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Too depressing to blog about happiness…and other stories of Survival Jobs

October 17, 2012

So, this one time I got fired from writing for a happiness blog for being too depressing.

No joke.

My job was to post pictures of things that would make readers happy such as kittens and puppies and rabbits and rainbows. My choices were always wrong. Either the kittens weren’t cute enough, the puppies weren’t spunky enough, the rabbits weren’t fluffy enough or the rainbows weren’t bright enough…

After I lost the privilege of finding my own “uplifting photos”, I was demoted to finding photos of the things my supervisor said were uplifting, photos of cows eating ice cream and babies doing silly baby things (people dig this stuff, or so I’m told?). I’m not much of a “baby person” as it would seem to be a lot of unnecessary work at this juncture and I generally only smile at animal photos when there is some sort of  witty caption accompanying it. Occasionally I’d include photos of things that make me happy… faraway landscapes, tree houses, art, political uprisings and food, just to see if my happiness had become acceptable.

Often my supervisor would be so disgusted with what I found uplifting that she would question my sanity. Several times she asked me if I was clinically depressed.

“Uh, not that I know of?”‘

She may have been kidding but I consulted WebMD just to be sure…

The topping on this particular cake of shame, and what threw my supervisor over the edge was when I failed at my assignment of writing about kids volunteering at a local library (Yes. I had to write about “happy” things too…). For this particular article, I was supposed to write about teenagers who were spending their weekends volunteering at a local library because they wanted to keep its doors open. Apparently, due to budget constraints everyone was laid off and the library was slated to close. My supervisor wanted me to write an uplifting piece about the teenagers who made the ultimate sacrificing of turning off Facebook to stack books.

Stop.

“Isn’t it more uplifting to have readers question why these libraries are so underfunded that they’re choice is to close or have unqualified volunteers take over? I’m not trying to be difficult but we’re doing our readers and these kids a huge disservice by suggesting this is a positive thing. There comes a time when we must take off the rose-colored glasses and see things for what they really are…”

My rose-colored slip arrived shortly thereafter in the form of an e-mail.

If questioning the system makes me “clinically depressed” then pass the Paxil.

The infamous happiness blog was only one of many survival jobs I’ve had over the years. My life was an eccentric array of survival jobs until about a year ago when Project Girl Performance Collective,  the theatre company I founded and am Artistic Director of became my primary source of income. Some of the most eclectic jobs that have crossed my path over the past few years have been fun, rewarding, and decent conversation starters. I am hesitant to call them “survival jobs” as none were particularly evil or soul sucking and for the most part I walked away a more informed person.

– Giving Bird Tours in Battery Park (among other things…) 

New York City is one of the hottest spots in various birds’ migration paths in the spring and fall…

This is among some of the many facts you’ll learn in an urban bird tour.

There are many exciting free events that occur throughout the city and Battery Park City Parks Conservancy is the jewel of them all. Their six month public programming from May through October consists of free art, sports, music and nature activities for all ages.  Some of my favorite events included fishing in the Hudson River, urban gardening and puppet making in the arts programs. Did you know that you can borrow free sports equipment at Rockefeller Park? I bet you didn’t. Battery Park City is like a small oasis in Manhattan’s concrete jungle.

The part-time seasonal staff I worked with consisted of many artists, performers, graduate students, poets and activist… some seriously brilliant and fascinating people. Those who were worked full-time at the Park had such a deep understanding of horticulture, urban gardening, ecology, environmentalism, animals and nature that I found myself getting just as much out of the programming as our guests were. I will always blame my obsession with urban gardening on the folks at BPC.

You can learn more about the programming at Battery Park City Parks Conservancy by visiting their website. You can also learn more about New York City’s other parks and conservancies like Central Park Conservancy and Battery Conservancy (different from Battery Park). Many of these places offer part-time and seasonal job opportunities throughout the spring, summer and fall.

