I have this vivid memory of a moment in high school – perhaps during my junior year. As always, my curriculum consisted entirely of level-one and AP classes, in which I was expected to maintain averages of B+ or better. I was involved in church choir, voice lessons, community theater, piano lessons, voice COACHING, tap class, jazz class, and art club (or newspaper, or “Junior Miss”, or GSA, or whatever school-based extracurricular activity caught my fancy at the time.) In addition, I worked. A picture taken on my 14th birthday shows me beaming lens-ward by the iron doors of our local public library – the nation’s oldest – for my first day on the job. Depending on the year of this particular memory, however, I may also have been working weekend mornings at a local bagel shop, starting no later than 7:30am.
At 15 years old, I guess, I was already becoming groomed for modern life. 7-day weeks, 14-hour days.
Anyway, this one memory I have. I’m talking with one of my teachers, telling them about what I’m up to, and suddenly they look at me all concerned. “What are you doing?” the teacher asks me. “You’re burning the candle at both ends!”
I remember the words, yes, but what I really remember was what happened inside. Inside, I thought, I would be a martyr. I would go for it all, make it all, DO it all, until every last bit of fuel was consumed, until the wick was bled clean and only smoke remained. I would burn myself to nothing, and I would do it because I was doing what I loved … or what was expected of me, if I desired to be loved. Inside, I smiled. I liked the idea.
Sometimes still, I love to work that hard. I love being out on shoots, days starting at 5am and not ending until somewhere near midnight. I love the rush of importance and the feeling of purpose when I’m in the studio until 11pm, logging and digitizing, just me and the AVID.
Then, other times, I’m not so happy to work so much. I’m not so pleased that “work” encompasses more than simply “What My Parents Want Me To Do”, even if “What My Parents Want(ed) Me To Do” required more work and less sleep than my life right now. Or perhaps, I’m just not as enamored with life as I once was, back when all things seemed possible. Now, on top of WORK work (which seriously I’m NOT even starting with, holy shit), there’s all the LIFE work – an hour to go to Whole Foods for organic staples, 40 minutes to Russo’s for cheaper (sometimes) locally-sourced produce, 90 minutes cooking dinner, 20 or doing dishes. 55 minutes on Facebook, 120 minutes watching TV with your spouse, 15 minutes grooming the cat, 65 minutes making a blog post. And in the interim, the between-time, when you’re en route from the futon to the bathroom, you wonder how long it’s been since you washed the floor (it can’t really have been just last week – it looks DISGUSTING!) or swept out behind your husband’s road bike (holy shit, those Jake-hairballs, wtf), and you wind up feeling bad.
While you’re feeling bad about the state of your apartment, you may also take into account the state of your personal life. Maybe you’ve got friends you never talk to anymore except via email, and maybe you haven’t called your sisters in weeks. Maybe you’ve got Christmas gifts you still need to hand-deliver. Maybe you’ve stopped checking your voicemail, and maybe you’ve stopped responding to texts. Maybe you turned your phone to vibrate and left it that way. Maybe you’ve even deleted some messages without listening because honestly, seriously, you’re starting to think you just need a fucking BREAK already, and maybe, really, marriage is harder than you ever thought.
I realize, obviously, that it is not a straight line from here to there, but it feels like one day shit just snaps, and it’s suddenly clear that you need a year-long island vacation BY-YOUR-FUCKING-SELF and you seriously can’t handle any nonessential communication with the world outside your head.
I enjoy telling people that I’ve worked every day since July 12, 1993 (not counting weekends and my first semester of college), and I think often of what my teacher said to me. Sometimes it’s still enough to push me forward. But sometimes, you know, I need a break. The notion of flaming out is awesome, but this slow, weak smoldering… it’s really not for me.