The False Choice of Marriage or Entertainer
by Brad Weston
I have heard this over and over again- “You will have to choose between having a family and being an entertainer.” This is something that people just starting out in the arts are likely to hear, usually from blocked artists who’s choice was to not become an entertainer. These poor souls frequently have niggling regrets about the choice that they made. I am here to say that having to make this choice is a load of malarkey. It is what you call a false dichotomy.
A false dichotomy is a concept of logic, whereby you have to make a choice between only one thing or another. In this set up, these are the only two options. In reality there are always many choices that are possible. False dichotomies are used by people who want to win an argument or to persuade others to make the one “obvious choice” out of the two options given.
It can be pretty good technique to use when raising kids. I would ask my daughter things like, “Do you want to stay home and clean your room or put on your shoes and come with me to go shopping?” What I really wanted, of course, was for her to put her shoes on. Giving her a choice was just a ruse. You can count on people to naturally choose the lesser of two evils.
This type of trickery is appropriate for children, but it isn’t the kind of thing that should be used on adults. If you look for it, though, you will see that it gets used all the time. Everywhere. Even in the news they talk about good and evil. Or even worse, our government is split into two camps, the Democrats and the Republicans, and whichever side of the fence you are on, the other side is often completely wrong. That means that whatever the politicians want to do who are on your side must be okay. The lesser of two evils. This kind of thinking is childlike and unhelpful, although it can sometimes be entertaining.
You need to really examine your thinking about this. If you are like me, you might still find yourself pulling this false choice stunt on yourself. It is deeply ingrained in all of us, probably by our parents. The reason that you have to look out for this, and to examine yourself and your motivations completely, is pretty straightforward. Making a life in the arts isn’t an easy path to choose. It goes against the grain of what is normal. So you are not going to get as much support as someone would who is making a more conventional choice with their life. You have to be there to support yourself.
Take, for instance, a person who goes into work every day, but they hate their job, they hate their boss, and they don’t feel any kinship or passion about the industry they are in. This is often considered normal. They will have no problem finding people to complain to and commiserate with about these problems. Most people can relate to having a boorish boss. However, if you are an entertainer and you want to sit at a bar and complain that your audience didn’t understand that you were using the Macarena dance ironically, you are going to be hard pressed to find anyone at that bar that will have any idea what you are talking about.
I spell all of that out simply because there are a lot of things that we as artists are going to have to do for ourselves. The thing that we will need the most of is strength. We can not have our light dimmed, by ourselves or others. Therefore, we have to be aware of the tricks that get used against us. Which brings us back to false choices, which brings us back to marriage.
I just saw an old friend that I hadn’t seen in many years. He had an amazing wife and three beautiful and precocious children. I hadn’t seen him for over 10 years. That whole time I have been able to support myself as an entertainer. Now, mind you, there have been some lean years, but I’m still here doing what I love. During the visit this friend looks at my life and then says about his that he is happy with the choice that he made, to choose family life over being a performer. He didn’t feel that it was a sacrifice, either. He was truly happy to have this love in his life and he found a great deal of meaning in the choice that he made and the life that he has. And I truly support that decision that he made. I think that finding happiness is more important than any other goal we may have. In fact, happiness is the only true goal, the rest is simply imposed upon us by culture.
The only thing is, I have a wife, and I have an 11 year old kid. I didn’t have to choose between having a family or having a career. However, the road to get to this point for me has been a slightly rocky one, to be sure. The child that I have is from a previous marriage. My first marriage only lasted about 5 years and led to a divorce when the child was 4. This is a big fear for people that want to become working entertainers. They fear that it would ruin their marriage. It seems to me that divorce is rampant in our culture, and even the most stable of lifestyles, in which the couple has regular jobs, frequently end in divorce. In my case it was simply a problem of personality conflict, built up over years. The performances that I was doing had very little to do with the marriage not working out.
The second fear that people have is what would they do with their children if they were a performer and had to get a divorce. I ended up as a single dad with custody of my kid, supporting her with the income that I derived by doing shows. Was it tricky at times? Hell yes! But we managed. I think single parenthood is tricky on everyone. On the downside, I needed childcare at the oddest and most random times. On the upside, I had most of the week free to spend with my child and daily daycare wasn’t necessary. On the whole, I’d say it was a pretty positive experience for both of us.
There was a point where I could have said, “I can’t be an entertainer anymore, because I can’t take multiple month cruise ship jobs anymore.” But that would have been a false choice because there are many different types of venues out there. If I had quit performing, it would have been a cop out. I would have made the choice not because I needed to, but because the act of deciding what to do next had grown to tiresome or fearful to go on.
Find the other options:
So what I did was look for other ways to continue working as a performer that would keep me closer to home and give me better hours. I ended up performing a lot of school assembly and daycare shows. The money was smaller than what I was used to, but it was easy, steady work that I could do while my kid was in school. There are a lot of other types of venues that make perfect sense to a person who is raising a family.
Eventually I got remarried. Yes, a single dad who works as a juggler was able to find a partner! There are people out there who will love you no matter what you do. Do not give up hope or believe for an instant that you can only be loved if you lead a ‘normal’ life. My wife is also an entertainer, so the babysitter scheduling problems haven’t gone away. Some of the problems that we face are due to our lifestyle choices, but I think that everybody has problems in their life that need solutions.
Being an entertainer isn’t just something to decide to do to make a little bit of money, or something that might kind of be fun to try out. It is a big commitment. It is a choice that is made because of what is inside of a person that needs to be expressed. If you feel that way, then it is unlikely that not expressing it is an option. If you have an internal pressure that needs to be vented, and you believe that your partner is against this expression, it is going to lead to trouble eventually, just as sure as if you did the thing all along. Concealed resentment is like a cancer. It grows over time. If you have not yet picked a partner, then make sure that the person that you fall in love with is supportive of your artistic nature. There is someone out there perfect for you.
Remember this: in life there is always more than two choices.
Brad Weston is a writer, juggler, and choice maker from way back. For more information about him and his work check out his website at http://www.bradweston.com