Thankful for the hustle
2020, the year of extremely creative thinking
I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this year has felt like being microwaved in hell while listening to the bee gees on repeat with bad news being filtered in every six minutes by Janice from Friends. At the start of the year I was at the top of my game as a performer, ringing in the new year to uproarious laughter and singing, falling asleep with a crappy plastic crown on and feeling the most thankful I have ever felt in my entire life, so full of love and gratitude that it physically hurt.
Last month I had half a can of beans for dinner.
The pandemic has taken my career, and because the government loves a bit of red tape, I’ve fallen through every single crack of financial help. My Nan died from the virus, my dog died, I have people I love in hospital and I had to move out of the room I rented because my landlord lost his job and needed to flip the house. Thankfully my mum is my best friend, and I moved into her lounge, calling the sofa bed home for the next who-knows-when. Now, there's times in life where you sit in the dark with your knees up to your chest with half a glass of cheap corner shop wine at your mothers and think,
“Okay, I’m single, I have nowhere to live, I have no job, and I am 30”.
I remember at that precise moment not being able to stop myself from half laughing half crying not really sure whether to feel grateful that I had a place to shower or angry because everything I had made was gone. The career I had fought for was taken, pissing irretrievably in the wind, while the literal plague goes on around me.
I could get all soppy here and say that I’m so grateful I have my health and my family, and that I’m not going through the lockdown with someone I hate. But the truth is, that when a person feels like this, there are no warm and grateful thoughts, there are no “at leasts”. The only saving grace in that moment, was that at my age my mum had a tiny me to consider, and I do not.
As wonderful as it is that I had somewhere to stay (and my mum was an absolute saint to have me for as long as she did, a month and a half of me is enough for anyone) I was constantly looking for work, not even Aldi wanted me, the situation was beginning to feel hopeless and my mind started to infect itself with thoughts of me living with my mum at 50, never being able to get out of the slump I was in, and that it was my fault for not being more prepared.
I've always been fiercely independent, and although no, I don't run my life methodically or terribly organised, and I do have somewhat of a renegade approach to making money, I don't do well in stark reality, I prefer to live my life in a pseudo fantasy word just real enough to keep me rooted in essential responsibilities. I had been told all my life to “get a real job” even though my job in the arts had me living comfortably, and now that I really needed one, it seemed that no council job, supermarket, or sales job would take me, much less a job even remotely related to my job (even tenuous links are out the window in a plague I realise this).
And then at the 11th hour when I had conceded to a life where nothing was my own ever again, I got a message from a friend to video call about a job opportunity.
I finished the call teary and so grateful I could have stripped naked (with a mask on obviously) and run down the road screaming, I was going to be writing for a local LGBTQ magazine, dealing with fundraising and advertising, but most of all, it was good pay, and I could do it well.
Mum and I shared another bottle of corner shop piss to celebrate and I felt my absolute favourite feeling of making her proud. I got house hunting and found a beautiful apartment that I could rent on my own and work from, perfect in every way from its wonky bathroom to its balcony that looked over the courtyard of a little coffee shop. I moved in the day before my birthday, with a shit ton of donated furniture from my incredible community, that I gloss painted black in the non TV hooked up, Chinese food half eaten place that I now called home, and I count that as one of the best days of my entire life.
For a while it worked well but I had some suspicions. Namely, it was too good to be true, and as much as I hate living in reality, there were contracts unsigned for the job, everything was just a little too vague, and I had just a little too much free range and other jobs to do that weren't on the original agenda. Eventually my hours started getting cut back which didn't matter so much as my career as a singer had started to poke its head out from the dirt as lockdown lifted, and I was making enough to live, it didn't so much matter, and I was so happy that I didn't even notice the warning lights flashing behind me.
The second lockdown hit in the UK, thankfully I was prepared with my work from home job that would pay my rent except….wages day came. And left. I'm not someone who pushes for money so I gave it a few days, I had heard there had been some health problems on the other end so I waited. And worked, and did what I was supposed to do until everything had been exhausted and I had no marching orders. I still had no pay, rent day was getting closer and closer, and I had no food in the fridge, certain that I’d be doing the big shop at the end of the week because I'd be getting paid right? I had a normal job, that's what everyone had told me to do, that's what everyone had told me would secure my future, I was doing it, so why wasn't I secure?
I heard nothing for the next two weeks. I spent most of it frantic, begging with landlords to understand, calling off direct debits and rationing food and in the same exact position I was in at my mums, except the wine was gin.
It became very clear that there would be no money that I had expected, there would be no rescuing. So I sat, and I thought very hard. No crying this time, I had fought so hard to get my place, I was not about to let other people's mistakes take my home from me.
Years ago I was a stripper as you may have read. Sex work has always been a part of me, and it really has been the difference between eating and not eating for me quite a few times so it because very clear to me that it was time to crowbar out the old hustle that I had before I came out, if I could even still do it?
I got in touch with an old friend who set me up with a webcam, lighting and some information about what in the hell to do. So I got on my best lingerie, I turned the camera on for the first time in eight years, and I worked solidly for two days to make my rent, which was possibly the only time in my life I have given money so happily to a company and wanted to tell them that I made it with my vagina. I know there's a controversy that still exists around making money through sex work, and I have no idea why. It saved me in my darkest hour when the only person I could rely on was myself, when no one messaged back, no money was in my account to feed me, and I only had the internet and a space to be to make ends meet.
What am I grateful for? I am grateful for my absolute pig headed will to survive, and the human spirit to simply keep going. I'm grateful for my hustle and the people that cheered me on without judging me. I’m grateful that there was one tiny last light at the end of the tunnel to put bread in my cupboard.
In a complete nightmare of a year like 2020, I failed to see that sometimes the most amazing things are the things that happen when everything else fails you. When there's no more will left in you to fight but you manage to get angry enough to get more creative than you've ever been. I’m still eating beans for dinner for a little while until things get better, but I have a roof over my head. That I paid for, with nudity and hustle.