Friday, September 5, 2008

Dancer to startup nerd in 18 months

As you may know, I've been working on a book that gives the practical education of how to really truly live as an artist with Milena Thomas over at Quiet the Thunder. The premise of the book is essentially two creative individuals who have mapped out the intellectual, psychological, social, and economical minefield that is an arts career letting other creative individuals in on this valuable information.

Things are going well, but I'm feeling like a bit of a poser. We're calling ourselves 'creative individuals' and, quite frankly, I'm a business manager for an online travel startup. I feel like it deserves a little explanation... maybe no to you, but to me and potential future readers. How did I decide to give up my life's dream? And how am I dealing with it?

When I initially hurt my knee, it was dramatic enough to be soap-opera-worthy. It was at the end of a class, in a big leap, on the day of dress rehearsal for THE big show at Northwestern. I had solos and featured roles in half of the show, with no understudy. Suddenly I was unable to even walk, and unable to perform in the crowning moment of my college career. Worse still, I was suddenly unable to fulfill my duties as an apprentice to the dance company I had been trying to get into for 5 years and had, just two months ago, signed a contract with.

First phase: denial. I was convinced I would perform. The cantaloupe where my tiny knee used to be stopped this.

Second phase: more denial. I didn't think about the issue at hand. I just sat on the couch, iced my knee, watched bad daytime TV and waited for Nick to get home so I could stuff my face and mix painkillers with wine.

Third phase: determination. I was going to have the fastest damn recovery EVER. I became fanatical about physical therapy and even performed exercises in the apartment complex pool. I lost weight, tried to eat right, and took my vitamins.

Fourth phase: indecision. Suddenly, I wondered if it was all worth it. To entertain me in between gym and PT sessions, I took an internship with a small PR firm in Chicago. Suddenly I was a real person again: getting dressed, having a schedule, making a little money. I was learning new things, working in a new office environment, and having the chance to go to some really neat events (there are many perks to PR). I came to a huge realization: My identity to other people was not 'dancer'. I was just a smart, silly, very motivated girl with a lot to offer. I liked this revelation a great deal, but it precipitated a series of little breakdowns where I would decide to not go back to dance, only to jump in the car and drive to a ballet class. I was still healing so there were setbacks, and ultimately I just decided that the grief was getting to me. I still planned on returning to rehearsals for the fall season with the 'dream' dance company.

Fifth phase: false euphoria. Back in the studio again, dance class felt blissful. I had never felt happier. But after class, when rehearsal began, I suddenly realized something: this didn't make me happy anymore. I loved dancing, but dancing was not making me happy. Day two in class I blew out my knee again, and it was a split second decision: it was time to move on.

Sixth phase: mourning. It was not until I was waist-deep in the job search that I really started mourning my dancing career. I assumed that I should stick in the industry, and become an arts administrator... and then quickly realized that I couldn't talk about dance or watch a performance without being brought to tears. I realized I wasn't ready to work with my art in this capacity.

The decision not to dance ended up being an easy one: it didn't make me quite happy enough to endure working 40 hour weeks for free and holding three part-time jobs in order to make my tiny rent payment. Could I have made it work? Probably. Could I have eventually found the jobs, either performing or choreographing (or both) that would have allowed me to be 'just' a dancer? It is likely. But could I do it at 22? No.

Now, I'm pretty much over it. I can bear watching dance, my knee is back to maybe 70%, I have a job I love that both pays the bills and lets me be creative a bit, and I'm getting the 'itch' to dance again. But why the hell am I not in class, now that I have the money and a working knee?

I AM TERRIFIED. I'm terrified of getting hurt again, I'm terrified of looking like a fat incompetent slob, I'm terrified of dealing with learning the dance scene of a new city. Most of all, I'm terrified that I'll fall back in love with it and try to go back. This, I know, would be disaster.

So what to do? I know what I need to do. I need to get back in the studio and make dance a constant, albeit small, part of my life. Take classes, maybe choreograph, at least doodle around in the studio to some music. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Realization of Gen-Y Tendencies...

When I first started being alerted to the unique 'qualities' of Gen-Y I kind of thought the whole thing was bullshit. I mean, who are we to think that we are beautiful and unique snowflakes? Or, at least, a new breed of worker and society contributor? I thought that we really were just trying to emulate our superiors as best we could while figuring out how to navigate coming of age during a war and a pretty shitty economy. Only total numbskulls were going to work in irreverent tees and designer jeans, listening to iPods when we should they overhearing office conversations, and multitasking like crazy between business-related tasks.

Well, here is one of those rare times where Victoria Gutierrez is going to put her gnarly dancer's foot in her mouth. Here I am, sitting across my boyfriend at the kitchen table. Both of us are 23. Both of us are on our work computers, getting a huge amount of work done on a holiday... while blogging and catching up on personal emails, in between showing each other condo listings and getting a week's worth of laundry done. My chihuahua, Elvis, is sitting on my lap and trying to steal sips of organic green tea. Nick is in his pajamas, I am in an old Red Hot Chili Peppers tee. Pandora is blaring some sort of whiny-boy punk music, and this somehow feels like my ideal work environment.

Contrast this with Nick's dad, who is at this very minute (and most minutes while he is here) dressed in very polished business casual,with the door closed in his office, trying to get his next presentation put together on his huge desk full of laptops, monitors, and printers. Complete silence and a big cup of coffee generally gets the job done.

And here I see the fundamental differences between the generations. Nick's dad is a boomer, we are the definition of Gen Y. Gen X I feel, for the most part, is much better at the act that I thought I was playing: copying their boomer boss' moves, outfits, and mortgages to a tee until it comes naturally. My Gen X cousins and friends take a certain joy in getting to wear a tie to work, creeping into middle management, and planning for single family homes and babies. I want a timber loft and more chihuahuas (and a child only if it is a son who will play in the NFL and guarantee me a Campbells Chunky Soup commercial of my own), and to run my own start-up so that I can continue dressing like some sort of eccentric pseudo-hippie.

I'm sure I'll get accused of making assumptions based upon very generalized ideas. I don't really care. What I feel is most important about coming to this sort of realization is that it shows me that I am finally doing something right. My job search was a long and arduous one because I have two requirements for career paths in my life: one, it has to be one where you have something unique and valuable to contribute, and two, it has to be something that makes you excited to get out of bed 75% of the time. For me that means being creative, being extremely busy, and just getting to be myself while I'm at work.

I am there, but Nick is not. Neither are a lot of my friends...which makes me wonder, how many of you are unhappy? How many of you played the game to get the job, and are now struggling to just feel right in your own skin at work?