When you're a little kid people are always asking you what you want to be when you grow up.
When aimed at the very young this question is more akin to asking "Who is it you most admire?" than asking for any serious consideration of career goals.
When I was four the answer was easy: I said I wanted to be Superman.
My primitive understanding of trademark law notwithstanding there were other reasons why being Superman would prove unpragmatic, including an alien origin and being possessed of amazing preternatural abilities. While it was true that I could ride my trike real fast, I had no compelling evidence to suspect the presence of any kind of magical endowments in my arsenal of standard ape-descended boy-child skills.
So, when I was five I decided to adore astronauts, instead. They enjoyed many of the benefits of superheroes -- extraordinary tools, exciting adventures, the adulation of children, working in the service of humanity -- but at the same time didn't have to engage in an endless series of risky showdowns with black-hearted villains. Astronauts simply didn't have as many enemies as superheroes did, I reasoned.
Before I knew about raving religious fundamentalists and anti-technologist lesbian covens I was pretty sure everyone approved of astronauts. Even firefighters looked up to them. I further theorized that since rocket-ships were getting bigger and faster all the time, there would probably be lots more astronaut jobs when I grew up -- in the future.
So, here I am in the future. And, admittedly, it is pretty whiz-bang. We don't have flying cars but our ability to share interesting memes has surged. We don't have cold fusion but we do have a space station, and robots that serve drinks at Japanese corporate functions.
Spaceflight remains in its infancy, however. Astronauts are in demand like blacksmiths.
My five-year-old self was wrong. Now my self is thirty and I am beginning to suspect that my prowess for career analysis has not much improved in the intervening years. If you've been following along, you know I work as a mild-mannered mid-grade freelance broadcast animation and visual effects compositor. I also produce corporate propaganda videos, and dabble in cartoon lip-synching.
Work for my kind is dwindling. The kids coming out of school will do it cheaper. It is the inevitable turn of technology, the accelerating burn of years.
I know what needs be done: investment in re-tooling, re-orientation and re-education; re-defining and re-articulating core competencies for more effective promotion; setting and tracking new goals for growth...
And yet I find I just don't care.
This train is stalling, and there are serious hitches ahead. I lack the funds to modernize my tools, and my possible source of funding (sale of the cottage) has been indefinitely delayed. I lack the time for education, as I am too busy juggling very fast to keep the income coming in. Most of my technology-oriented competencies are devaluing at an alarming rate or have become unsalable due to innovations in software automation.
Maybe I'm just burnt out from working seven days a week, but maybe my heart just isn't in it anymore for good. Who can tell, without a vacation?
The television shows I contribute to are basically crap. The internal videos I make for corporations are maudlin, self-serving, self-same tripe.
I watched the Frank Oz adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors with my daughter tonight. I was transfixed by one of the numbers in the first act in which the denizens of Skid Row sing along with poor Seymour Krelbourn as he proclaims that he's "gotta find a way to get outta here." They point to the sky and lament the drudgery of their downtown zoo. Vagabonds and businessfolk dance side by side as they yearn to be free. My daughter thought it was outrageously funny when they stomped in rain puddles.
As snippets of song do, it became stuck in my head.
Uptown you cater to a million whores.Of course, my working life is nothing like that. I have a pretty sweet set up most of the time, which I why feel like a bit of an oaf feeling dissatisfied at all. I keep an office in my home, and am only occasionally obliged to drive into the big city for a tedious meeting. My work is peripherally related to genuine interests of mine (storytelling and animation), and occasionally there is a hint of micro-glitz (last year they flew me out to Hollywood to tap the brains of some very cool visual effects engineers).
You disinfect terrazzo on their
Your morning's tribulation,
afternoon's a curse;
And five o'clock is even worse.
Maybe I'm just burnt out. Maybe I could care again. This used to be fun.
At this point, however, I do not feel possessed of the amazing preternatural abilities I feel that it would take to bring my business to the next level of profitability. The effort seems superheroic to me, and then even if I succeeded I'd still have all those nefarious super-villains to worry about.
I'll find some way. I'm sure some rest will fix my vision.
