Falling With Style: Bit By Bit, Putting It Together

Bay Area actor Helen Laroche talks about her struggle with multiple part-time jobs and the concept of the ‘survival gig.’

I have been unemployed or under-employed since December 2011, when I willfully left my job.

At the time, there was some question whether my little family of two would be moving out of the country. That didn’t come to pass, so once I left the corporate fold, I was without a game plan.

For a while, I did nothing. I was lucky enough to have enough savings to take a short sabbatical, so that’s what I did. Some part of me had hoped this short stint of unemployment would force me to think about the things I truly loved to do, and perhaps I’d gravitate to them during this period of ‘mental fingerpainting.’ I’d learn what I want to do, I’d do it, and that would be that.

But — and I recognize that this is probably the most selfish, lazy, directionless thing I’ve had the courage to write and attach my name to — all I really learned was that I loved doing nothing. Probably not deep-down-to-the-very-depths-of-my-soul love, but boy did I enjoy it.

Meanwhile, my husband was (understandably) getting a little annoyed with my ‘fingerpainting,’ and I was starting to feel pretty disconnected from the world of the 9-to-5ers. But I had promised myself, if I ever had a chance to enroll in the ACT Summer Training Congress (7-week, full-time summer program that’s impossible to complete with a full-time job) I’d do it. But in the meantime, I needed to find a job — one that I’d be able to leave in just a few months to do the ACT program.

I turned to Elance with the hope that I’d be able to parlay my copyediting and writing interests into some quick cash. I found that few people (on Elance, anyway) are interested in well-written articles. Most people there are looking for content for their Made For AdSense sites. Therefore, facility with English is not a strict requirement, and people who are willing to work for cheap are preferred. I did once write a 20-page report on the benefits of using a Starwood Preferred Guest credit card for a sum that was almost reasonable. But the work wasn’t exactly fulfilling.

Soon enough, it was time for my ACT program, which put any money-making at a standstill for the better part of the summer. In the latter part of the summer, I picked up a camp gig with Mad Science, a group that teaches/entertains kids through science demonstrations and interactive experiments. That turned into an ongoing gig in the fall, though even now in its full swing I’m working 7 guaranteed hours a week. It’s not enough.

So I decided to look for work as a Barista at Starbucks. The one walking distance from my house is willing to hire me for part-time or full-time work — my choice — and if I sign up for their opening shift at 4:15, I can work weekdays full time and make about $400/week there. Still not enough.

I’ve just been hired as a music director for a small, up-and-coming children’s group (a little more money there) and I’m starting to get considered for theatre work that has a larger-than-just-gas-money stipend (little more), but I’m having a hell of a time getting all my survival gigs to add up to the number in my head that I’ve landed on as a minimum successful salary.

Helen Laroche is a Bay Area musician, actor and voice teacher. You can find her online at www.helenlaroche.com.