually managed to save up a bit of money, left my apartment, sold off the last of my superfluous stuff and took off to Italy. I had no real plan other than to stay as long as finances and visas permitted, climb, drink fine wine, play music, and study at the extraordinary Alchimia jewellery school in Florence. All of it was amazing... I won't go into the details here as that would be another few chapters in this already long diatribe, but suffice to say that being elsewhere does wonderful things to my psyche and artistic output.

Eventually time and money did run out and I returned to Montreal... and the above mentioned crap day job. I stuck with it for a little while, but eventually started to lose it, and realized that I was being lulled into an apathetic "at least the bills are paid" depressing lifestyle. It's easy to sacrifice a life less ordinary for the security of a steady paycheck, but the cost to one's mental health is just too high. At least that's the case for me. And so I quit the hateful thing and have since been waking up every day with the sole purpose of doing what I love. I'm pleased to report that I have not re-accumulated a pile of unnecessary junk, and live a rather frugal, streamlined life in my little pad filled with just what I need to make stuff. Day to day I'm a little bit cautious, a little bit worried, a little bit nervous, and blissfully happy. In many ways I've started over, yet again, and though the uncertainty can be stressful, I wouldn't have it any other way, and am already planning my next re-rooting adventure.. probably to my beloved New Orleans this time...

And so, to finally answer the main question of this interview...
'Day job' being here defined as that thing you do with most of your days but hate to do but have to do because you gotta pay rent and which leaves you drained and unhappy and wondering 'isn't life too short for this?'
F*#k day jobs.
The journey is the destination. Life is my job. And art matters in ways that no amount of money ever will. As long as I can keep bashing on metal and cello strings, I'm all good. And the small daily sacrifices are worth it.

Make sure to visit Norsola's Etsy shop!


betsy bensen said...

love this!

Shirlee said...

Awesome interview Norsola. You never mentioned it was Godspeed you played with ... amazing!

lunedreams said...

What an interesting life--the stuff of novels! I imagine being a citizen of a country with socialized health care might make such livelihood choices more feasible. I have a "day job," at the moment (which isn't awful, but of course I'd rather just do creative stuff all day!), mainly because it seems to me (as an American) that becoming a starving artist would virtually guarantee that the people around me (family, friends, fellow taxpayers) would end up subsidizing my dream with their hard-earned day-job money. In my mid-forties, the idea of deliberately foregoing health insurance (when I have it available through my day job), or foregoing the ability to set aside emergency cash for health care or other circumstances, is unthinkable (in my 20s, yeah, I did that). I have no safety nets. Yes, creativity is important to me, but so is providing adequately for myself. For me to depend solely on my jewelry for support, I would have to have a rock solid business plan with the potential for providing enough for myself (which is certainly possible with enough shrewdness), without having to resort to charity.

Jesse Danger said...

Thanks for such an inspirational story! I really enjoy your metalwork and Godspeed is without a doubt one of my all time favorite bands, a huge influence on me. Best of luck with all of your endeavors!

Donna said...

"It's easy to sacrifice a life less ordinary for the security of a steady paycheck, but the cost to one's mental health is just too high."

I couldn't agree more! I fancy myself a freelance entrepreneur.

Carry on!

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