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On multiple lives and multiple worlds

There’s that inevitable question that gets asked whenever I meet someone for the first time: So, what do you do? This is my little moment of terror. On the outside, I smile and nod and answer politely. On the inside, I’m tumbling through something of a miniature existential crisis. The danger (or is it beauty?) of that question is its vagueness. It begs two questions in one: What do you do for a living? What kind of person are you? The cruelty lies in the implication that there should be only a single, simple answer. In these moments I’m forced to confront my own multiplicity. What do I boil down to? How do I identify myself? Or, how should I identify myself to this particular person in this specific situation?

The question invites self doubt. Am I a musician first and a guy who works in an office second, or is it the other way around? Which life do I want to present to this person as their first impression of me? Can I live multiple lives at once? There are moments I enjoy the separation of my “work” life from my “music” life. (After all, as my dad always says, a job is what you wouldn’t do if you weren’t paid to do it.) But there are also times I long for a central life-focus, something towards which I’m heaving my whole existence. The push and pull between these parallel lives is what gives me the drive to, in the words of Becca Kauffman, “work for money, and do art for the art,” but it’s also an immense source of confusion and stress. Nowadays, I catch myself when I have that urge to ask a stranger what they do. I don’t want to ask the impossible.

Noah Kardos-Fein

merritt-K
Writer, Poet, Podcaster, Lapsed Game Designer
Tamara-Yajia
Comedy Writer
Becca-Kauffman
Performance Artist, Musician, Dancer
Eric-Cunha
Artist, Animator
Daniel-Arnold
Photographer
Mykki-Blanco
Musician, Rapper, Poet, Performance Artist
Vernon-Chatman
Comedy Writer, Author, Television Producer, Voice Actor, Comedian, Musician
Sloane -Crosley
Writer, Co-Proprietor of sadstuffonthestreet.com
-Björk
Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Actress, Technological Innovator, Icon, DJ
Hilton-Als
Writer

I’ve been living below the poverty line for most of my life. That is always there. It’s always looming. Money is harder and harder to ignore, the less you have of it. I don’t have the luxury of thinking about all these things that I would like to do because I need to figure out ways I can afford to do this magazine that is important to me. I need the money to pay contributors and web servers.

Another thing I learned from my time in games is that putting your whole life into something and making that the way that you make a living—as well as the way that you express yourself—can be a disaster. For a long time, I thought that was the dream. I don’t believe that anymore. I love that people support my work, but I would rather find other ways of making money.

I haven’t and I won’t write think pieces. I have found other ways of making an income in the past, and I will likely do so again, because having that freedom to not have to compromise is important. I don’t know that I want to talk too much about that—but when male artists or writers don’t want to talk about how they make money, it’s often because their daddy is paying for it. When women don’t, with exceptions, it’s because they’re doing things that society or the law wouldn’t approve of. I don’t think it subtracts from a person’s creative output. Having two separate modes of the work that you’re doing can be freeing.

Working has always been: making money and making ends meet. This has always been instilled in me as the number one thing.

But I’m also creative. This is something that happened when we lived in Argentina: I used to be like a child star, I guess. I used to be a singer and a dancer and do commercials and stuff like that, so I also have that other side, which when we moved here, just got completely shut off because I was learning to adapt to a new culture.

I think until I was about 16, 17 years old, I didn’t sing or do anything creative. Then, with my older years, the creativity blossomed again, but I was still going to work. I’ve worked since I was 16 years old and that just became my norm. It was always two different things: It was work and then it was creative stuff on the side.

Even though I would love to eventually make a career out of writing, there’s something about this real life, gritty stuff that fuels my comedy. I try to take advantage of the situation that I’m in as well and not just complain about hating my job all day. A lot of my ideas do come from the stuff I see at work.

It’s safer to go to work and have a steady paycheck and do something mindless than to put yourself out there. That’s the thing about being creative: You’re trying to make money off of something so deep. It can be really scary.

This year, I finally decided, “You know what, I’m going to go for it and maybe spend a little bit less time doing my day job, and putting a little bit more effort with the writing.” It’s interesting: ever since I made that decision, opportunities for creative work have come in, and they didn’t before.

I think it was just me opening up and accepting that I could do that. I believe in that stuff, too, but it took so many years for me to make this decision—that I was going to put myself out there and even if I was going to interview for writing jobs and fail and not get the jobs, I was still going to go for it.

