The other day I stood in the living room, punching buttons on the dvd remote control as my roommate wandered through. Together we watched as the big flat-screen TV filled with quick-edited shots of naked men – accompanied by the requisite throbbing pulse of a tribal soundtrack – engage each other in activities you’d never find on prime time television.
“You should keep a journal,” my roommate said. “To chronicle your life.”
“I hope you don’t mind,” I said. “But I can’t get this #%#$ review copy to work on my Playstation.” Nor would it work on either of my two laptops. I grunted and punched at the stupid buttons, my eyes bleary after a full day at the law firm, now faced with an absurdly short deadline for my second job, writing a series of 300-word scene recaps for a local gay porn company.
I don’t know what they do with the recaps. Throw them up on their website, I would imagine, giving prospective buyers a glimpse at who does what to whom in each particular movie. Which may sound like fun to some of you, but honestly, there are only so many words for certain parts of a man’s anatomy that are hot without sounding silly.
My roommate wandered off to his bedroom as I settled onto the couch with my laptop, trying to forget about the four newsletter articles due soon for my third job, a marketing-and-social-media gig. I began typing: Shay Michaels and Lance Navarro swap spit in a dim-lit dungeon…
“How’s it feel being married now to the Manly Fireplug?” people kept asking me.
“Who?” I said.
Somewhere between job one and job two, as the Fireplug buzz-cut the evening barbershop crowd, I’d stumble outside with our three dogs, on three leashes, pulling at three speeds, wagging their tails and weaving in and out of each other’s paths in what I swore was a canine conspiracy of entanglement. As they pulled me along I calculated costs of weddings, health insurance, and real estate.
Who am I? What am I doing? How could I be working so many hours and making so little money? Yes, I had three jobs at a time when many had none. Still, I’m human, which is to say that within each hour of each day I’d dizzily swing between the poles of gratitude and self-pity.
At night in bed the Fireplug would wrap his meaty forearm around me and I’d try to slow my pulse, pondering Steve Jobs.
The man who’d just stepped down from Apple had been bouncing all over the news cycle echo chamber, and I’d clicked on a link and read a commencement speech he’d made, six years back, at Stanford University.
At first his words had moved me, words outlining the kind of philosophy you’d expect to hear at such ceremonies:
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
I believed in his words, and I felt lucky that I’d known for a very long time what it is that I love to do, even if I had yet to make a living from it.
But yesterday at the law firm I fielded a call from my car mechanic, who gave me, in an apologetic tone, some fairly bad news. And when I hung up I found myself blinking back tears.
I was not proud of this. I’m not proud of it now. But I felt tired and defeated and pissed at Steve Jobs, who’d exhorted a crowd of impressionable youth to live each day as if it were their last, and Joseph “Follow Your Bliss” Campbell, and every figure of inspiration whose quotes leave out the compromises we must make, one foot in bliss, one foot in life.
Which is not to say that I could give up what I love, with a 98% finished memoir that gets exponentially more wrenching to write with each page, and which has all but convinced me to turn next to fiction, where you can just make shit up, a 98% finished book waiting, like my new husband, for the scraps of between-job attention I can muster.
And I need the Steve Jobs and the Joseph Campbells and the Anna Quindlens of the world to remind me that it’s all possible.
Just as I need to know that I’m not alone in my one-foot-there, one-foot-not: that there are folks like Seymour Krim, who once wrote about “those who have yet to find the professional skin to fit the riot in their souls.”
I need to remember that life falls somewhere between dreams and compromises. That there are worse things than being tethered to competing claims on my time, pulled along in three different directions, at three different speeds.