I’ve had many different jobs in my life. I’ve been a barista, a teacher’s assistant, a corporate intern. I’ve worked at music recording studios, worked reception desks, worked hours filling out excel spreadsheets and scheduling forms. All of these jobs came with their own perks and advantages, and all had their own sets of challenges. And each time I moved from one job to another, I found myself molding my external persona to fit within the new environment.
Anyone who’s worked retail or food service will agree to the horrors of long and exhausting hours on your feet (which only get worse during the holiday season), all the while you’re expected to keep a smile plastered on your face. The customer is always right, right? Quite frankly, the general public is a needy asshole. Yet, you’re not allowed to have your own personality working in retail. You’re meant to be a robot in a green apron. Smile and say yes. A lot.
The biggest dichotomy in my working life was the time I moved from working in a music recording studio to working at a post production house where I coordinated schedules and made spreadsheets. I went from working long (loooooong) hours, on-call graveyard shifts, expected overtime, shitty pay and no benefits, in an environment filled with rappers, mistresses, booze and drugs, to a company where there was a fair amount of un-healthy food shaming (fat-shaming for LA health nuts) and where the two people who smoked cigarettes were looked down upon as being walking cancer advocates.
I made the transition between these two jobs in a matter of a day; really, I quit one and started training at the other the following morning. I rather enjoyed the professional feel of the post house, where people dressed nice and acted mature and and pretended they were some little family. It was a stark contrast to the recording studio where everyone was overworked and underpaid and generally under some kind of mood-altering influence (ie, drugs, alcohol and coffee… lots of coffee). I never did quite fit in at the recording studios where most of the other employees were single guys who were willing to work until the wee hours of the morning, and I really just wanted to get home to my (now) husband and crawl into bed. Instead, I was surrounded by sex jokes, spitting and weed. I was treated like a servant and expected to behave as one, all the while pretending that mopping up puke in the bathroom was going to make me a better recording engineer.
When I couldn’t take the abuse any longer, I snagged a job at the post house. Regular hours. Weekends off and paid holidays. Benefits. An office. A lunch hour. Professional people (and WOMEN! Gasp!). I wasn’t considered weird for eating healthy, my music taste was more-or-less appreciated, and I felt necessary rather than neglected. Needless to say, I failed miserably at that job. I tried my damndest to be just like those other 20-somethings who had the organizational skills and focus of true coordinators. Yet there I was, used to freely expressing myself, used to cursing and smoking, used to not sounding like a twerp on the phone. It was expected I could be just like the other girls because, well, I was a girl. And believe me, I tried. And I failed.
The reason I failed was because I lost the conviction for following someone else’s orders (apparently I have an issue with authority), but that’s a post for another day. And… well, I had my head in the story I was writing. I was a tad distracted.
But as I look back on my [careers], I find myself wondering how the people I’ve worked with view me. If all these people came together and had some panel discussion, would they agree on the same points? Would they consider my personality consistent? Would they wonder if they were even talking about the same girl? And then, add to that panel, my friends, my family? What would they think? How different was I in each of these environments?
And then, here I am writing a book. A book that is inspired by my own journey through life. A journey of my life through my own perception, drawn from memory of the emotions and struggles. But has my own evolution been skewed by the shapes I’d molded myself into? How much of myself is truly in the story when I’d spent so much of my life trying to be someone else? How much of what I know of myself is actually my altar ego?
Who am I, really?
I suppose it’s a circular evolution. As individuals, we never really are only an individual, but a part of a greater sum of society. As are our dreams and goals. As is our art. My expression of art does not only come from my soul, but from the sum of the person I was, the person I became, and the person I wanted to be.
So which is it, then? Is my artistic expression wholly the expression of the true me? A lot of it is made up, not only because of false memories and externally false presentation. But even if it is false, is it not also true because it came from inside me? And when people read my work and dive into the depths of my artistic expression, will they know that it’s me? Will those closest to me discover something written between the lines that asks more questions than it answers? Will they know better who I am? Or will they know me less, not for lack of understanding, but because I have — through some unintentional motivation — given false information? Is the art some version of me, or have I become the art itself?
But I suppose that’s not the point. Every person’s life story is in some way falsified. Whether there is information left out or altered, or because the individual altered themselves to fit into an environment. Each new relationship shapes the individual, especially marriages, because one becomes some form of the other. Would I be the same person I am now had I married someone else? Not likely. So, if I am to express myself artistically while using the version of myself today as the basis for that art, is it still true? What if, in some alternate reality, I had married that other guy… what would my art say then?
Of course, then I have to wonder, had I not lived the life I had, would I have written this book at all?