It’s Labor Day, But School’s Out: This is What I Do Now

So as I’m writing this, it’s Sunday night on September 1st, 2019. I’m sitting in my “home office” (the desk in my Philadelphia apartment’s bedroom), looking at my computer, and starting a new post on my blog (“yeah, no shit, Peter”). Let me paint you a little picture: My ceiling fan is spinning too fast for its own good, even though there are no other speed settings. I have the soundtrack from Waitress: The Musical playing on Spotify in the background and I have a sudden craving for a deep-dish blueberry bacon pie. I might listen to an episode of Good Christian Fun in a bit. I probably won’t see or talk to anyone else for the rest of the night (unless Twitter counts), I work on my writing whenever I need to. It’s a normal night in Peterfentonland. None of this is particularly new to me — it’s been about two months since I left Walnut Street Theatre and it was a situation in which I left work at 11pm on Sunday night and I was due in at my cater-waiter survival job position to start orientation at 8am Monday morning. I’ve been putting writing at the forefront of my career from the moment I started my cater-waiter orientation on July 8th.

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So things are humming along for me and they’ve been humming along for a couple months, but here’s the thing — it feels sort of odd. Really odd. I’ve been wracking my brain the past week or so trying to figure out why it feels so strange, and I think I’ve figured it out: the pattern my life is taking right now, in the year of our Lord 2019, is fundamentally different any other year in my life (that I remember) (since my earliest memories that don’t really count in the grand scheme of things, anyway). My life is not beholden to the school year right now - it’s back to school time, but for the first time, I don’t have a new school year to start.

I never really took to the school part of school. Must be why I was so happy to leave Wheaton in 2017

“But Peter,” you might be thinking, “you haven’t been to school in at least two years.” And that’s true — I graduated from Wheaton College as part of the class of 2017. I’ve not formally been in school, but the past two years have followed a school year structure: I worked as an international student advisor at Lancaster Mennonite School from end of August 2017-2018 and in June 2018, moved out for three months of unemployment (the window during which I wrote the first draft of See Amid the Winter Snow) before starting my year at Walnut Street Theatre at the end of August 2018. As you may recall, I turned 24 literally a week ago. I strongly associate my birthday with the hard reset that comes with starting a new school year, literally — my August 26th birthday has been the first day of school at least 4 times in the 17 school years I’ve been part of. But for the first time since probably the 90s (when I was sub-5 years old), my birthday has not been an instigator of an adventure I knew how long it was going to last (somewhere between 9 and 11 months).

But why does that sit weirdly to me? I think it might have to do with the fact that this new life that I’ve carved out for myself — cater-waitering to pay the bills, writing about 40+ sometimes-paid hours a week —is indefinite. I don’t have a clear fixed end date of when I will start something new. My year at Walnut was completed much later than any school year of my life had ever ended, but its end functionally felt like the start of a summer vacation with a new routine thrown in until the new school year starts, which is normally marked by my birthday.

Uh, but — my birthday came and went and nothing’s changed. In fact, the next big event of my life and career, the world premiere of SEE AMID THE WINTER SNOW, is coming in a couple weeks and in this start-of-school-year time, we’re ramping right up to the big week. It’s pretty jarring to experience no direct tie to that cycle of a year dictated by the school calendar.

So this freelance writing and waiting tables thing isn’t just something I’m doing until I go back to my real thing — this is my real thing now. It’s a little terrifying, but I have to normalize it by reminding myself almost every day: I’m a writer, the thing I do is write. Writing started off as something fun I did to let my imagination run wild and put off doing school work (or fill time when I had no school work), but I really can’t let any part of me think of it like that anymore. I stuck with writing to the point where I don’t have sustained interest in any other career path. Or rather, I feel I’d be selling myself short if I did anything other than write. So I’m choosing to take the leap of faith every day, saying “well, this isn’t paying today — but I believe it will pay someday”. Even if it’s not for that particular output (such as this blog here on that has yet to generate a cent of income for me), getting more words out on the page and getting more content out there makes me a better writer with a more solid case to present when someone asks why they should hire me — and having content out there to point to will get more people discovering me in the first place.

I’ll be putting out more blog posts, more devotionals, more words, more plays and screenplays — hell, more tweets. My very ability to progress in this new adventure depends on the ability to put my money where my mouth is — if I say I’m a good writer who is worth reading and my output is worth hiring or purchasing, it’s got to get out there. I don’t aspire to cater-waiter for the rest of my life, but if I have to in order to make ends meet until I “make it” as a writer (that is, making an income that covers rent, food, savings, and fun by writing and doing nothing else), you bet I’ll cater-waiter as long as I damn well need to.

Honestly, thank God we have the internet. I imagine working as a freelance writer was even more difficult than it is before it.

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