This Gun for Hire: Thoughts on Becoming Less Young, Being a Girl, and Being Unemployed (Not Necessarily in That Order)

While I was still in Turkey, one of my students asked me in one breath what I do and why I was there. Even as a double, it’s a normal question, but I had been answering it all day, and rather boringly, I might add. So, to this genuinely interested younger person, I replied that I always tried to do interesting things. Sometimes I even succeed. I listed my most recent “jobs” which include a stint in Afghanistan as a cultural researcher and several years as an administrator/professor in a university leadership institute. There were nods and a collective vaaaay. That’s Turkish for wwwoww. I was confused. Up until that point, I have been relatively unimpressed with my interesting, but inconsistent and less than lucrative career history. It certainly doesn’t help me when I apply for other positions (No matter how many times the average person changes jobs. Who wants to be average?)

Before I could say anything (not that I had anything good to say here), another student said, “So, you’re sort of a freelance, yes?” Nods all around. Well, I said, feeling terra firma under me again, “Yes. That’s exactly what I am. A freelance. This gun for hire!” Only a few of them were fans of Westerns, so I had to explain the reference, and we moved on to discuss American movies.

Since that moment I have taken that student’s assessment to heart. Another friend here in the US put it more succinctly when she stated that she had great faith that I would find something “good” soon. “I mean you seem pretty motivated and dedicated to your career and such.” Later in that same conversation she also said that she thinks I am a genius. As is often the case, the truth in both of these instances is somewhere in the middle. I hate to be bored, and I’m no dummy.

There are just so many interesting possibilities (and realities) out there, but sadly, it just isn’t the thing to be seen  gadding about trying them all- even if you end up being good at some of them. I love the word dilettante and use it often when I can’t get the sarcasm font to work. Yet, contrary to standard definitions (look it up!), my dedication to the things that interest me is far from superficial. I even excel at a few things. So, I have decided to be a Freelance Renaissance Person! This talent for hire!

Being a freelance and living in genteel poverty may sound fun and even cool when you are in your late twenties or even early thirties. However, by the time you reach ____ (more than a few birthdays before my most recent one), I can assure you that there is no charm left to that life. My few readers will know that horses and other animals do not care if you are eating soup from a can for the third night in a row. Horses want food, and they want and need it at regular intervals. As for shoes… one of my horses used to require the equivalent of a high-end pair of Nikes every 5 weeks.

In order to really completely embrace the idea of being a freelance, I also had to do some thinking about more superficial things. Like wrinkles. So many of my friends use Botox that it is no longer novel to me when someone else’s frown lines miraculously disappear (I know, First World problems). Because you know what? Secretly, and now semi-publicly, I am jealous. If I had a few hundred spare dollars every six weeks or so, I would have already worn a path to my doctor’s office and erased the visible evidence that I am less young (on the outside anyway).

Instead, I decry the double standard that gives wrinkles to women and character marks to men. And I still would use Botox if I could afford it. I adore being a girl. No sarcasm font there. I just hate some of the expectations. I also hate that I have some pretty serious frown lines. It’s bad enough being unemployed, ahem, being between gigs, but being expected to have flawless skin at ___ (my age) is just too much. Botox seems such an easy fix to a major insecurity of mine. Or is it?

While I was abroad I  met many men and women who, I assumed, were close to my age. I was mistaken. Often I was off by eight to ten years. These people were younger than I am, but life had been much, much harder on them. I have noticed this in many countries, actually. In most places, the ideals of female beauty, and to a lesser extent, male handsomeness,  are artificially inflated (or deflated depending on body part), but fewer people seem able to gain access to the means of “improvement.”  Folks who “look good” and are over the age of about 35 are pretty rare.

No pictures here. I leave this standard to your own subjective standards.

So, what’s a girl to do? By the way, speaking of double standards, I do come close to violence when people of the male persuasion call me a girl. Anyway… where were we? Oh yes. A person who is less young and more experienced (and more expensive) than lots of folks in a variety of fields, and, ahem, between gigs. Again. The answer sounds easy: get a job. How many of you are job hunting right now? The IRS does not care how talented I am. The unemployment folks assume that in 26 weeks one can find a job, or at least that’s the conclusion that I draw from the time limit they put on your payments. I don’t think that they make Botox strong enough to fully erase the signs of worry induced by the combination of boredom and worry that I am experiencing right now.