Wednesday, August 13, 2014

First Week as an Artist

My first week after declaring myself an “artist” in last week’s blog.

Day One:
Where I come from you don’t tell people you’re cool.
If you have to tell them – you’re not.
If you are cool – you don’t “need” to tell anyone.

I kinda feel like I’ve stuck my foot in a steaming pile by calling myself an “artist”. Making such a claim, upon reflection, seems pretentious.
If you’re an artist, your art speaks for itself. You don’t need to tell anyone.

Unless of course, you take the tact that being an artist is like being a minister. You can do it as a “profession” or you can do it as an approach to life. Getting paid to produce results as a Minister is like producing corporate art for a magazine or advertising firm. The results are determined by the appetites of a prescribed audience.

An untethered artist uses a creative process rather than following a prescribed technique. Creating ways to be “in the flow” of expression that comes from “elsewhere” requires – well – that’s what I’m discovering…

Day Two:
Spent most of it “creating the space”. Having the right space to work in is essential - I believe. So, moving in to the new place - unpacking boxes, putting up shelves to put things on and figuring out what goes where has been taking much of my energy. While we’ve created a room for Lynn to do art – I haven’t laid claim to any particular space indoors yet. The front porch seems to have become my natural habitat.

Roomy, with enough space for four large chairs and a table. Electrical outlets. Sheltered from the sun and the rain. Lots of distractions of people going by, stopping for brief chats, stories unraveling in my head about the comings and goings in the (notorious I’ve discovered) rooming house across the street. It’s suiting me just fine for now.

Day Three:
Necessary to spend some time and money preparing my tools. Took my laptop into the shop to have it cleaned up and tested. It’s three years old now and too full to function properly. I’ve lost my external hard drive in the move and that worries me…but I bought a new one to start fresh with. I might even try uploading a more recent Operating System if I can make room in the memory.

Day Four
I applied for my first “arts grant”. To the waged worker this is known as Employment Insurance. For me it’s a way to keep some funds flowing until I can generate some art to sell. My old friend Phil always called his welfare cheque his “government arts grant”.  Phil was always highly productive – creating all kinds of beauty in the world for those few dollars.

Keeping the gov’t bureaucrats happy is an art form in itself. How Phil managed to convince them that he was fruitfully engaged in job searches – I have no idea. Knowing Phil he probably just lectured them about his work to cure cancer, achieve world peace, end homelessness, and weld fantastic drumming machines until the poor Social Assistance worker’s eyes glazed over. I imagine this worker struggling to figure out which box to check for this particular case.

After paying into this “insurance” fund for twenty four years, I have no qualms about making a claim. Making the system work for me may however prove a test my art of persuasion.

My first interview with an Employment Counsellor was fairly positive. She quickly agreed that a job search in my chosen field was quite narrow. United Church jobs are few and far between these days with most churches “downsizing”.

My Counselor recommended we look at two streams. Further education or Self Employment. Both would require an application where it would be her job to “pitch” my candidacy.

A quick look at the criteria for further education showed that I’d have to be on the dole for at least 13 weeks before applying. I’d have to prove that there’s no jobs in my field for the next three months before they’d consider my request. After that, if my Counselor made a good enough pitch there’d be money for tuition, books, etc.

The other stream – the Self Employment stream I’m quite familiar with – knowing people over the years occupied in this field. It’s a 42 week process where support is provided to start your own business. I’ll be attending the next available orientation workshop.

The last time I received EI, I was in my twenties and when I told the Counselor I was spending my time to create an organization that would employ hard to employ people – I was cut off because I wasn’t doing a “job search”. Seven years later that same Counselor approved a three year $400,000 per year grant for the organization I’d been working on back then.

The trick with this EI “arts grant” is – living on less than ½ the salary I’ve grown accustomed to. The maximum allowable benefit is about 40% of my last net paycheque. I figure it’s kind of like trying to run a SUV on a Volkswagen gas allowance.

I know it’s possible. Just a matter of prioritizing, economizing, and going without. I have several good artist mentors available to coach me. The problem is - they’re all really skinny. Together they probably don’t consume the groceries I do in a week.

Looks like I’ll have to give up eating ethically too. Locally grown, organically grown, fair trade and free range are all categories I’ll no longer afford. Unless I can buy in bulk, barter, or grow it myself – I’ll be needing to be weaning myself from my ethical appetites.

Day Five
By week’s end I was trying to track the emotional stress the challenges of the art of making a living without a wage was presenting. An anxiety that emerged from somewhere just below my cerebral cortex produced a toxic fear that ran down into my body. My mind was also polluted with the self-doubts and shames of past failures - lesions still scarring my psyche.

But just because I could identify it – doesn’t mean I could stop it. Deep breathing, re-focussing on my mantra “I love my life” and inviting the cleansing powers of love to flow through my chakras all kept me from freezing up.
“Questioning your vision is worse than worrying about how to pay the rent.” 
Mr. Bennett
Day Six
As we retreated to 3 bros falls, a tickle in my chest took hold. By the time we’d arrived my throat was constricting, each cough was setting my lungs on fire, and mucous was slowly filling up my head. My ears were ringing and my muscles complaining.

Seems like my body had something to say.

Like a house filled with boxes of un-needed possessions. Like a mind full of un-necessary fears. Like a lifestyle filled with the illusory happiness of purchasing power. My body needed to detoxify. My ears drained of the negativity they’d received. My nose kept flowing with the mucous carrying cynicism, doubt, recriminations, lies, and all those other microscopic germs that can mess with health and wholeness.  (I wrote this while sick)

A day of de-toxifying. Resting. Sleeping. Listening to the falls, the birdsong, my heart beating steady. Knowing that deeper than the ache in my bones was the juice to keep me dancing, loving, laughing. Knowing that whatever happens – it isn’t all up to me and this body’s strength. That my real strength lies in the relationships that inspire me, challenge me, call me to reach, teach, tickle and try try again.

Day Seven
Cooked up 18 pints of raspberry jam with the berries Lynn and I picked last week at the Berry farm. Cooked up 13 pints of Zucchini relish with the ingredients bought at the Wednesday Farmer’s market.

Economizing means spending money to save money. In the jam I used the maple syrup we produced without cost last winter instead of expensive sugar or honey like last year.  The biggest hurdle for home preserving for most folks is TIME. Not so for us artists.

Since it was the seventh day – we “rested” from our labours. Took the kayaks down river for Fish and Chips in Kinmount. Thirteen moons ago we celebrated our wedding in a circle made up of our two families. So we celebrated this memory with a trip down memory-river.

As we paddled back with arms/back/hips now aching - I mused about how the next ten or twenty years will be about us “going with the flow” downriver. And then when we’re aged – it’ll be all “up river paddling” as our bodies tire and deteriorate. Hopefully we’ll make it home together to wade in the pool by the falls as the full thirteenth moon rises to shine on the blessings we share.

Day Eight
On our actual anniversary date Lynn went to Peterborough so she wouldn’t have to listen to brother Ted and I pound nails into shingles on the steep pitch of the 3 bros cabin. This week calls for rain so maybe I’ll get some art-making in…being an artist takes lots of prep time I’m discovering.   

1 comment:

Jo Hayward-Haines said...

Living Love is the highest art. And so preparation is art too!! Once when we were in Bali my daughter Avery, aged 6, announced she was going to put on a show. We sat down to watch. For at least an hour she bustled around getting everything ready. when's the show? I asked. That was it! says she. Lesson learned and ever after being relearned over and over and over.....