Monday, October 8, 2012

Composing A Life

“There has been a tendency to look ahead to some sort of utopia in which women will no longer be torn by the conflicting claims and desires that so often turn their pathways into zigzags or, at best, spirals. And yet these very conflicting claims are affirmations of value. It would be easier to live with greater clarity of ambition, to follow goals that beckon toward a single upward progression. But perhaps what women have to offer in the world today, in which men and women both must learn to deal with new orders of complexity and rapid change, lies in the very rejection of forced choices: work or home, strength or vulnerability, caring or competition, trust or questioning. Truth may not be so simple.” (Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing A Life)

Three years out of seminary, I find that the pieced-together work life I thought was my way of weathering the storm of the recession (graduating in May of 2009 with a degree in Theology was not optimal) has actually turned into a career.

I shouldn’t be surprise that my adult life has taken an unconventional shape -- after all, I was educated at home from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and I’ve always had a bit of a stubborn, independent streak. I make things up as I go along. So far it seems to be working. Still, my tendency at first was to view my cobbled together part-time jobs as a stop on the way to a full-time job with health benefits. A quick glance to the top of this page provides a good example of why that has not proven to be the case. As a blogger, I have chosen to focus on these three descriptors: feminist, mennonite, theologian. In my work life, I’ve taken on many titles in the last three years, but the ones I continue to claim gladly are as follows: writer, non-profit communications guru, writing and philosophy tutor, and occasional editor.

I like my work. But I am frequently torn between these different responsibilities, and Google calendar has become my best friend as I navigate an ever shifting schedule. When Leslie Knope’s work at the Parks Department on the show Parks & Recreation is suffering due to her campaign for city council, Ron Swanson tells her, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Sometimes I feel like Leslie Knope. Except that I require more sleep than she does, leaving even less time for my various responsibilities.

A more traditional work life is really appealing, sometimes. Yet when I look at what’s out there, none of it fits. Who I am and the work I love doesn’t fit into any one job -- at least not any job I’ve found, yet. I’ve realized I would rather make a little less money (well, maybe a lot less), and have more freedom. Life -- even if we live long -- is very short, in the grander scheme of things. If I live to retirement, I’d rather not only then start to pursue the things I’ve wanted my whole life. I’m going to start doing that now, health insurance be damned.

Framing this theologically, I would say that I find myself called to several different things. I’m multi-vocational. The work that I find most life-giving -- and the work where I am most aware of God using my gifts and abilities -- doesn’t fit into a very neat career right now. Some of it isn’t even the stuff that’s paid. Teaching Sunday School to four year olds, preaching, and doing my homework (since I’m also a full-time student, lord have mercy) are as much a part of my calling and vocation as my communications work and tutoring.

Living this way feels really unstable most of the time. I worry about getting sick, not only because my catastrophic-only insurance won’t cover an office visit, but because I am paid hourly, and missed worked means less money coming in. I worry, too, that all the effort I am pouring into my writing will never amount to anything. I worry, because while I value my work as an artist regardless of success (financial or otherwise), I also value the ability to pay my rent and buy groceries.

I don’t have the answers to any of this. I just know that life, like art, has become a creative process for me. I am, as Bateson puts it, composing a life. In a changing economy, I can’t help but think this sort of creativity will be my greatest asset in the years to come. This way of living? It’s working. I don’t live in my parent’s basement, I’m never late on my rent, and I’m happy doing good work that matters to people.

Meanwhile, a funded writing residency and socialized medicine would be nice additions.