Thanks to the economy tanking in September 2008, everyone seems to have had a difficult time making ends meet. I certainly know that I have. Being a composer is not a particularly lucrative vocation, being a young composer especially so. As a result, since moving to New York City in September 2004, I’ve made my living as a temp.
I give up roughly 40 hours of my week hopping from office to office in Manhattan. I’ll spend days, weeks, or even months in an office, performing mostly menial tasks – filing, data entry, and rarely (very rarely) a bit of reception work (which I invariably loathe). I was very fortunate prior to the economic crash – I had found a great long-term temp gig in the Alternative Fund Services department of HSBC. The VP who oversaw the area that I assisted was also a musician, so he understood my situation and did his best to keep me on for as long as possible. Ultimately, I was there for three and a half years, not including a several-month stint where I temped for a jewelry company. In the middle of this 3.5 years, I spent about six months as a full-time, salaried employee of HSBC – I was a Fund of Funds Administrator (basically, I was an administrator for a particular type of hedge fund) – but it was too great of a draw on my time, so I quit, left on very good terms, and was called back again as a temp when I finished with the jewelry company. I stayed until about two weeks before the crash, when every single temp in the company was let go at once.
After that, the economy was so terrible that my temp agencies had a very difficult time finding me work. From September 2008 until August 2010, I worked a total of maybe 10 weeks – not because I didn’t want to, but because the work just wasn’t there. I was fortunate in that I could draw Unemployment for a year, and I was able to design a website or two, but none of this was enough to pay the rent, let alone bills. After my Unemployment ran out, I was in pretty dire straits. Consequently, I got myself into a bit of a financial pickle, and was fortunately bailed out by my parents earlier this year. (Hooray for parents!)
The constant financial worry was obviously a major draw on my mental abilities. The anxiety and subsequent depression made it pretty much impossible to write. I even had a rough go of it during my stays at artist colonies – I couldn’t maintain my concentration, and kept feeling as though maybe I shouldn’t be there at all, if only because I couldn’t afford to travel or be away from potential jobs. And while I was in the City, I spent almost zero time writing – I would sleep embarrassingly late and then fritter away the remainder of the day. Not an existence indicative of a healthy mind.
I managed to write only a handful of works during that period, most of which had pretty strict deadlines, and it was still like pulling teeth to get me to sit down to write, even with the promise of money.
For quite a while I thought that the problem was that I didn’t have a draw on my time – that I needed to have less of my time available to me so that I would value what little time I had to write and use it properly. Now there may be some validity to this, but it never once crossed my mind until a few weeks ago that my problem was that I couldn’t think except to worry about the five dollars in my checking account and thirteen cents in savings. The worry would keep me up at night. I was afraid to buy anything. I was terrified every time I swiped my debit card, expecting that the tiniest purchase would be denied because I might not have enough money in my account.
Some of the haze finally cleared a few weeks ago on the plane en route to Santa Fe, NM to see my friends Danny and Kaity get married and hear the premiere of The Gallant Weaver, which I arranged for solo guitar as their processional. In August, my boyfriend’s sister recommended me for a freelance temp job in the Finance office at New York City Center, where she had worked in Development. That assignment lasted “officially” from mid-August to October 1. I say “officially” and put it in quotes for two reasons: 1. I’ve been asked back for a while to help out in the Capital Projects office, and 2. I’ve been offered (and I’ve accepted) a full-time position in Finance starting December 13. I’ll be taking over for a really great guy who’s been at City Center for quite a while, and is retiring at the end of the year. Big shoes to fill!
It was around the time that my boss-to-be began making job-style overtures in my direction that I started to realize that my compositional problem hasn’t been too much time on my hands – it’s been incessant, gut-wrenching, debilitating anxiety/depression over the fact that I’ve had no money for the past two years! So once there was a light at the end of the tunnel, an oasis on the horizon, I was finally able to think more clearly and realize that my creative process had been hijacked by paralyzing anxiety and a real, deep depression.
Now it feels as though a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I still have to live a little frugally until the job starts in mid-December, but I’ve been able to breathe and sleep easier.
And the music has begun to flow again! In a matter of days, I wrote a 4-minute choral work that I’m really excited to hear when it’s premiered at Illinois State University the weekend before I start full-time at City Center. I feel energized to write and write and write!
I intend to attack the Songbook Project again, and I’ve got an interesting series of short chamber works bubbling away in my brain. Also, I’ve found a direction for the orchestral piece I started at Ucross last year that I think is going to propel it into something quite good – important, even. So let’s get to work!
Sorry to hear about the troubles–I feel your pain–but glad they’re resolving: I feel your relief!