The Things I Couldn’t Budget for in 2015

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2015 was a year of movement.  Though bittersweet, Ben and I waved our life in Jersey City goodbye and moved out to the little haven of Montclair.  As we pulled into town with the first car load of stuff, I jokingly said, “Hey, thanks for moving to the suburbs with me!”  I could feel his mini-heart attack from across the car.  Nine-to-fives, 401k’s, me in an apron making pot roasts while searching to find the perfect Yankee Candle scent.  But most terrifyingly- no time for theatre, only time for domesticity!  I assured him this was not our future, or my intention for suggesting we move out here.

But to be fair, moving was meant to cause a huge shift, and we knew that.  For the past five years, I have done loops — financial, emotional and career-oriented loops.  At the end of last year, I looked back on my five years in the city, and though I had significantly grown as a person, I didn’t have a savings or a resume to show for it.  I hit 28 and my family holiday conversations were still going like this:

Relative: So where are you working now?

Me: Oh at the Girl Scouts, just a temp job again.

Relative:  Neat!  What do you do there?

Me: Just clerical stuff, nothing super exciting.  It’s really just so I can afford to audition.

Relative:  Great, that make sense.  So what have been auditioning for?

Me:….Not much actually.  I don’t really have the time with a full-time job or the money to take a morning off.

Relative:  Well you must really love it.

Did I though?  That’s what I started to ask myself everyday.  Why was I chasing after an art form that made me so miserable?  Don’t get me wrong, the second I got up on stage (whether it was in an actual production or 50 seconds in an audition room at Ripley Grier) I was the happiest of people.  But all the moments in between were starting to outweigh the highs of actually performing.  I was barely able to see my family around the holidays because of much-needed temp work, we could only afford the minimums on our credit cards (if we wanted to buy enough groceries), and the thought of ever buying a home or having kids was laughable.

And so one afternoon, I google-mapped “Private Schools” in north jersey and my current workplace came up.  I wandered around their site, realized it was incredibly similar to the school where I was temping at the time (community and ethics-based education) and emailed them about an open job position.  They wrote back within in a day.  After four months of interviewing for a bunch of open positions there,  I signed my name on a big-girl contract and we signed the lease for our apartment a week later.  It was the first apartment we looked at.  And for the first time since I made this drastic decision to move away from flexible work, everything seemed to be magically falling into place.

And then I started budgeting–budgeting like a madwoman.  If this was the period of my life with consistent income, then we were going to make it count.  I built a neurotic google spreadsheet with every expense category, goals for our credit cards and student loans, and for once — predictable income.  I planned the months ahead, chipping away at our credit card balances as I looked into the future (balances that were wracked up during the 5 years of making ends meet in NYC) and saw that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I also started to budget time.  In my head, I had less of it now that I worked a 40 hour work week, so I also needed to make it count.  I signed up for acting classes at night, put myself on a writing schedule, and planned groceries and meals like a Pinterest champion.   I can make to-do lists like you wouldn’t believe.  It wasn’t until a day this summer when I budgeted time in to “Relax on hammock” that I had to tell myself to calm the f’ down.  Either way, with a busy schedule, time starts to move.

And then…over the past two weeks, during my first paid vacation of my life, I started to slow down.  I kicked off the break happily over-planning whose gifts to wrap first, how we would get from one family’s house to the next with enough time, and how to properly prepare for a performance I had several days after Christmas.  But as Christmas started to wind down, so did I.  The year hit me, and I spent a day sitting on the couch like a zombie, obsessively drinking water to fend off the impending cold that threatened to ruin my plans for the remainder of the year.

With everything we planned, every bill we checked off our list, and every artistic freedom we relinquished, something else happened.  A full year of wonderful and sometimes not so wonderful things happened.  And I just needed to sit down and see them.  If I didn’t, then none of this would be worth it.

Amidst the budgeting and schedule sculpting, the year I look back on now is not the year I predicted when I first sat down and applied for this job.  Though our finances are much healthier, I feel more thoroughly trained as an actor, and we are generally happier with our living situation, the most important changes do not fit into a spreadsheet:

  • That I would actually have more time than before, since job-hunting was no longer a part of the equation– something that never ends as a freelancer
  • That I had truly started to dislike theatre since moving to the city in 2010, and learning to love it again was going to take a great deal of work and attitude shifting
  • That I would discover writing.  Not just blogging, but three ideas for books, a new website, and a completed play. I would get over my fear of submitting my work to other sites, and create a voice online that I was pretty damn proud of
  • That even slightly increasing your income allows you to see food in a new way.  We changed the way we ate, cut out heavy drinking, cut out expensive NYC bars, and began cooking meals I was proud of.  Last night, as I danced in the kitchen while trying to recreate Rao’s marinara, I realized who this a pretty nice new practice.  Now that trips to the grocery store do not cause extreme panic attacks, I actually enjoy eating better and therefore feel healthier.
  • That I would find a community in my workplace I previously thought impossible outside of the theatre world.  In one year, I went from an office of gossip and intimidation to a school where everyone around you constantly supports you as a creative and trustworthy person.  I am floored by the way I was welcomed to this town, and have regained my creative spirit because of it.
  • That by taking the typical path of an artist and chucking it out the window, I would feel even more like an artist.  That I could have a tomato garden and a show to work on.  That I could have a savings account and Backstage account.  And that I could create something each day without the attention of the NYC theatre community and still feel wonderful about myself as an artist.  And most importantly, that I now had the time and a little bit of money to support my friends’ projects.
  • That I would slowly slip away from Facebook, a site about painting a picture of yourself for the public, not reality.  And how my integrity of the positive writing I do on this blog is far more important than writing dramatic negative pieces to attract attention.  And when if I lose this integrity, it is time to take a break, as I have the past two months.
  • That I would feel at peace in a home that we made ours, with loving neighbors, a loving town, and an even larger NYC and NJ theatre community–one we get to see much more often nowadays.

This post is not about bragging about having a great year.  We had plenty of downs in between.  And truly accepting that I may not be back in the full-time acting saddle again for at least another year, is something I struggle with constantly.  As much as budgeting time and money is going to allow us to return to the arts in the long run, it’s impossible to not feel like there is a timer ticking away at our career, as others soar ahead.  It is hard to convince people, and sometimes ourselves, that moving out here was not a form of giving up.

But the most important thing to me is being able to look back on 12 months and see that I am no longer going in a loop.  I see the world differently now, and I can look ahead with excitement that this momentum, though unexpected, will continue.  I could either call this the year I stopped acting full-time or the year I rediscovered myself as an artist.

So as we finish the final hours of 2015, I suggest checking out your unexpected growth, not just with tangible things, but the things you could have never predicted, as a reminder that there is more to look forward to in 2016.  The effort and focus that we all throw into our lives and our families does create these beautiful changes, and tonight we deserve to celebrate them.

 

 

To all my incredibly supportive loyal (and new!) readers, thank you for making this such a beautiful year.  I look forward to reading your work and hearing your thoughts in the 12 exciting months to come:)

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