Two years on
Two years ago today I bid farewell to my editorial colleagues in London. It was the end of a salaried existence and the beginning of a job-free adventure.
What did I do first? Celebrate! I invited my mom to visit. And she cooked for two days for my private outdoor concert: Spanish Summer Soiree, an idea inspired by a trip to Granada, Seville, and Cordoba earlier that year.
After diligently contributing a tenth of my salary to National Insurance for years, I couldn't wait to claim some of it back. I "signed on." This meant that I had to go to the Job Centre once every two weeks to meet with an officer and declare that I was still unemployed and still actively looking for a job. The declaration required me to "sign" my name or "sign on" to get the £53 per week benefit. Clearly £53 was not enough to pay council tax, utilities, and other living expenses. I was entitled to this unemployment benefit for maximum of six months.
I received a call out of the blue one day from the editor of a competing magazine (to the publications I had worked on.) He asked if I could write an article about energy trading. Sure! That was what I used to do. So I became a freelance writer.
Somebody heard me play the piano at a party and asked me to teach her six year old daughter. I was reluctant at first. After all, I didn't start learning to play the piano until I was eight. Soon I began to compose pieces for this little girl, who had learned how to sightread from me.
One day while having afternoon tea at Claridges, the five star hotel of Gordon Ramsay fame near Bond Street, I became distracted by the viola-piano duo. They were so loud and so good that I couldn't focus on my conversation. It occurred to me then that I could play piano at hotels and get paid to do what I loved to do.
I called all the hotels at the airport closest to where I lived. First I asked if they had a grand piano. If yes, I asked if they had a pianist who played there regularly. If no, I asked to speak to the person responsible for the piano. I auditioned at the Renaissance Hotel and the Hilton. Thus began my stint as a four-day a week resident hotel pianist.
The Iraqi situation in February forced the hotel to shift their entertainment budget to their security budget. I was crushed. I had gotten used to free drinks and free gourmet dinners. Besides, I enjoyed playing different pieces every night to stranded travellers from all over the world. It took me awhile to get over this "rejection."
Magically about two days later, I received an e-mail from the department head at the local university. They needed a part-time lecturer for their core probability and statistics course the following week. I called and said I was away that weekend but could get back half-an-hour before the class started next week. I got the job. I taught from the gut.
Meanwhile I got to know more and more artists, musicians, writers, and other self-employed people. They had their own opinions, and they talked about their own creations. What a far cry from the salaried world of following other people's agendas! I got involved in the community through setting up a neighbourhood watch, organising concerts, and giving writing and business advice. Before long I was setting my own agenda and using my head to follow my heart.
There's more I can write about my two year transition. Why don't I just summarise it in the next issue of the Le Bon Journal ezine, which will be about second passions, personal philosophies, and career changes?
28 June 2004 Monday