I’ve recently learned that the lifestyle I’ve cobbled together since graduating from college (a million years ago) has a name: Gigging. Which I always believed had something to do with spear-hunting frogs. Of course, as a person who’s made a living in the arts, I’ve worked gigs all my life. Called them that too. “I’m doing a gig at the Actors’ Theatre, directing a play,” I might say. Back in the day, before creating the biggest and best gig of my life, the Fun Institute, an adult school of improv that continues to pay the bills (Blessed Be!), I used the term in regard to my job jobs too; and by that I mean, the jobs I took for the sole purpose of making ends meet. Somehow, though, in my mind, I never strung these gigs together into a lifestyle choice. It’s just what I did to stay afloat: Gigging, aka collecting 1099s.
Now though, it seems that millennials (especially in the tech industry) are faced with a job market that relies heavily on a temporary work force, and are purposefully choosing a gigging lifestyle. A study by Intuit has predicted that by 2020, 40% of the population will be independent contractors.
Wow. That’s what I have to say about that. Just, wow. Gigging is hard. Much of a gigger’s time is spent looking for jobs, then applying for them, then worrying about what to do when that gig is complete. There is no sense of security, no sense of being part of a community where you work. There are sleepless nights. Concessions that must be made.
But I’m not going to get all sociological on you. (Besides saying the Affordable Health Care Act could not have come too soon. Giggers need it! Let’s hope the powers that be don’t mess it up.) I’m just going to share with you some of my weirder gigs, because, as a lifelong gigger, I’ve had many.
Here’s one. In my early twenties, along with five other students, I cleaned dorm rooms at the University of California, Santa Cruz, off-season, when the Regents rented out the rooms for conventions and other group retreats. Sounds tame enough. But here’s the thing: lots of times there wasn’t enough work for us because no groups were coming through, so our supervisor, a burly woman I’ll call Doris, instructed us to hole up in a tiny dorm room, shut the blinds, and speak no louder than whispers. She warned us that if we were found out it would be bad for her. We couldn’t even sit on the furniture because it had to appear freshly plumped. And believe me, we obeyed. We were terrified of losing our jobs. At the time, I had two concurrent theater gigs: rehearsing on the weeknights for the lesbian musical To See the Elephant (music written by Chris Williamson, no less), and performing on weekends in Beckett’s Endgame (Yes, I was in the trash can), so I’d use the time to snooze. I’m sure my fellow employees thought I had narcolepsy.
Another weird gig I had was working for a podiatrist. My duties included filling out Medicare forms and sweeping up patients’ toenails. I’d fill my dustpan with little red-polished crescents, or thick yellowy bits of what looked like something you’d find stuck to the bottom of a forgotten Tupperware. On top of that bit of fun, I was continually assaulted my coworker’s boob sagas. During the time I worked there, she had her boobs enhanced, snagged herself a boyfriend who loved her tits, then lost him when he noticed the scars. “I knew these were too good to be true!” he muttered, before walking out on her. Her monologues turned sweeping toenails into a cakewalk, I tell you.
But by far, my weirdest gig is writing fiction. Sitting for hours, alone, making up a world, populating it, then watching how these people I’ve made up cope with the heaps of trouble I throw at them, it’s just plain odd. Still, I love it and, come June, you’ll get to read the most recent result of this odd gig of mine: Perfect Little Worlds.
So tell me, what odd gigs have you had? I’d love to hear.