I wrote an essay for Aeon about my life as a model.
Just read this article on aeon, and after reading the comments there (unfortunately) decided to seek some other way to leave a comment. It didn’t seem like you were asking for advice, or seeking abuse, so I won’t be offering either. I’m just sharing my perspective, vulnerably, like you did.
I’m a 40 something massage therapist (in LA incidentally), and I am and have been struggling with the “what next?” quandary for several years. I am very good at the specialized work that I do, it is rewarding, more than pays the bills, and I love it; but the simple fact is, while it’s not my beauty and bone structure I rely upon, it is a body dependent career. While there are some bodyworkers (I practice something like Rolfing) who make it many years and work into their 60’s and beyond, I just can’t count on that.
I also can’t count on being able to retire at 60 something. My creative path through undergraduate lasted 10 years, another 3 years for an MFA in Creative Writing (at Western Michigan incidentally) all while writing a wonderful writer’s resume of jobs that were interesting but paid little.
Now, the trolls who commented on aeon could very well say that I should stop my whining and accept the fruits of my past choices, but I am not whining, nor unhappy with the fruit my life tree is bearing. I do not envy my friends from high school or undergraduate who got married and chose safe careers. (I envy a few from graduate school who have published some damn fine fiction, but I don’t grudge it to them.) Nor do I have criticism for their choices. Some of them are very happy, most have had some very rough patches in life, some have pretty interesting kids. They just don’t have what I want or wanted.
I thought I knew what I wanted when I got into the MFA program at Western, but somewhere in those 3 years I started to lose sight of it. Wrong sense metaphor actually, what I lost was my ear for my own voice. Be careful of writing programs, by the way, they may turn on your editor but not show you the off switch. After 6 months of pretending full-time to be struggling with finishing my first novel I went back to work part-time. After a year of part-time work in a legal library I realized I was underemployed and had no interest in law. I got a job managing a running shoe store and planned on moving back to the midwest and opening my own store… And the story continues with plans and plan changes.
The point is, the “what next” state of being just is for some of us. It’s not always comfortable, but it also isn’t necessarily a problem that has or needs a permanent solution — seriously question your trust in those who preach otherwise.
And if no one has told you yet, you can choose your own yardstick to measure your life by; you can make your own, you can break it across your knee, spank yourself bloody with it and make a new one. Sitting at a light here in LA next to something shiny red fast and low, it’s hard to remember that sometimes.
Good luck, that scarred and acne toughened skin is likely to be an asset if you choose to continue writing.
I used to be a semi-pro photographer (a euphemism for “someone who maxed out their credit cards buying way too much camera gear and is panicking about paying them off”). I had a blast doing weddings, receptions, graduations, family reunions, and other similar occasions where an inexpensive photographer was needed.
A series of dumb-luck events led to my doing initial portfolios for dozens of aspiring models and actors. While I knew lots about composition, lighting and posing, I had to learn very quickly about makeup, clothes, and giving detailed direction.
While I thought I had taken some truly great shots, my subjects often were not impressed. I was then subjected to shit-storms of abuse from those wannabes and their parents and friends. I eventually abandoned portrait and fashion photography, and decided to let the rest of my gigs help pay for college.
And that’s my advice to you: Let your current profession pay for college. If you already have a degree, get another one. Education never goes to waste, even if you work outside the narrow fields described by a particular degree program. Get a hard degree, perhaps in a science, with a solid foundation of liberal arts (especially philosophy). Being able to work through college not only paid the bills (I graduated not only debt-free, but with $10k more in the bank than when I started), but also kept me sane (interacting with adults outside academia is good for the soul).
I became a software engineer, a decision I’ve never had an opportunity to regret. The need to keep up with technology has kept me young, looking far younger than the 57 the calendar shouts at me. And I still do photography (mainly sports), even some portraiture (mainly for Christmas cards).
Don’t feel trapped by your prior work or life experiences. They are part of you and always will be. Instead, try throwing yourself into new areas, and see how the old and new mix to create your next life.
One of the lasting side-effects from my brief foray into fashion photography is the ability to interact comfortably with startlingly beautiful women. When I started, many of the female models turned me into a gibbering hormonal idiot. Photography taught me to objectively focus on exteriors, and I became able to see and appreciate the skin, then set it aside to seek the person within. The only unfortunate side effect (of this side-effect) is that many beautiful women think I’m gay, since I don’t exhibit the same Pavlovian reactions as most other men.
I’ve met way too many women who were gorgeous on the outside and damaged on the inside, confusing the person with the looks. You appear to have escaped this condition, both by sharing via your writing, and by coping well with your own shit-storms.
College is an ideal refuge between careers, so long as it is challenging and you work hard for it (the work brings its own rewards). And who knows, you could be on a circular trip: Mayim Bialik, after her success as a child star on “Blossom”, went to college, got a freakin’ PhD in Neuroscience, and THEN decided to return to (award-winning) acting in “The Big Bang-Theory”, a part for which this attractive woman has to dress way, way down. Education gives you freedom, even the freedom to triumphantly return to a prior career.
Never be afraid to see everything when you stare hard into the mirror. For inspiration, look to the work of Frida Kahlo. That woman did OK combining painting with lots of mirror-staring!
Sorry, no picture: You get the 1000 words.
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