I think now that I’ve decided that I do want to go for writing, and I’ve put my fears aside, the opportunities will start coming. When you’re blocked off to something and you’re like, “I’m not going to do this. I’m happy the way I am.” Then nothing’s going to change. I think since I changed my mentality, things will start to change. I can already tell.

With voiceover work, commercially and professionally, I tend to keep that separate, but it’s starting to bleed into my artwork. Now I’m considering, maybe it’s okay that my agents know that I’m a huge freak. Maybe I don’t have to keep that so separate after all. In the end, I would say I’m a performance artist, or an interdisciplinary artist, or a performer. I consider performance to be my primary tool, and then I use video and social media, to disseminate it, basically.

My next step is Downtown theater, and Performance Art with a capital P and A. I don’t know if I qualify, but in terms of career, I quit my job in December. I’m just trying to do voiceover work. I just joined SAG-AFTRA, the union, because I got a national television spot for Swiffer. It’s hard for me to not feel like I’m living not just double lives, but multiple lives here. Like I said before, it’s hard for me to converge them, or decide whether or not that’s the appropriate thing to do.

Part of the reason why I quit my job is because I wanted to light the fire to start taking my creative work more seriously, and maybe even try to make a connection between that and earning a living somehow. I’ve always had them be very, very separate. I work for money, and I do art for the art.

I think it kind of depends on who’s asking, actually. When I’m at a family event or something, when they’re all doctors and lawyers and no one else is really in a creative field, I feel like my answer is a little different. I’m just like, “You know Pixar movies?” And obviously they instantly know that and I’m like, “I do that, but mostly for commercials.” I don’t really go into the whole thing unless people are really interested, but if it’s like a friend or someone that I know is at least a little more in line with the field or has a similar background, I’ll take a little more time to explain… but the explanation can get dragged out pretty long. It still ends up being, “It’s like Pixar, but for commercials… kind of.”

I have fantasies of getting a desk job and doing this work in obscurity and leaving it behind, or maybe continuing to do it just as obsessively but not on such a large stage.

I’m really lucky in that lately my job has mostly been, “Here’s an event, here’s a concept, here’s a theme. Go do what you do with it. Go find your project in our content.” Which is the greatest because I get to erase the lines between personal work and hired work. I’ll get hired to photograph events, but in my own style, so it’s like, “We like what you do. How about you do that thing in this impossible to enter room that’s just loaded with material that you can never have access to otherwise and we’ll pay you.”

I also always have this fascination with how many lifetimes you can live in one lifetime. Growing up I always really admired people that could be a musician as well as a director or an actor or a fucking farmer or something. Do you know what I mean? Or when you hear these stories about the Beatniks and how they were also sailors and merchant marines. It seems like at one point in history everyone was a fucking merchant marine. I was into the mythology of these things–people who could be many things simultaneously.

I definitely transpose projects and obligations against each other. I try to turn laziness into productiveness, in some way. If I’m avoiding doing one project, I’ll do another. So, either way, you get productive.

But yeah, I try to cheat on one obligation with another project or productive, creative thing. It’s fun to have a creative outlet, like a creative vacation from your creative vacation and try to set up this weird chain of events, because it’s either trying to spin those plates and set those things up, or just lay there and be as lazy as possible. It’s like one or the other. I feel like a bad three hours and I could just end up in bed for a couple months out of laziness.

You mean my side hustles? Part of my reasoning for doing them is muscular and part is logistical. So you have this central project or creation that, if it’s your baby, usually takes a long time. So you pepper your days with beloved but surer chances for gratification. I suppose it can also work in the reverse. I know there are people who work for newspapers or magazines or do something where they have to produce material on deadline every five or six days—and then they write a novel for the same reason I write a book review or an op-ed or maintain a photo blog. Their creative release is that novel or that long term creative endeavor, whereas mine is to do their day job. It’s all the same thing. The idea is to break up the monotony of digging the same ditch again and again and again because that ditch gets deeper and deeper and then you bury yourself in it. Just kidding.

I remember that part of the responsibility and privilege of what I do is to be creative in general. Then, I can go back to the thing I’m actually supposed to be doing and apply some new energy toward that.

I just improvise. It actually doesn’t take that much energy to do those exhibitions. Most of my time, I’m just writing music. That’s also one thing great about these kind of exhibitions. When I stopped touring a year ago, I just turned straight to writing new happy songs. That’s sort of the land I’m living in most of the time. It works really well together. They don’t fight. It’s two different parts of your person, or something.

What I am trying to do for myself, always, is honor the delicacy of complication—the idea that people are not really one thing or the other, that there is this amalgamation of all sorts of nerve endings and truths.