There comes a time in every artist’s life where he must ask himself: is it all worth it?
If the answer is yes, then there is no such thing as too much suffering, too much sacrifice, and too many dreams.
If the answer is no, then the artist must regroup, reassess, and revamp.
All I’ve ever wanted is to be an artist. I wasn’t sure what form that would take, and frankly, I’m still not, but the dreams of stardom, wealth, and deification took precedence over everything else. My choice of whatever colleges, coupled with the fact that I was incredibly sloppy and devil-may-care about the financial repercussions a college education would bring, are indicative of the fact that I thought I would be famous by now. Like Madonna famous. Of course I can afford to take out 100 K in private loans. By the time I have to pay them off, I will be halfway through my EGOT!
Well, clearly, I have not taken the world by storm. Part laziness, part amorous distraction, part I must-work-every-minute-of-the-day-to-survive, call it what you want, but the time has come for me to face the music and dance. As 30 rapidly approaches, I have done some serious reprioritizing: I am officially cashing my reality check.
I work with a lot of failed/struggling artists. They are bitter, they are cynical, and they are desperate. They are a mirror of what I do not want to be. I can’t imagine being 60 – hell, 40! – and standing at a buffet with a walkie talkie, talking about my latest audition. It’s great to have a dream, a passion, a “calling,” but there must be a time when you realize, “Hey, this is not happening for me right now – and maybe it never will. What is my contingency plan?”
Yes, I am young, yes Phylis Diller didn’t even start doing comedy until she was in her 40s, yes, dreams take time, but you know what? I’m tired. Tired of working doubles and still not having money. Tired of relying on other people for things I should be taking care of myself. Tired of feeling inadequate, behind, and a failure. Yes, I am young, but feel like the oldest adolescent on the playground.
The final straw for me was doing Hello, Dolly! in Riverside. Despite it being a paying gig, the money was nowhere near close to what I needed to make to take the amount of time off work that I did. This is not an isolated incident. Over the past year, I have booked four paying theatre gigs. And had to turn down every single one of them because they didn’t pay enough money. (The irony is most definitely not lost on me that taking out the loans to pay for college so I could get theatrical training is the one thing that most prohibits me from actually working as an actor). Oh, sure. If I had no lease, no college loans, and was single, perhaps I could live off $200/wk. But what coupled 29 year old with enormous debt and unstable income do you know could/would/should even remotely entertain these notions without expecting their partner to throw passive-aggressive shade? Zero. When you join a family, you must do what is best for your family. Or leave it.
Honestly, I have thought more than once of going back to New York and trying again, alone; I really fucked up the first go around. But when I evaluate the definite loss for the possible success – and the fact that my loans won’t just evaporate; therefore, making my situation the same, single or coupled – I awaken to my folly and return to the arms in which I belong.
This is not to say one must choose love or dreams; they should co-exist. And actually do if you actually communicate. But before you can deal with the future, you must deal with the present. And for me, the present revolves around money.
I know I am not special. We are the Debt Generation. We are the first generation who are not expected to do better than our parents. The first generation who are moving back home – even with our own kids! The first generation who will spend over half their adult lives paying off college. I don’t need to convince anyone that this an epidemic (Paging Suze Orman and Elizabeth Warren!).
But I’m at the point where despair meets hope, the crossroads of paralysis and OCD; something must happen and must happen now. I try and keep positive, which if you know me you know this is a near impossible feat. Cynicism and negativity are not only an inherent part of being a Phase 2 Homosexual Male, but two things that have run deeply through my development as a human and as a character, this caricature of my personality you are reading. How can I be the “authentic” Jonathon without being a smug son-of-a-bitch? I have gotten to a point where I barely process emotion at all. Unless it is something on television. I will allow myself to feel if it is happening to someone else. But something bad happening to anyone Jonathon Saia knows? Fuck no. Shut that shit down. Robot Saia is on the scene.
The wall must crumble forever and always. Part of the reality of being an adult, I suppose. Somedays are easier than others, but the bricks are slowly sinking back into the mud.
I feel like Judy Garland when she sang that song, “I’m Just an In-Between.” Granted, she was about 13 when she sang, “I’m too old for toys and I’m too young for boys,” but the sentiment is the same. I feel like I am in the middle of a clusterfuck. And all I want to do is read a book. A book I have never seen before. This book has medical benefits. And job security. And the built in promise of being able to save. And take vacations without worrying how to pay for them.
The great thing is that I actually don’t hate – or I have just gotten used to – the work that I do. I have fought for years when people ask me what I do for a living. Well, I’m a writer, but right now I’m waiting tables, chasing the dream! Bullshit. I am a server. Who writes. I need to embrace this and make it work to my advantage.
One day about two months ago, I went to my captain at Wolfgang and told her, “I want to learn expo.” And now I am an expo assistant. Soon, I will be doing expo on my own. Which is an extra five bucks an hour.
I have wanted to quit Sodexo for a hot second; two years is a long time to be anywhere that isn’t on a stage or in a writer’s room. But in the “real world,” two years is peanuts. So instead of quitting one place to find another, I decided to step up my game and apply for management. And now I am waiting to hear if I get my final interview. For a salaried job.
Julian and I talk about, yes our artistic dreams, but also the restaurant we will inevitably run called BFD while watching marathons of Kitchen Nightmares.
I wish I were more sad about closing the artistic book on my life. But I know I will never be a professional dancer; I have not been in a dance class for about a decade and while it was fun playing Bobby, I am leaving him on the line. I know I will never be a professional actor on purpose. I love performing, but lack the drive to actually find an agent, audition, get headshots, and continue to starve.
Someday I will hunker down and write Jonestown. Someday Trevor and I will record Erotica Redux . Someday I will be the disciple of Larry Kramer and John Waters and Joan Rivers I dream of. But for now this book is going back on the shelf and I’m heading for the kitchen.
And I’m cool with that.