I am a performer. My boyfriend has a 9 to 5.
I often tell friends that I am dating a muggle.
When I told him this, however, he was not exactly ecstatic.
"What makes you the wizards?" he inquired, with a slight hint of "I'm-sort-of-not-joking" in his voice. "Maybe we are the wizards and you are the muggles." To me, this reply was so ludicrous that I laughed heartily, wiped a tear from my eye and went back to stir-frying. When I looked back at him, however, he was still awaiting my answer.
It got me thinking.
After spending time ruminating on the subject, I realized (with some shock and horror) that I operate, psychologically, within an "us and them" worldview.
Let me explain.
The "us/wizards" are my clan and I: the hard-working, underpaid, misunderstood but extremely talented performing artists of NYC (and sometimes LA, Chicago, D.C. and the European cities we deem worthy). They are the people I turn to for community, for solidarity and for understanding. They are the people that comprehend why I want to take class all the time, why weekends don't happen every week and why I have cried more in a theater than I have cried anywhere else in my life.
The "them/muggles" are people with 9 to 5 jobs. They are the semi-soulless drones who have given up on imagination, who never had the guts to follow their dreams and who have never [insert inspirational but flowery phrase here].
Of course I am being facetious. Sort of. And therein lies the problem.
What started out as a joke is now injuring our perception. As artists, we have fallen into the trap of "us and them" because, I believe, we feel insecurity. Even in this era of the "lauded artist", when actors and singers make more money than doctors or government officials, the fact is we still think of ourselves and second-class citizens, as circus freaks who have to prove, to our families and to society, that we have made the right choice, that we weren't crazy to have done what we did and do. Deep down, we want to attest that our lives are valid and our seemingly frivolous undertakings have worth.
The problem is that we did this by overcompensating, by insisting that we are magical, different, even extraordinary. We have played into the stereotype of the circus freak, but to the extreme, and we now believe (buried deep underneath all of that social nicety) that we are better. We did the noble thing when others gave up, and by doing this, we have isolated ourselves, creating an (at times, pretentious) artist bubble, which is warm and comforting and "special".
Exacerbating the problem is the seemingly harmless "do what you love" fallacy. This phrase is bandied about by self-help gurus, high school guidance counselors and by your well-meaning Aunt Marge. It's so pervasive, in fact, that we don't bother to stop and question it's validity. But it deserves to be questioned because if everyone simply "did what they loved," a great number of people would starve to death. Admit it: even those of us who "do what we love" end up doing things we hate in order to do the things we love. No matter what you do for your life's work, there is always a trade off. The demi-sucky always pays for the moments of wonderful.
Case in point, my muggle is a brilliant writer and musician but does both of these things in his downtime (which is a decent amount of time, actually, when you work 9 to 5). However, it surprises both his friends and I that he does not pursue creative work full time, and we often ask why he does not.
The answer he gives is an insightful one. He says that he hopes to publish someday, but that he enjoys creative work more when it is not tied up with money making. When he doesn't have to worry about surviving off of his creative labors, the process is much more fun, and way less stressful.
So, in light of these various ponderings, I want to propose that the phrase "do what you love" be amended. I think it should instead be "do what you love and are good at and you believe has value and is sustainable for your life". Not as easy to put on a poster with a sunset in the background, but probably more useful.
Does this mean that I am unhappy living my life as a gypsy? Not at all. In fact, I believe that my work and life fulfill the criteria of the amended "do what you love" admonition. Therefore, I have no desire find a 9 to 5.
However, I think it is valuable to realize that this particular "us and them" prejudice does exist. With all prejudices, it is dangerous because it makes us discount people before getting to know them. It makes us dismiss their good ideas and their sometimes groundbreaking contributions before ever having heard them. Thinking "us and them"/"wizard and muggle" is a habit, akin to saying "JK" in conversation: it was once a joke, but it has slowly become part of the way we talk, and thus, the way we think.
It is time to pop the bubble, it is time to own our own validity without having to give ourselves airs and, for goodness sake, let's give the muggles a chance. Sometimes, they say the darnedest things.