20 YEARS OF COLLEEN: 15 YEARS AGO I RESIGNED FROM MY TEACHING JOB AND CIVIL SERVANT STATUS.
July 10, 2022 § Leave a comment
Resigning from the job I trained for – English teacher – is perhaps the most important decision I’ve made in my entire life. I’ve hesitated to write this post, as I don’t want it to come across as “Look at me, I’m so smart/brave/whatever”, nor as an incentive to quit a day job to dedicate oneself to a supposedly more “noble”/cooler career. No. But I thought I would share a few thoughts on one of my favorite topics in life, mental health, and how this relates to work.
I resigned at the age of 31, in 2007, after a 1-year sabbatical during which I went in complete overdrive: my first Japan tour, making my 3rd album Les Ondes Silencieuses (my most challenging album in terms of recording – I couldn’t have done it without the help and expertise of my then mastering engineer Emiliano Flores), recording a dance score for choreographer Perrine Valli, and of course playing live (which I did way more back then).
Theoretically the sabbatical could have been renewed for a full total of 6 years, but this renewal was refused. I appealed. It was refused again. I resigned. I felt sure that I could handle being a musician full-time, and it was clear to me that it would be criminal not to live that incredible adventure.
Fast forward to 2008 and massive chronic stress had overtaken my life, in the form of a constant influx of emails I could never get on top of, constant struggle to get accounting and get paid by my label, constant red tape hassle and fear due to France being a country not at all suited to receiving multiple types of income from multiple countries, plus way too much travelling and its associated physical stressors… Add to that the fact that my 3rd album felt like the end of a musical journey, and there I was… A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN WITH A MASSIVE CREATIVE BLOCK, ON THE VERGE OF BURNOUT.
the lycée where I taught, looking gloomy, as it did… 3 hours of public transport, 3 different means of transport, 4 days a week. As far as I remember I was the only teacher coming by bus *with the pupils* , who clearly thought “Who is this loser without a car? “
There was a 6 year gap between my 3rd and 4th albums (2007-2013), and I wrote at length about this creative block and how I slowly recovered from it in a double post on my website in 2011, “A long account of why I’ve been silent” here and here.
This was pre-social media, and I got so many emails from people who said I was articulating exactly what they felt as creative freelancers.
Social media has now opened up a space for these topics, though only to a certain extent. Certainly financial problems between artists and labels seem to remain super taboo, mostly out of fear I think, and not just the fear of rubbing specific industry people the wrong way: it’s also the fear of coming across as a whiny artist – and perhaps of even mentioning finances at all?… And no, getting legal help, even if you are willing to pay, is not easy. I guess you could liken it to being bullied at work: is it illegal to bully someone at work? It is. Does it happen? It does. Is it easy to stop? No. Usually what happens is that the bullied person goes away, not the bully. Same with unethical labels: artists move on to other labels, in the hope of greener pastures.
I won’t get into the details of the many things that happened between 2011 and now, but finally, at 46, I’ve got a handle on my chronic stress problem: I do get stressed, but only occasionally and at normal levels. This hasn’t come about miraculously, and I would say is down to 1) working with a label that values me and treats me accordingly, Thrill Jockey 2) finally getting out of the contract with the previous label 3) having a more stable administrative situation 4) being *even* more drastic about what I take on 5) going to therapy.
Interestingly, I see that a lot of these factors could only come through time: I actually had to GET OLDER for a lot of this stuff to happen. Which is a good way to end this post, right? It CAN get better
Official reply to my resignation letter, asking me to confirm my decision in a super-patronizing and paternalistic tone… just in case I’m super dumb and accidentally resigned, y’know…