The Chronicles of ‘Peaking’ II: Grinding Down

“Oh, man. That smells like dead manatee,” I said when stepping outside and pulling the mask away from my face to breathe in “fresh air” during my break.

My coworker cocks her head to the side. “How do you know what a dead manatee smells like?”

Shrugging, I reply, “I used to live in Florida.”

It was our second night back, and the ocean breeze was blowing the scent of a very heavy red tide inland all the way to us.

Coming back from isolation was difficult. Not simply because we had to get used to working again or that our new ways of working now included social distancing and masks. But also because stepping away and spending time with our families or engaged in personal passions had us seeing our status quo in a new light.

 

I was asked earlier this year how long I’ve worked in retail, and as the answer slipped through my lips, a wave of sadness washed over me.

“Twenty years.”

Like a lot of people struggling to survive, I started working as a teen. Aside from a brief couple of months searching for gainful employment after college when I made a few short films, a stint on unemployment when I released my second album, and a two-month medical leave after my back surgery when I wrote my first novel, I’ve been working nonstop.

Wait. Wait. Hold up. How can I say I wasn’t working during those times when I literally told you what I was working on? That’s pretty simple. I wasn’t profiting off these things. I always end up spending way more money than I ever see back.

When I am working, I don’t take sick time unless I absolutely have to (or when I’m cast in a “Weird Al” photoshoot for The New York Times Magazine). My company just paid out my PTO twice, because I hardly take a vacation. I’ve scrambled out of the trailer park and into the middle class by being a workaholic, trying to constantly prove my value to my employers, and being paranoid about homelessness. And even as I pour my heart and soul into my job, I never stop chasing my dreams.

While most of my grandest accomplishments were finished during breaks from a day job, I’ve done a lot while working a — I was going to say nine to five, but like I said, I’m in retail. There is no standard schedule for those of us in the service industry. We work all kinds of hours and don’t get set days off, and to be honest, that makes it even more difficult.

Anyway. . . While I was a full-time student, working a part-time job, and acting in a college production of ‘Hamlet,” I wrote, starred in, and produced my first feature-length film. I made my second, a documentary, as a GameStop manager. There were two other albums from Chalkskin, both made while working in retail management, and my next book, the upcoming “Buster Beta Catches a Virus,” was also written on my “free time.”

Even so, getting started is easy enough, but stringing together the necessary time, energy, and creative resources before and after work for days on end is murder.

It’s depressing.

 

I took a long vacation once. That once in a lifted time trip was a year and a half ago, and while on it, I had a revelation. In a nightmare, I was back at work and back in my regular state of depression. I remember thinking, “Wait. I don’t have to be depressed. I wasn’t depressed the whole time I was gone.” It was as though I had been used to living in the fog and never seeing anything around me, and then I was outside of the haze and noticing there was a world beyond it.

I had this same dream while I was on furlough and working on “Peaking.”

 

Since returning to work, people have asked me if I’m okay. They say they see something in my eyes that worries them. I pass it off by saying I’m merely tired, but it’s not true. If I am honest — yes, I know this is dramatic, but it’s truthful — I’d tell them I feel like I’m dying.

Look, I know I’m privileged to have a job. I’m privileged to have been recognized for the work I’ve put in, and I’m privileged to be employed where I am. I know all of this, but it’s always felt like I’m living someone else‘s dream.

I’ve known who I am and what I was born to do since I picked up a pencil and wrote my first story at seven years old. I’ve been doing it ever since, and I know to my core, it’s all I was put here to do.

That feeling has informed the character of Elijah in “Peaking,” and I can’t wait for him to come to life.

 

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