Musings on Art as Vocation
I just got back from Wed-Sat at a music festival. People often ask me if music is our primary income. I tell them no, music is my “night job” and I’m a knitting teacher/designer for my primary work. This usually results in nods of approval. Folks love the idea that a person could make creative work their vocation.
I love this job, I love it more than I thought I could love any work. In my mind, both knitting and singing are one job, the job of “Artist.” I use my creative abilities to pay my bills. I feel as though I was born to do this.
But at this point, if something happened to Brian I probably could not continue this lifestyle. You see, he has a job with insurance. He pays for mine, but it would cost a lot more if I had to get insurance without a full-time employee attached.
My fiberart teaching career is still expanding; I am working to grow my work to a point where I could pay for my own health insurance again (I did so when I was a computer consultant). Though that is in my plans, right now it would not be possible.
My mother was widowed at age 38, my brother was widowed at age 30. This means I’m the only one in my family who has never been widowed before 40, and I’m 50 now.
Statistically, this means that it probably won’t happen to me at an inappropriate age. However, it also means I’m aware that life can change on a dime. I am appreciating every single day as it is.
Often, Less is Better
I have been clearing out things in my home, things I don’t use any more. It started when a rack which was screwed into some wood, became so overloaded that it pulled out of its anchors and fell on the floor, a couple-dozen skirts crumpled on top of it. The skirts had to go somewhere, but I could not find any place to squeeze them in. The rest of my closet room was terribly overstuffed.
In total, I think it has been about 3-4 weeks of intensive letting go thus far. We have filled a total of 10 city garbage bags full of things not nice enough to give away. I think we are up to about 21-23 paper grocery bags full of items, mostly clothing, given to charity.
A friend who sews but has few financial resources, got three boxes of fabric and an unused ironing board which had been left in this house by the previous owners. Another friend got a feather bed pad and down comforter (in perfectly good condition, but I’m now too allergic to feathers to use them).
The result in some areas of our house is astounding. The attic is more navigable than in years. The closet holds everything even when all laundry is done, and there are always enough hangers. The boxes long stored on the floor in several rooms are no longer there.
It’s amusing that even though the attic, closet and bedroom are noticeably clearer, it’s not obvious to a guest. My office is just full of things I need to keep but don’t know where to store. One minute at a time, I guess.
Our house is not large by current Lansing standards (whatever that means). It is more than enough for two people without children or pets. You see… part of the reason I can do the work I do, is that we have made choices about what is enough… even, as Goldilocks says: “Just right.”
We live in a smaller home with smaller yard compared to many friends. We have no pets, no houseplants, no TV/movies/cable/DVDs, and two paid-off cars both over 10 years old. All these choices support the work choices I’ve made.
This work can be my primary job both because I really do spend full time on it and am good at the work, but also because what I see as “enough” is not what someone else would find enough for themselves.
For the record, friends with larger homes find ours absolutely charming. It is not a lesser choice. It is a different one.
We camp in a tent, not an RV or even pop-up. There are many more costs involved with more solid portable quarters. I do not enjoy tents, but I love the savings we achieve by not buying something else (and insuring, maintaining, storing it). Our savings is both time and money, and I’m clear about that with my choice.
I actually did purchase myself a plane ticket to go to Portland, OR for the Sock Summit (socknitting conference). Socks are a huge part of my career (and my joy) and I made a lot of choices in order to make that happen.
I’m staying at an International Hostel and taking the subway to the convention center. I get to see the city a bit on the way to spending a day in a huge box full o’people. Since I collect subways and love cities, this really makes me happy.
I also save about $100 a night by staying in a room with a few other folks and doing a bit of a commute. It is not like I will stay in my room and hang out, anyway! Usually I’ve met fascinating people when I’ve done this in other cities.
I have held office jobs with excellent pay and benefits in the past. I spent that fine income on stuff (mostly clothing, some of which was in those bags sent recently to charity) to help me feel happier. I left my last day job in 1999. Funny how now I don’t need to buy expensive suits anymore, which helps me live on a more modest income.
I gave up the credit cards in 1991 and live in the present now; I don’t buy anything if I can’t pay immediately. Often I wait or do without. Not everyone would make these choices. For me, the results have been rewarding.
Often people in solid, well-paying, insurance-rich jobs sigh when they hear I teach knitting as my day job. They wish for a time when they can leave their current work and do creative things for a living.
But for many of them, the tradeoff is too dear. If you have five kids as one friend does, you work the job that takes care of the seven in your home. You find something joyful to do after work until those kids are safely on their own.
I have made a series of choices that have allowed this lifestyle. I don’t have children or animals to support, for example. Not everyone would feel right with my choices. Each person has their own balance to find.
What is Enough?
Each person has their own version of what is enough. We have a young, single relative who has an efficiency condo apartment in a large metro US city. Her expenses are much higher than those here in our home which perhaps has double her floor space. However, her chosen field supports a lifestyle that she enjoys. What else could a person want?
Another friend made family most important. Her kids are grown and still enjoy her company, so she did a great job keeping that priority clear. She has worked a day job she was very good at but does not enjoy, long enough that she can retire soon.
She made the choice to have the income and benefits provided by that work, so that she could make sure the family had income, insurance and other resources. She’s a happy homebody. She likes to go home at 5pm and not think about work until the next morning.
This friend’s life has focused on the non-work part of her time. Nights, weekends and vacations allow her to build connection within her family, and that is her version of “enough.”
The young urban relative’s work requires a large city to support it. My work can be conducted in large part through the internet and occasional commuting to large fiber festivals (for knitting) and music festivals (performing).
I am very lucky to be in Lansing, MI where it is accepted that I would definitely teach for more than one local-area yarn shop. This is not a common assumption in other areas with multiple yarn shops. Because shops here are willing to share teaching expertise, there are several of us in town who teach locally *and* on a national level. I believe we’re all richer for sharing.
Between blogging, the online knitting/crocheting community called Ravelry.com, and now twitter (sigh), I can reach an international clientÃ¨le from my home in a city with a low cost of living. This could not have happened even 15 years ago. I am deeply grateful.
Blah, Blah, Blah…
Why am I going on like this? For one, I have been getting rid of unneeded things. For another, I spent so much time when I was a bit younger, buying things (and making myself unhappily in debt from it) which made me feel happy for a while.
Now I make clear choices and feel powerful by knowing I chose. There is such power in being an adult!
Derek Sivers wrote a short column, his take on “Enough.” Perhaps you would like to read another person’s perspective on this same topic. Or maybe you have read enough about the subject for now! Thanks for sticking with me, if you got this far.
For the record, I admit that some people do not have the basics. Some do not have enough food, in an obvious example.
Yet I live in “American” society where we have dollar stores. Folks go to the dollar store to buy something new and fun, something they do not need other than for entertainment. Shortly that something ends up sold at a garage sale, to someone else looking for entertainment. This is the sort of society I am in, and this is what spurred the thought process which began this long column.