Unhooking a fish and getting it in the tank during BPC’s Catch and Release Public Fishing program (this was the first time I ever caught a fish).

Showing off some clay sculpture work after a public children’s art program.

– Jumping out of Airplanes in Simulated Airline Catastrophes’

Oddly enough, I acquired this position through a temp agency. I was paid over $100 for a few hours of hanging out at an air hangar to test safety equipment for the FAA. They would seat us all in a grounded airplane and simulate an emergency landing. We’d have to grab our flotation device and jump down the slide in a neat and orderly fashion. We would simulate different scenarios such as fires, water landings and blocked emergency exits. They’d get some dry ice, shut off the lights, sound the emergency alarm and we’d go to town.

This experience provides participants with excellent cash that you can put toward the therapist that will help you get over your flying phobia…

– Standardized Patient Work (Doctor/Patient Role Playing)

I played a patient for student doctors. I would present issues that would come up if they were treating a “real” patient. This is a common job for many actors and can be acquired by contacting hospitals with teaching programs.

– Dancing as a Rubix Cube in Times Square (and other promotional work)

While in grad school I worked part-time as a dancing Rubix Cube in Times Square to promote ticket sales for The Awesome 80’s Prom. One time during a water break I left my box outside of a bodega and the NYPD bomb squad came because they saw the box had mysterious wires hanging off it (the box played 80’s music). The dancing Rubix cube gig paid pretty well and is memorable for tourists and those who enjoy taking photos with the likes of the Naked Cowboy, Elmo, Grover (a.k.a. Blue Elmo) and Mickey Mouse.

I’ve done promotional work for several other shows as well, all of which I’ve acquired through Playbill.com or Backstage. Be mindful that some of these positions are commission-based only which means that you could be standing outside for 10 hours and if you don’t sell a single ticket to said show, you will be walking home with an empty pocket and hungry belly.

– Organizing Props for Martha Stewart’s Food Photo Shoots

Production studios like Martha Stewart’s would call in prop orders and it was my job to find the props, wrap them up in newspaper (they were usually fragile), box them up and ship them out to their prospective location. I became obsessed with picking out hypothetical furniture for my hypothetical summer home and it was distracting. I acquired this job through contacts at the same production company where I papered for Broadway shows.

– Photography 

I continue to regularly work as a photojournalist for several independent media sources (check out this month’s Indypendent, I shot the cover and a photo essay inside), take headshots, portraits and theatre/dance photography. I am currently working on professionalizing myself further as a photographer by taking class and working to open a small side business.

Actress and Artistic Director of La Bella Roma, Tiff Roma

Promotional shot for Project Girl Performance Collective’s ensemble devised performance Trafficked

Dancer Bradford Rahmlow on the Brooklyn Bridge.

– Ghost Hunting… and Freelance Writing

Occasionally the need for a professional ghost hunter comes along and I make my services available.

Sorta.

Throughout graduate school and in the years thereafter I’ve received some fantastic freelance writing work. I wrote a chapter of a Road Trip Guide book on the “Paranormal Northeast” (This was one summer during college). I traveled throughout New England exploring urban legends, haunts and myths. I have also written articles and interviews for magazines and newspapers.

The downside to this work is in the lack of consistency. There are weeks where I have seven articles to write and months when there’s nothing.

When I was 16 my first boyfriend’s mother took me aside at our first meeting and said she didn’t want her son to date a “professional waitress” (her response to me saying I was going to college to study theatre). I dumped him a month later but her words have always been haunting and kept me away from the restaurant industry. Finding the right “survival job” can be rewarding and help enhance your work and experience as an artist. While there have been plenty of duds and a few burnt bridges along my path, these experiences have left me with memorable stories and anecdotes that will spark many conversations in the years to come.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. The Growing Artist permalink
    October 20, 2012 2:20 am

    You have had a lot of awesome survival jobs! Loved this!

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  1. Sunday Summary — October 21, 2012 « The Green Room

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