Goodbye Wagon, Hello Pavement

So it appears I've fallen off the wagon again in terms of that resolution that was to "write more consistently and frequently on this blog." As usual (it seems), there was a period of great upheaval that kept me running around like a loon and completely unmotivated to write anything and certainly not document any of it. (Some days I imagine some person in the future scrutinizing my x-rays, or brain scans, or rings in my fingernails and saying, "hmm, yes…see the space between those two lines? That was a time of great upheaval." Sort of the way we look at tree rings and pinpoint rainy seasons and harsh winters.)

So things happened. Things that were nerve-wracking. Like quitting my job, and then quitting my other job. And being terrified that this time I'd actually set myself up to fail in a huge way--more so than any of those times I'd simply calculated my moves as risks. Sidebar: A friend in grad school told me once, "Every time you start a project, I feel like you're this baby bird teetering on the edge of the next, and it looks like you're headed for disaster for a minute. And then you pull it off, and it's amazing." Or something to that effect. I didn't quite know how to take that at the time--she was talking about book projects--not life in general, right? Over the last couple of years, I've seen that pattern again and again--not in book projects. I've never been afraid to take risks--that seems like something you have to do on this planet if you want to make anything happen for yourself that isn't remotely easy. But the teetering on the edge, staring down at certain disaster and leaping anyway--it made me wonder if it was just a matter of time until the wings didn't work and I met the pavement.

Fast forward to the end of July. After months of agonizing about the state my life was in (mainly how I never had the time or energy to be creative, and what kind of life is that for an artist?) I'd quit my job and prepared to move back to North Carolina. My plan was to work at my other part time job, save some money, and move in September.  

truffles--fun to eat, not so much fun to make 
Did I mention that this other job was at a chocolate factory? There were only a couple of days that were anything remotely similar to the "I Love Lucy" episode that you're thinking of right now. Every other day consisted of backaches, headaches, throbbing feet, and general ennui. I was a total weenie compared to the people who worked ten-hour days there. Those people have serious stamina and willpower. So I interviewed at a temp agency that placed me at a call center for a well-known charitable organization. My first thought was "This sounds a lot like telemarketing. Lord have mercy." My second thought was, "Maybe it won't be that bad because it's charity, and maybe people will be nice." 

Nope. People were not nice. People do not like being called. Even for good causes, apparently. I knew after two hours I couldn't do that job--tearing up every half an hour, wanting to go to the bathroom to cry, but not being able to because it wasn't break time yet, having the uber-perky lady next to me keep telling me to "Dial and Smile," and dial faster, because I needed to reach 400 people by 5:00. I've had some terrible jobs in my life, but this was by far the worst. And one of those terrible jobs was at a vet's clinic--where I was hired to be a receptionist. I had to wear scrubs with puppies and kittens on them, clean dog cages, and present people with bills that totaled more than three months of my rent. Then they asked me to perform fecal tests on cats. I was like, "You want me to put that in the cat's what? Oh. No. No, no. You hired me to answer the phone. Not put things inside kitties." And then I gave two weeks' notice.

So I lasted exactly one day at the call center. I hated the thought of going back there, and knew I couldn't do it for the rest of the week. Not even for one more day. I'd weighed the pros and cons on my drive home that day…if I made $10/hr for 31 hours a week, I'd lose about $75 to taxes, then spend $40 a week on gas, and probably $20 a week on wine. I was going to make less than $1000 in those five weeks. My sanity and happiness seemed more valuable than that. 

So I resolved not to find another job. I would take my five remaining weeks in Iowa to do the things I had shoved to the back burner: I'd update my website, send out a prospectus for my last book, finish the editions that were due for an exchange, make appointments with librarians to hopefully sell books, take some time to market my work and learn a little something about self-promotion, do some writing (maybe finish one of those novels!), finish my print-on-demand book, work on these quilt projects that had been burning a hole in my brain, practice calligraphy, enter more shows, contact galleries, set up workshops…whew!

how I spent my first day of freedom
It was overwhelming, and I felt like I'd hit the pavement for sure. But the next morning, when I didn't go into the call center, I felt happier than I had in two years. My life felt like mine again. I didn't have to go spend all day someplace else, working for somebody else who really didn't care about me one way or the other. I didn't have to stare at the clock, wishing the hours away until Friday at 5… because really, is that any way to spend the bulk of your time? Wishing it away? For the whole next week, I did some things on that list. I made some prints on the living room table. I practiced calligraphy. I finished an edition for that exchange. I sold a book to Special Collections, collected some rent for the house I haven't lived in for five years, got unexpectedly paid for an illustration project, picked up another illustration project, and I felt like maybe there was something to that law of attraction: what you focus on really does expand. In that week, I made that $1000 it would have taken 175 hours and 7,500 phone calls to make. And I liked myself a lot more. And I thought, maybe I can do this after all. Maybe my wings won't fail. 

I will say that it helps to have rock star friends who are starting their own businesses, taking their own leaps, and who are good at reminding their pals why we live this art-centered life, and why it's worth it in the end. 


Next time: five things I found through friends and pure dumb luck that were total game changers--in the sense that I found them at precisely the perfect time so that they seemed to reinforce my decision to take five weeks for Personal Investment that Was Too-Long A-coming.