Today I celebrated the Summer Solstice by marching in a ukulele parade. I do not, sadly, play the ukulele, but I did play a mean plastic maraca and tried to sing along. Also, I broke a curse! This was the first official parade that I’ve ever marched in. I’ve been scheduled to march in several parades since I was a kid, but three now have been rained out. So with my merry band of about 10 people and my awesome coworker Pia, I finally broke my cancelled parade streak.
It’s important to note that I’ve had more coffee today than I’ve consumed in the past week put together. Reading over the letters of this blog post is like trying to catch sentences bouncing around a screen. My health has finally improved, and so coffee is my friend again. Also, I clearly needed an iced coffee to make the ukulele parade an even more beautiful experience. So if this post doesn’t quite make sense, have a coffee, then reread.
The past two weeks have been particularly hard. On top of being sick, I am an emotional sponge of a human being. When there are problems in the world, negativity at work, or general anger in the group around me, I suck it all in like a puffer fish and hold it deep down inside. I vary between overcompensatingly sweet to erupting in indignant rage toward people who complain about mundane things. I don’t like being like this, and I’m sure no one enjoys being around it. On top of this oh-so-healthy practice, I am having trouble processing 36 days of sleeping in a bunk bed in a room with 100 other people and walking 25 miles a day with bad knees. I just finished buying trip health insurance that includes coverage of accidental dismemberment. I am fully aware that I am heading off on a hike that is not always 100% safe.
But today’s parade reminded me of all that I am working towards, and why I am so grateful that I am leaving a safe situation. Because I am losing myself. With each day focused on paperwork, clerical duties, my budget, and grocery lists, the more enthusiasm for life is squeezed from my being. I had this once: a drive, an energy; but it’s leaving me. Changing jobs and leaping into a career of uncertainty is not the right decision for everyone, but for me, it is something I have been fighting tooth and nail for four years in order to save the thing that makes me me. When I was little, I had an enthusiasm for adventure, for challenges. As I started to grow up, and the bills began to suffocate us, I believed more and more that this enthusiasm was childish. But why? It was the best thing about me. It made me a teacher, an actor, a writer, a volunteer. And now all that’s left is a bitter administrative assistant that resents anyone who asks for coffee.
When it comes down to it, I am working toward joining the “others” again. These are the people that have accidentally or purposely planned their lives around non-traditional schedules so that they can spend a Wednesday afternoon marching down the street singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” simply because it’s a self-declared musical holiday. Usually this lifestyle (not always) comes with lower pay or less-predictable income, but the tradeoff for living without structure or switching to a terrifying-yet-more-fulfilling job is the freedom to be, the freedom to control your own time and energy.
Today is Make Music Day, and you better believe that this artsy town is all about it. At the end of our parade, we ran into two acoustic guitarists, and our little show blended into theirs. The group of people that stop their day to play ukuleles in public with strangers is usually the funky-haircut, musically inclined, creative types. They all look like they have stories etched into their faces, no matter their age. I long to be a earthy girl with a ukulele who also has stories etched into the wrinkles of her face and her rogue gray strands of hair. I don’t want to sit in a climate-controlled building covered in makeup that no one will see, adding the piles of paperwork that we create for a self-enforced sense of structure. I don’t want to hide away, count the hours, and get in my car at the end of the day. I don’t want to watch the days go by and see the checks appear in my bank account.
But how do I write/talk about these goals without sounding–or at least owning up to–my privilege to do so? I have no children right now (by choice) and my acting training came from unimaginable support–emotionally and financially–from parents who have worked in the field. On the other hand, my husband and I started these full-time administrative jobs to pay off mountains of debt and take control of our finances. Because of this job, we did just that. We counted down the months in our salaried positions to even consider returning to this pared-down existence. But still, this is from the privilege of being born into some stability, of having a safety net, and by being encouraged to pursue what makes us happy–not what makes the most money. So how do I run joyfully screaming, arms flailing into the afternoon sun without feeling that imbalances in the world allow me to do this? Or is that even more narcissistic to assume that others want what I want?
The only comforting idea I come back to is the vow to spend my new-found time trying to spread the encouragement I received and the financial structure we built to allow this to happen. We now have a plan, we have a budget, we have control. This is the strategy I hope to pass on to anyone looking to make the switch as well–to return to hanging out with the “others.” And all I can hope for is that this freedom to return to freelancing will make me a person more accessible to helping others. I can do so much more than smile and process your checks.
And so today was a blessing–whatever that word really means. It was appreciated. Because I may not play the ukulele, but I’m so grateful I haven’t yet lost the spark to join in on the parade.