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Quitting Jobs, Part 2

Saturday, March 17th, 2012: Jobs, Stories.

(Deep in the bowels of the oldest commercial nuclear plant in the U.S.)

Four months after returning to my first engineering job, I ran into a guy on the subway who offered me a better job, so I quit the first one yet again. The new job involved earthquake safety studies at nuclear power plants, and that’s a whole ‘nother story! My first assignment was to explore the basement of the oldest commercial nuke plant in the U.S., and after discovering some kind of vapor leak and triggering alarms, I refused to go back in the plant. My boss relented and I worked for him for two more years, saving up enough money to buy equipment for a home recording studio and take a full year off. So I quit again and temporarily moved to Los Angeles to live with my new girlfriend and write a bunch of new songs. That was another big leap forward in my creative work.

Again, when I went broke, my former boss – who viewed his company as a family – received me as a prodigal son, and even allowed me to take on a new, non-engineering clerical role with less responsibility and scaled-back hours, so I had more time for band rehearsals and recording sessions, and I could arrive at work late the morning after a gig the night before. What a life! My engineering colleagues were envious and fantasized about me onstage biting the heads off chickens, like Alice Cooper. Their lives were so conventional in comparison, most of them didn’t have a clue about what I was doing.

Although a job normally saps your creative energy, this sweet deal supported one of the most productive periods in my life as an artist. Plus, I had the use of office computers and copy machines for self-publishing and postering. This time, I stayed on for six years, during which time I made hundreds of new works of art, played hundreds of gigs, recorded an album, produced multimedia shows and conferences, and published a book. However, I was burning the candle at both ends and it was not the healthiest lifestyle.

I also evolved, outgrowing the band and falling in love with the desert. Finally, I quit the job again to move to the wilderness. The company held a big going-away party for me, and they all brought appropriate desert-inspired gifts. For a serial quitter, I sure have been blessed!

After a year in the desert, I was broke again. My former job was no longer available; the company was in decline and my old career was basically obsolete. This time, I struggled for six months, working part-time as a carpenter with a musician friend. Then I miraculously landed a full-time job with a multimedia startup. I discovered that there was a whole new industry that required new skills that were not being taught anywhere. To get a job in the new industry, you only needed to show that your background somehow prepared you to do these new things.

It wasn’t easy. The first multimedia job was a false start and gave me my first lesson in getting fired. The startup was a hothouse environment, with rapid changes in management, people getting hired and fired on a monthly basis, an excess of ambition, insecurity, and backstabbing. After six months, a new boss fired me so she could install her friend in my position.

I had saved up another six months’ worth and started a new band, but I didn’t really have a footing in the new industry, so when I ran out of money, I was really in trouble. A few days of carpentry per month wouldn’t keep me alive. I managed to get on unemployment, which carried me through the rest of the year as I evolved creatively with my new band. Then I outgrew that band, ran out of money and started living off my credit card. A friend might have multimedia work for me in Los Angeles, so I moved there. That work didn’t materialize, but I joined an elite new media salon, taught myself digital animation and made some interactive art, and through other friends, got a contract to design a CD-ROM for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which significantly reduced my credit card debt. The new media salon, run by Art Center’s Peter Lunenfeld, got me back in touch with the art world: Bob Flanagan’s supermasochistic performance art; Chris Kraus’s wacky and wonderful Chance Conference at a Nevada casino, with legendary academic Jean Beaudrillard rapping in front of a live band, DJ Spooky from London, and a Paiute visionary leading a sunrise hike into the desert.

Suddenly the Web was the hot new thing, and it was happening in San Francisco, so I returned there. I had no experience, but neither did anyone else, and there were new companies opening every day, hiring people with no experience. I was still deep in debt and really discouraged, but a friend talked me into cold-calling the new companies and bullshitting my way in. To my surprise, it worked! The top internet design agencies in the world actually took me seriously. A creative director at Studio Archetype asked me if she could copy my white paper on new media to show her boss, Clement Mok, the guru of new media design. My “career” was starting to feel like an epic graphic novel…

  1. Christina Cameron says:

    I am looking forward to the next installment.

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