Last Wednesday was Art Therapy Day. All five of us who turned up worked on Christmas cards. Pauline made samples for a workshop she’ll be giving. Rhea was making a card that turned into a box when opened. Erin and Ali worked on one-of-a-kind cards, and I – well, I was trying to remember that Art Therapy Day isn’t about production, and that I didn’t have to complete all seventy of my handmade cards that day.
Production is my default setting, because I spent so many years making art for a living. Hand-printed cards, ceramic whistles, buttons, whatever, I had to produce. I have a hard time being laid back at any kind of work, including art.
But I’m learning. I’ve been thinking, especially since I went back to a day job – well, a night job, because I work nights – that there’s something to be said for a laid-back attitude, especially for those of us who are using the day job to support the real work. I’ve come to the conclusion that the healthiest thing for me as an artist is to be a dog food employee.
What do I mean by that? Well, in order to get that daily bowl of dog food, all a dog has to do is come when called, be nice to the baby and not crap on the rug. The dog has to do the minimum that makes life livable for all concerned, and she gets fed. For treats, she needs to do more.
Day jobs are like that, too. If you show up and are competent, which means – metaphorically speaking – that you’re nice to the baby and don’t crap on the rug, you get your dog food, aka paycheque. If you want to be the employee of the month, you’ll have to do more, maybe much more. Employee of the month is a biscuit, a treat, and you don’t get it just for doing the basic.
Please don’t think I’m saying that having the real work of writing to do means you should slack at your day job, because I’m not. What I am saying, though, is that it’s easy to get sucked into thinking the day job is more important than it is, to become committed to an idea that you should be the best you can be at everything you do.
There’s only so much energy in a person, only so much creativity. Will power can be exhausted, and so can enthusiasm. Some days, on some jobs, I’ve gone home feeling like I’ve been pecked to death by ducks. The last thing on my mind is creating an artistic masterpiece, or even writing another five-hundred-word scene.
Being a dog food employee means you’re saving your best work for your real work, the work of writing, or whatever art you follow. You’re not cheating your employer if you don’t care about being employee of the month, as long as you’re doing the job you were hired to do and doing it honestly and competently. You just need to protect your art energy the way you protect your art time.
I didn’t get all seventy cards done, and I had a great, relaxed day with my friends and my art. I’m learning to be a bit more laid back. I think it’s going to do me good. Pass the dog food.