Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Free time = doing time

For most people, the one thing they wish they had more of was free time. If they just had more time off, they would get so much accomplished, go on vacation, relax, spend time doing the things they loved. Except when the thing you love doing the most is also your job, free time SUCKS.

Don't get me wrong - after I've been working for awhile, I'm quite happy to have a week off, where I can see my friends, get my life organized and relax a little bit. But after about a week, I start to go stir crazy and get a little depressed. I have too much time on my hands to do things like worry about my career (and my personal life) and I wish some job would magically appear and whisk me away and make me busy again. I've gotten much better about organizing my time and reminding myself that the way for me to stay happy is to stay productive, but I'm not going to lie, it's a challenge. It's amazing to me the difference in my general level of happiness when I'm working as opposed to when I'm not working. Last year I was at an audition in Germany when I ran into a colleague that I had met before but I couldn't figure out where. I was asking him if he had worked at company x or y, and he sarcastically quipped, "oh no, I really don't work that often. Only a couple of jobs per year - just enough to keep me going. Emotionally I mean - not financially."

He was being darkly humorous, and I laughed when he said this - but I laughed because it is so true! I should be thrilled that I have a month where I don't HAVE to work, and that I have enough money to live on. Most normal people could think of a million things they would do with this time. But most opera singers I know just don't like it. Because when going to work is so much fun, it's when you're not going to work that you start to feel like you're in jail. So many people make analogies about their offices being like prison - but for me it's the opposite - when I don't go to the "office" is when I feel scattered and hopeless. I even get annoyed when I'm working but I have too many days off. You can ask the director of Agrippina how many times I jokingly asked him, "am I even IN this opera??" because I hated the fact that I would sometimes have two days in a row without rehearsal.

This "obsession" with work (and I put obsession in quotes because I don't really want to admit that's what it might be) is probably something that some people would call unhealthy. Or maybe some people would tell me to get a life so that I have other things in this world that make me happy. But I DO have a life - I have fantastic friends and family, many many things other than singing that interest me, and could totally amuse myself all day with a paperclip, a record jacket, and a glass of pomegranate juice if it came down to that. I just really love going to rehearsal and jumping around and singing and diminuendoing a phrase and interacting with colleagues. What can I say? It's a really, really fun job.

But to put it all in perspective, I happened to see the movie The Hurt Locker earlier this week. I saw it the night before it won the Oscar for best picture, and found it incredibly moving. It's a movie about soldiers in Iraq who diffuse bombs, and who spend every single day walking the line between life and death. Of course we all know that this is happening intellectually, but the reason the movie was so good was that it was able to put you psychologically into the head of someone whose desperation and fears go beyond what we all feel every day because they literally fear for their lives every moment. The movie shook me to my core and demanded from me "Why on earth do you ever think you have problems? How could you ever feel fear, or nervousness, or depression when there are people out there in the world dealing with THIS?"

But then, that's life, isn't it? We live inside our own worlds, our own problems, and sometimes we can step outside and gain some perspective, but only sometimes. The rest of the time we just have to be content with whining about things like free time and not getting to sing enough dimenuendos, and hope that life jolts us back into humanity with enough regularity that we can be happier more often than we're complaining. And hey, I can always go sing some dimenuendos for the crazy lady that seems to live on the corner near Riverside Park. She often gives me the thumbs up. Or the finger. And I can find a reason to be grateful for both.


Enrique said...

I think that the kind of job is very important, in each case, for the value that the persons gave to free time. I allways love to read, but in highschool, if the teacher said "You have to read this book", I hate precisely that book. Is the same for many people that have to go to an office, with no flextime. They are going to value more the free time. I'm a historian and love my work, researching in libraries and archives. This kind of work allows to go to the "office" (a University) when you want, and I think that it's an important factor to the love that I feel to my work. Like you said, many times I don't feel that I'm really working... in those moments I'm completly "operational". But I also appreciate the free time. At this moment I'm enjoying a sabatical year, in Madrid, where I can go or travel to many cities and assist to opera performances, like Agrippina in Berlin. The music, specially the vocal, is one of my passions. By the way, I like your comment about the thumb..., or the finger. It's true, the life is exciting, because you can receive one or another. Enrique

Unknown said...

Hi Jenny,
I work on a freelance basis and I know exactly what you mean about being a loose ends when you don't have work! I'm at my best when I have lots to do and fall into lethargy when I don't. I think one of the problems is busy, busy, busy, then ....... nothing! Huh? Now what? So you're right to assign yourself a challenge. Good for you. When's your book coming out?

Unknown said...

Jenny, I tried to leave you this comment yesterday, but it didn't seem to take. As a freelancer myself, I know exactly what you're talking about vis a vis free time. When you go from full speed ahead to full STOP, it can be disconcerting. When that happens, I get lethargic and a little depressed. Will I ever get any work again? So good for you to make a plan to keep busy and productive! Love reading your blog and postings! Good luck on next steps.