I spent some time this afternoon trolling craigslist. I have a summer job and something lined up for the next academic year, but I’m always on the lookout for short-term projects that could give our bank account a little more cushion. Perhaps I would find one or two freelance writing or editing opportunities lurking amid the persnickety ads for personal assistants or unpaid “opportunities” in church nurseries.
For the most part, I search only the “jobs” section of craigslist, but today I decided to venture into “gigs,” a category with both a casual hipster feel and a degree of under-the-table shadiness. After finding only opportunities to write free content for disorganized online projects in the “writing gigs” category, I headed to “creative gigs.” I’m creative, right? And I found this:
“Want to make money, creative things, and people smile? Consider balloon twisting in restaurants.”
Yeah, take a moment and let that sink in. The first sentence is a doozy. And then there’s that precipitous leap from “creative things” to “balloon twisting.”
But do you know what happens when you’re an underemployed, newly minted English PhD? You consider the balloon twisting job. I do want to make people smile, I realized. This organization, according the their ad, offers free training, and maybe I’ve always wanted to master the art of modelling a balloon into a dog, giraffe, or ridiculous hat. For a brief moment, I imagined myself standing before the table of a nice family sharing dinner at a family-style Italian restaurant, my apron filled with clammy, uninflated balloons and my mind racing, formulating the perfect balloon creation for a six-year-old with spaghetti on his face.
This seems ridiculous. But lately, I’ve been looking at temporary employment as an opportunity to try something completely different and unrelated to my larger career. Hopefully I will spend many years reading Jane Eyre or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with rooms full of undergraduates. But when else will I be able to twist balloon animals? And maybe I can use my party favor skills in future interviews. Particularly dour committee member? No problem! Have a whimsical purple hippopotamus.
The balloon twisting might be an extreme example. Really, I’ve been thinking about finding a job that would offer refreshing but short-term respite from academia for a while. For example, before I secured a position teaching little kids how to love to read for the summer, I applied to be a check-in receptionist at a homeless shelter. A lot of my friends laughed at this — or gave me a pitying look that read “wow, you really are out of options” — but I honestly thought it might be a great job. I like the nonprofit sector, and after years in graduate school the prospect of a position, no matter how menial, in which I was making an observable difference in the “real world” filled me with a heady feeling of accomplishment.
I’m still considering the balloon twisting job. It would be less of a risk if I had a partner in crime. Anyone interested?