As all the coronavirus dust began swirling, I joked to a friend or three about what could happen during our self-imposed isolations.


“Hey, maybe I’ll finally learn to play guitar!” I cracked.


Ha.


Ha ha ... hrm.


Couple weeks in, and can’t say I’ve been terribly productive or experimental, in part because I’m still at work, every day, some days especially long hours. We’re considered essential business; says so on my car placard.


And that’s nothing to sniff at -- even weak puns are always intended -- as other pals whose jobs depend on human touch are not so lucky. One dear friend lost three gigs withing 48 hours: a paid acting role, her semi-regular restaurant service, and a longstanding improv-comedy job on a tour bus. None of those shutdowns were her fault; all of her employers sought her out. And will again, some day. Happily, she has savings, but not all artists are so fortunate, or frugal.


Honestly, folks, people really do make a living, or a significant portion of it, from creative work, things they’ve worked toward and on all their lives. And unlike many of us who glide and coast once we’ve achieved employable competence, they will continue to strive toward until their last gasp. They not only make a living, they make a life.


Me, I never had the courage to really try. I was taught, from childhood “Have something to fall back on.” Be a writer, if you want, but have something to fall back on. Teach. Work in an office. Play music, sure, but slip that day-job mattress in place. Hey, try acting, that sounds cool, especially when people seek you out and even want to pay you for it, despite the fact that you’re not movie-star handsome or otherwise bizarrely interesting. But strap on an auto-parachute.


And so, well into life, I’m falling back in job-shielded comfort -- for now, anyway, because who can see? -- while others who strode confidently, or heck, maybe even tentatively, but certainly, out to the edge of the board, bounced once, twice, thrice, and then maybe moved back home for a while, but by the power of Elvis eventually dove, jumped right into the thundering uncertainty, the wild but occasionally riveting joys, the 24-7 366 anxiety of life as an artist. Full-time benefits? Raving imposter syndrome.


Meanwhile, even though I’m lucky enough to still get out occasionally to play and act and direct and whatnot and what-for for folks, sometimes for money, most times because it’s a kind of fulfillment or thrill, I stand on high dudgeon, feeling personally attacked by The Onion articles such as “Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.”


Yikes: “All that matters is that once you know what you want to do, you dive in a full 10 percent and spend the other 90 torturing yourself because you know damn well that it’s far too late to make a drastic career change, and that you’re stuck on this mind-numbing path for the rest of your life.”


Comfort comes knowing that my job -- most of these long years, at least until staff shrank so far that we’re all pulling multiple duties -- has been largely about telling the tales of those who commit to their passions. Even those who still benefit from the comfort mattress of another unrelated job seem noble to me, dedicated to making something come alive, something the world needs, whether it knows it or not.


As more than one meme points out, note what you’re doing with the time given by this crisis: Reading books, watching movies, listening to music, going online for shows, visiting virtual museums.


There are Venmos, PayPals and other virtual tip jars out there, hoping you’ll notice. Just as we should try to patronize local restaurants -- to-go, of course -- that are suffering, and tip their servers, please remember the wacky, wonderful folks behind the things you love.


Help them fall back.


Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at mark.cobb@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0201.