Life as an Artistic Shapeshifter…with a Beach House

This week I’ve completed the transition from actor to writer. I’ve moved from Show Mode to Writer Mode.

It’s kind of like being a werewolf.

Working around a day job means I can only juggle one of my arts at a time (two at most). I keep working on ways to change that, but right now I appear to be stuck at two.

Like a werewolf who only comes out at the full moon, my arts come out when they can. If I’m doing a show, I’m probably not writing (though I did pretty well this time – I wrote about the show). Now that I’m writing again, I’m out of theatre world for the moment. Art, neglected for decades and pouting about it, throws a hissy fit now and then and insists that I buy art pens, sketch books, and the occasional “how to draw” book (hint hint). And I keep promising my artistic child inside (who wrote and illustrated her own books) that yes, we will play as we used to once Mommy doesn’t have to work her day job any more.

After thirty-ish years, that excuse is wearing thin. The inner artist, craving attention from an absent parent, is threatening to pin me to the wall with a palette knife and the price of my release is to draw something, anything, just draw! I bought my release last week with a trip to Hobby Lobby, the purchase of another sketchbook, more pens, and a doodle book.

Appeasing my Artist Child

Appeasing my Artist Child

My musical side is more easily appeased. Singing with the choir when I’m not in show at least keeps the rust off and reminds me of the basics of choral singing just in case.

The vocalist side, while not totally happy, is at least somewhat quiet.

The instrumental side is going “What the heck? You take The Singer out twice a week (choir and Mass). What about us?” My piano is under a foot of dust (except for the spots on top where my flute case and violin case are). I did take them out during vacation (even my pennywhistle, which really gets neglected). I thought that would help. All it did was piss them off.

And about the time I realize how exhausted I am and how frustrating it is to have to keep making choices and getting beaten up by whichever artistic self I’m neglecting, every time I’m tempted to say “to heck with all of it” they do the parable of the talents at Mass and God and I have this oft-repeated conversation along the lines of “If you made me an artist, a dancer (we’re not even talking any more about my 20-ish years in ballet, tap, and jazz), a musician, an actor, a writer, what the heck have I been doing in Corporate World all this time?”

Left to my own devices, I would be living in a beach house somewhere on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. I would be writing on our wraparound porch overlooking the water. I would have a Steinway grand piano (my original major was music performance) in the room with a big fireplace, a high ceiling for the Christmas tree, and would host Christmas sing-alongs and family and friend get-togethers there. I would sit on our private pier and photograph and paint Mobile Bay sunsets.

If I’m not out on the porch (either rocking in one of the several rocking chairs or in the hammock with a good book), you can find me at the piano, on the pier or beach (with flute/sketchbook/book/camera), or in a sailboat out on the Bay.

In the Laramie Project, there is a character who gives what I call the “Oh gosh, I miss Laramie” speech with a faraway look in his eyes. I have no doubt that I get that same look when I talk about Fairhope, Alabama.
I have been known to give my “Oh gosh, I miss Fairhope” speech – probably more times than anyone cares to hear it (except my friends and family back home who follow that up with “Good! What are you waiting for?”) I’ve traveled the world, but no place on earth is quite like it. (Where we live now, Winter Park, Florida, comes closest and I love it, too.)

Having a day job is a useful thing. It provides a roof over one’s head, clothing for one’s body, shoes for the children’s feet. At this point in their lives, our children are buying their own shoes, which gives me a little more flexibility. I happen to enjoy my day job. I also enjoy the thought of someday doing the things I love and making enough money at it to buy that beach house, sailboat, and grand piano. I dream about spending my days doing the things I love instead of squeezing them in here and there.

Sometimes dream vs. reality is an exhausting place to be. The hours required at the day job (32-39), the hours of music practice, learning lines, writing blog posts/novels/songs/screenplays/columns/picture books, keeping up on piano, flute, violin, pennywhistle and still keeping the house the way it should be, keeping in touch with family and friends, giving due time to the dogs, cats, and parrot wears me out. Sometimes it’s easier to let the artistic world go for a while to concentrate on the real world and all its requirements and responsibilities.

But that doesn’t work either. It’s like freezing half of myself while the other half haunts corporate hallways, designs spreadsheets, files reports.

These days my corporate job is more aligned with who I really am so I no longer feel split in two. I am who I am in both worlds and they complement each other.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of only having so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, life being short and me having so much I want to cram in this suitcase of my life.

I prayed for guidance the other night before I went to sleep as to whether I should keep trying to juggle everything or just give up. Me being me, I always ask God to let me know in such a way that even I can’t miss it.

When I woke up the next morning and checked e-mail, the first thing in my inbox was an invitation to submit to a screenplay contest that has a deadline of tomorrow. My first thought was “I can’t write an entire screenplay between now and Saturday!” Which isn’t true, because I did exactly that with my screenplay Family which placed in the semi-finals of one contest and the finals of another. And then I remembered two perfectly good screenplays which have been lounging on the couch watching the Olympics when they should be out in the world earning a living. Hmmm…

The second thing was an invite to submit to a writer’s competition for columnists (my original dream and home) with a deadline of Monday. Added bonus – it’s in memory of my favorite columnist, who first gave me the idea of writing a column.

Even early in the morning before coffee. I started to see a pattern unfolding…

I went to Facebook. The first thing on my newsfeed was an invite to attend a writer’s conference not an unreasonable drive away. As an added moment of humor, the conference is being given by the guy whose audiobook I’ve been listening to all week in the car (since this upper respiratory thing, while slowly improving, is still getting in the way of my usual karaoke). Added bonus #2, it’s specifically designed for the way I decided a week or so ago I wanted to write and added bonus #3, it’s followed up by a book contest.

By that time I was laughing and saying to God “Okay, Dad, I get it. I’ll hang in a bit longer.”

These weren’t just random invites. They were start to finish specifically tailored to both my original dreams of being a writer, the added dream of being a screenwriter, and the dream in the middle of writing books. They were specific to the style of writing I want to be my signature and by people I admire.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But it’s getting to be a mighty long string of coincidences…

Or it could be a cosmic boost from the God who created me to do all of these things and like a parent of a child who throws their homework down and says “I can’t do it!” tells them “Of course you can. Just keep at it. You’ll get it.”

To add to the coincidence list, I saw a video of my favorite columnist saying “When I first started writing, I didn’t think I could do it” – who struggled then as I’m struggling now to balance the real world and the writing world. A hand reaching down to help me up. Thanks. I needed that.

This weekend I’m taking steps toward making my dreams happen (at least the writing side). I’m entering two writing competitions, one for columnists (my original home) and one for screenwriters. I’ve marked off a writer’s conference for a weekend in May and started a fund to support it (there goes my couch fund yet again!).

I’m also wondering what exactly I’m going to do if I win the first competition, as the prize for that one is attendance at another writer’s conference in the opposite direction, a bit shy of a month away from the one I originally planned to attend (and still plan to attend). Just for fun, I figured out how much attendance at both will cost (hotel, flight, rental car), checked my vacation balance (good on that). I’m throwing every penny I have that doesn’t go toward paying rent, food, and utilities toward my writing career (there goes the fund to replace the couch fund).

More important, I’m offering up my willing spirit and what is my best writing to date to the guy who has the map of where He intended my life to go. I’m trying to listen for course corrections along the way and make sure I’m where I’m supposed to be.

So this weekend I will send my best polished column and at least one of my screenplays out, make plans to attend at least one of the conferences (the one I have control over – the other one is sold out unless I win), and see what happens.

And along the way I’ll sketch pictures of my beach house, my sailboat, and maybe a werewolf playing a Steinway grand piano…