Losing the Loser

For most of my adult life, I have felt like a loser. Not a loser in love; in love I’ve been particularly fortunate. Not as a mom, either, despite some drama in that department.

Where I felt like a total loser, always, always, until a few days ago, was in my teaching career. It’s not the students; they give me glowing evaluations and say nice things right to my face. (Usually.) It’s not the job; I like what I do. (Most of the time.) It’s the paycheck.

Like a lot of artist types, my focus is not on the working world where I earn my paycheck. I’m more often obsessed with what’s being created in my head. Therefore, I am a loser when it comes to making money. Or so I always believed.

Much to my relief, this turns out not to be true.

What is true is that I have never lived up to my earning potential. This has been part deliberate, part subconscious. Even though it’s easier at cocktail parties to say you’re a working teacher rather than an unpublished novelist, I never really saw myself as a teacher. I saw myself as a writer who sometimes taught. As little as possible.

In other words, I am not only a loser, but also a Princess Artist.

I had this belief that to be true to my art, I had to accept the loser aspect of making sporadic, small money at my paid profession. I never found full time work, but existed on the fringes of academia. Not that I tried very hard to get onto the tenure track. In 20 years of teaching, I filled out exactly one full time job application.

I didn’t get the job and I know why. My heart wasn’t in it. It was busy writing the next novel.

And yet, I come from a generation of women, the first ever generation of women, to be empowered with (almost) equal pay and job opportunities. It’s a tough cultural place to be in for a writer, for any artist. A big part of me wanted to surge ahead with the sisterhood. That’s the part that felt like a loser when I opted out.

But the split a contemporary female artist-type feels between money and creative work does not have to make me, or anyone else, feel like a loser. Despite what my Princess Artist wants me to believe, being a loser in the straight world is not the automatic price I have to pay for being a writer.

I almost fell for her story when I found out that after many years of plugging away part time at a worthy profession, I was within easy reach of a decent pension. I almost let it go because my Princess Artist decided that she only wanted to teach one or two classes a year at the college. But then my Realistic Writer tapped me on the shoulder and said “just do it.”

The tough economic times we are facing right now, and the fact that my husband would like to retire in a few years, has made me realize that teaching a little more for a few more years will help us retire with peace of mind. I am a strong earner after all, and I can ease the financial burden my husband has carried without complaint all these years. It’s within my power.

When I realized that, really felt it soul deep, I also realized that I don’t feel like a loser anymore. And my Princess Artist will just have to deal with it.