Friday, May 13, 2011

Diary of a Trailblazer: So Far, So Good.

It's been about a month and a half since I left my job.  Here are some things I've learned in the interim:

I can live more cheaply than I thought.  At the beginning of this experiment, I set a tentative budget for myself (and calculated how long my savings will last based on this).  I wasn't 100% sure that my projections were accurate, though. When I was working, I could afford to buy whatever groceries I wanted, including expensive little impulse things; what would my eating habits look like when I didn't have an income?  Would I be able to scale back, or would my cravings for brie, fresh salmon, and $3 chocolate bars become so strong that I'd have to cave?

Also, I gave up my monthly Metropass; a Metropass only makes financial sense if you're taking transit to and from somewhere at least five times a week.  I knew I wouldn't be going out that often, but wasn't sure how often I would be travelling the city; I figured my public transit expenses might vary anywhere from $25 - $75/month.  So far, though, I've discovered I can keep it down to $30ish without feeling especially deprived.  Which brings me to my next point:

I am a hermit by nature.  When I'm forced to leave the house on a regular basis - like to go to work, for instance - I get used to being in the outside world and it's no big deal.  When I'm not forced to leave the house...I gradually forget how.  Thus, when I first left my job I was blithely going for walks every day, but that slowly ground to a halt.  I noticed myself getting all weird and stir-crazy, though, so I've made it my goal to go outside every single day so I don't turn into Gollum from Lord of the Rings.  Usually I have to bribe myself in some way to accomplish this; it can't be "a walk", it has to be "a walk to the convenience store to get a chocolate bar.  Mmmmm chocolate."  The plan is working, though; I do feel better.

"If you don't paint, you'll eventually starve and die" is a good motivator.  Remember how I was afraid I wouldn't be able to paint, even with all the free time in the world?  Well, I'm mostly over that now. Or at least, I continuously have several projects on the go, so if I get "stuck" on one painting I can contemplate how to proceed while I do something more familiar and less scary - like whipping up a batch of fake bacon.  I've gotten a lot done in the past six weeks, and it's all because I kept telling myself: "Painting is the point - painting is why you've risked it all.  So paint."

I drive myself too hard.  When I was working full-time and trying to paint on the side, weeks would go by where I'd tell myself every single day "you should be painting!" but I didn't actually do it.  And oh, how I berated myself for my laziness.  The thing is...I'm still berating myself approximately the same amount, even though I'm getting so much more done. In the month of April alone, I've probably completed more paintings than I've typically made in a year.  So maybe it's time to lighten the hell up, right?

Around the beginning of May I woke up, as always, thinking "Gotta do stuff gotta get stuff done gotta work on art" but somehow ended up napping on the couch instead.  When I woke up, I tried to guilt myself out for being a lazy slob, but it didn't work - I'd used my guilt reflex so much that it had broken.  And I realized that there was not one single day during the entire month of April that I didn't either sketch ideas for paintings, work on paintings, or varnish completed paintings.  Some of those days, I did the sketching/painting/varnishing for just an hour or two and then hung out with The Boy or something, but there was always, always that urgency in the back of my mind: gotta do stuff gotta get stuff done gotta work on art.  And on that day in May, the constant driving pressure finally broke my brain.  I said "FUCK IT" and goofed off for the entire rest of the day.  And it was good.

From now on I'm going to try to give myself periodic breaks: a day here or there where I'm not constantly pressuring myself to produce.  You think I'm weird now, imagine if I overworked myself to the snapping point?!

Art can be a menial job - and that's okay.  When I'm all inspired and jazzed up over a painting I'm doing, it can be an almost spiritual experience.  Indeed, for most of my life I would only paint when I felt electrified by that sense of possibility - and between that and my whole fear-of-failure thing, I'd only set brush to canvas maybe three times a year.  But if I'm going to make a career of this, I can't afford to leave things to chance.  I have lists and lists of painting ideas lying all around the apartment and I've been just, like, methodically working my way through them.  And y'know what?  Sitting down and painting something in a workmanlike fashion is still fun!  I love the challenge of trying to capture shapes and shadows.  I love the textures and colours of the paint I use.  I love the feeling of creating a vibrant little nugget of awesome that didn't exist before.  Yeah, painting while super-inspired is more satisfying, but the difference is negligible - it's like the difference between eating your favourite meal and just eating a good meal.  You feel nourished and happy either way.

Painting is not the most important part - it's just the first part.  My goal for April was to just paint and paint and paint, because I can't open an online store if I've got nothing to sell.  I got so focused on that goal that it became the be-all and end-all.  Now I've got a bunch of merchandise all ready for selling and I feel like I'm, y'know, done...I accomplished the thing I'd set out to accomplish.  But of course I'm not done; I'm never done.  Now I have to actually set up my Artfire store and put things into it.

I have to admit that this stage is freaking me right the fuck out.  See, my first goal - painting a bunch of stuff - was totally within my control.  My ultimate goal - selling a bunch of stuff - is not in my control.  No matter how awesome my store banner looks and how great my merchandise is and how excellent and articulately-written my artist profile and policies are, succeeding in this venture largely boils down to a) time and b) luck.  Basically, I guess I'm stalling on getting my store set up because as long as it's not set up, I can't fail.  Not officially.  'Course I also can't succeed, but try explaining that to my anxiety.

So this past week has been a blurry hell of not being able to do anything at all; I can't paint because I feel like I should be setting up the store instead, but I can't set up the store because ARRGH SCARY.

I think I'm on the verge of powering through my fear, though (like I said above, "do this or you will starve and die" is a damn good motivator). Even the fact that I'm able to write about the fear is a good sign; it means the issue has slowly drifted up to the top of my brain where I can actually address it and deal with it.

Wish me luck.


  1. Awesome post--I love it. You capture so well how I felt during the months I was unemployed, except I didn't paint. I just job-hunted (this was pre-jewelry making).

  2. I'm glad you liked the post - and reassured that I'm not the only one ever to feel these feelings! :)

  3. Sounds like you have a good handle on what works for you now. Good luck setting up the store!

  4. Well, I'm getting there. Learning new things every day. :) Thanks, Wimsey!