How to be a part-time model

031“You’re so beautiful, you could be a part-time model.”

It was a classic line from an odd-ball source, the New Zealand musical-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords. It’s funny because it’s a compliment and a dig rolled into one. But it’s sad, too, like funny-true things often are, because it implies part-time models – or part-time any persons – are second-rate versions of their full-time peers.

I don’t remember setting out to work part-time when I graduated from college but by virtue of my woman-ness it was held out to me as a viable option. I was about to be married, too, to a man who had been working steadily for two years and was guaranteed a well-paying job for two more after we married. “Does this mean graduate school is off the table?” a rather judge-y professor asked when he learned of my upcoming marriage. I replied, “I don’t know why it would. The way I see it, I have even more freedom to find what I love.”

I didn’t know what I loved, exactly, only that I loved so many things, like writing  and travel planning and dog walking and closet organizing. This is who was birthed out of the canal of a liberal arts education – a woman who couldn’t choose only one, who saw the electricity of connection between each, and who at twenty-two believed she was perfectly capable of trying them all.

An early marriage (and second income) had given me security in one realm of my life only to be widened to the impossible number of possibilities in another. But so too had the privilege of a debt-free education. I had always been a bit mum about my good fortune, secretly proud to not only be free of debt myself but also to pay off what remained of my new husband’s. It gave me permission to have a meltdown at my first full-time job as a magazine account executive and find a 25-hr a week job as an assistant at my alma mater. It gave me freedom to set my own schedule and take Fridays off so I could share the same “weekend” as my youth pastor husband. It gave me security when we finally decided to move across the country and began tallying how many months we could live off our savings while I worked as a minimum-wage publishing intern.

It feels important to say this out loud, especially as I’ve begun giving advice to a handful of young female writers about how to make their way in this vocation.  It’s a strange thing to have to tell them, “Look, it’s because I am married, and almost certainly because I am white and educated and able-bodied, that I am able to thrive on this project-based life of mine where things come piecemeal and I’m at the whim of my gut and good sense.” But I think this honesty does something to free the roving “How does she do it?” thought cycle that so many of us let play in our mind without ever asking, “How do you pay for childcare?” or “Save up for that down payment?” or “Find time to write that book?” It matters how we do it, the individual choices we make and the systems we’re caught up in through no merit of our own.

In Do It Anyway, journalist Courtney E. Martin profiles Tyrone Boucher, a transgender activist who co-founded the blog EnoughEnough.org about young people with large inheritances who are discerning how to redistribute their wealth. He recognizes that even the decision to live simply is a privileged one, where “living on a really small budget [is] an exciting project rather than a stressful necessity.”

It is no small luxury to believe in work/life balance and work for personal/professional renewal and write blog posts without pay or interruption. Sometimes the judge-y voice comes to me in this place, too, when I wonder if Solomon’s mother is speaking directly to me when she asks in the book of Proverbs, “How long, lazy person will you lie down?”

Um, nine hours, at least, ma’am?

A graduate professor once told me that one of the most powerful forms of economic justice is to employ someone. Not hand them money or fund a system but give them the joy of work. I’m thinking of ways to do that now – in book publishing and home gardening and website designing – that is, make someone else’s part-time model dreams come true, too.

When people on the street ask what I do for a living now, I usually say something like, “I work part-time for a Seattle-based nonprofit, and I write.” I can’t always tell if my answer is met with pity (she must want more, poor thing, but the economy and all) or envy (isn’t that peachy, smug thing, with your pedantic dreams.)  But I have the unmerited pleasure of doing what I love, and doing it with people that I love. For this, I feel like I’m definitely in the top three luckiest girls on the street.

Depending on the street.

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2 responses to “How to be a part-time model

  1. Nice Conchords reference at the end too, Erin. I see what you did there.

  2. I’d buy you a kebab.

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