Never the less, tonight, while I am feeling discouraged let me imagine the possibilities: what could I be, if I wasn't so busy being this? (Every moment of pain bequeaths the chance for pleasurable fantasy, an opportunity ignored only by dead-minded ground-sniffers, idiots, and the war-torn old).
Astronaut is still out. I don't have the maths.
Since January I have earned more money by typing than clicking and dragging, so it seems a fitting jumping off point. Is there some way I could live by writing, rather than compositing? I enjoy writing and enough people seem to like what I do with it to suggest that I don't roundly suck. It's easy enough to get people to give me nickels and dimes to write stuff, but is there something I can do to make them write cheques of a more delicious calibre?
Do people still like novels? I write popular (in the world-wide-web sense of "popular") novellas like I'm sipping tea, so I figure a novel is just a few orders of magnitude more ambitious. Still, I suppose you have to write one and sell a bazillion copies through an esteemed publisher before they start handing out any kind of reasonably ample advances to cover your time.
The advantage knitting a novel has over making another short movie is that the capital required in terms of equipment and crew is zero. The only cost are my hours.
In a perfect world my readers would chip in to my PayPal tip jar, and collectively it would amount to enough money for me to focus on writing a novel for a few months. What with student loans, eating food and other sticky matters it costs around $5000 to run this old schoolhouse and its associated zoo for a month, so, if 10% of my daily regular audience contributed $10 each, enough money could be raised to fund me for a season in less than a month.
Ah, to dream.
In gritty reality, less than 0.1% of readers toss me a tip. Which is fair. Information wants to be shared, and all that. (G'bless the Free Web of the Early 21st Century, however fleeting it may end up being.) I can't tell you how many tip buttons I've not clicked on through my years of slurping free content from the Internet, so I can hardly admonish anyone else for doing the same.
Raising money by keyword-whore writing offers some tantalizing possibilities. My Darth Vader blog has earned not insignificant amounts of money over the past couple of weeks, and will probably continue to shell out for a few weeks more. But Ads by Goooooogle are a fickle beast, and if I post something without the requisite Star Wars keyword density I start getting served non-paying Public Service Announcements as the AdSense robot becomes befuddled as to the subject of the site.
My next most popular contribution is my unauthorized biography of Wile E. Coyote, another subject of a vast amount of web searches. Writing stories about touching my wife's boobies earns about a sixteenth of a cent per visitor through Kanoodle's BrightAds, which means I'd have to feature her as an erotic prose porn star in order to make any serious coin. As it stands together with Wile I reap enough money to buy milk and a loaf of bread once a week.
Writing for other people's websites is often tedious, and the money I'm commanding at it right now isn't anything to write home about. I've been commissioned to write short articles about headaches, travel, mathematics and web design. I'm not sure what the market will bear, but I'm prepared to test it. We'll see who bites at a higher price. I think I'm worth it. (Webmasters see here.)
The nicest gig I've landed so far is writing test material (reading comprehension passages and the like) for an educational publisher in the United States. Very nice people. I have my first real assignment from them now and it's going smoothly despite my abject inability to use American spelling with any kind of consistency. Apparently they used to get this sort of material from teaching professionals, but found the output...dull. So now they hire typing clown such as myself, in hope of getting a little more pep. (Do you find my prose peppy?)
Collecting my existing body of writing and hawking it in a print edition seems to offer some possibilities, but my test case with pushing 17 Drawings has not been all that encouraging. To date approximately 15% of the people told me they would be interested in buying such an item have in fact done so, with zero sales coming from the great unwashed hordes of the web. I have moved 27 copies so far, and it will take 90 more sales to break even for the time I put into the project, which seems highly unlikely at this point. (On the other hand it is a strange product, so it the results may not be representative.)
...Pie in the sky notions. I can't really think of a realistic way to make such things pay the mortgage. But it's nice to dream, when your day job makes me feel like you're made of lead.
I'm thirty years old and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. (Where's that guidance counsellor now? Oh yeah -- stuck in a dead-end, low-paying job giving mediocre kids bad advice.) People are supposed to hopelessly dream of being writers when they're teenagers, not when they're fathers.