I own my house and my mortgage is within my means. I own my car. We can buy food and heat our house and we have insurance. A few weeks ago a teacher I know was talking about the public school in which she teaches. She was a bit aghast at how many kids qualify for free lunch. For perspective I told her that my children qualify for it too. We don’t want it or need it but if I apply the school gets one family closer to getting grant money they badly need. The receptionist assured me when I reluctantly applied (for the sake of the grant) that what my kids would never eat will not be wasted.
I am not embarrassed or ashamed at being considered poor. We aren’t except on paper. As I said, we have shelter and heat, water and food, medical care and a car. I also have a halfway decent retirement fund thanks to 15 years with solid employment. But, if I wanted it, we’d get food stamps and other assistance. I am lucky to have parents who believe in me and my ability to get my business going. They help when I need it. I am getting more work and learning more skills. I am tired of referring to myself as a one-trick pony. I photographed a day of festivities in a gorgeous church a few weeks ago and did a beautiful job balancing out the necessary flash with the available low ambient light. It made me proud and hopeful that I can get more work. If I could get the skills and confidence to photograph weddings I’d probably be all set.
But for now I sit in the undiscovered artist category. I do not want a 9-5 job. I had one for years, as I said, and most of those years were great, though sometimes deadly boring. There were times I felt buried alive. Times I felt like I was babysitting a chair. Stuck. Shackled. But the people I worked for and with were wonderful. They were kind. When I lost a baby the head of my department saw me sobbing when I returned to work and told me to take a leave of absence and come back when I was feeling better. “That’s what they’re for.” he said. I left for three weeks. How can you leave a job like that? But then the company merged with another and things changed. People warned me of the great divide between the culture of family and “get it done but otherwise do what you need to do” in which we were immersed and the rah rah corporate cheerleader attitude of the company that took over. What I did – attempt to get people to reuse image resources we owned instead of buy new ones and try to share resources between divisions – was lonely because most couldn’t be bothered to learn the system I worked on. The new company had a strong and solid image asset database – better and more organized than ours – and a team who worked on it. I was chatty and happy as a clam to have peers. Others who fought the same fight! It took about 6 months to realize that my counterpart in another state wished I’d just shut the fuck up already. I get overly enthusiastic. I didn’t fit in with my Texan colleagues and they slowly made my life a living hell. “Why are you clocking in at 9:05?” they’d ask, as if I were a factory worker. There was no clock but we were required to log in to yahoo messenger so they could keep tabs on the out-of-state employees. They watched mine like a hawk but didn’t pay a lick of attention to the comings and goings of three co-workers/friends near whom I sat. They counted the number of images I cataloged and scrutinized my classifications and keywording efforts and put every little mistake I made in writing. They listened in on my training sessions – I trained employees and other users far and wide to use the database – and criticized my performance despite the fact that most people LOVED my training. One person told me she could listen to me all day and she usually zoned out during these types of things. People appreciated that I didn’t pretend the system was perfect (nothing is) but instead talked about what was great about it and offered tips and tricks of my own. People appreciated that I was goofy and that I made mistakes. People mostly prefer honesty. Everyone liked me and my work except the new people with whom and for whom I worked directly.
My kids had been diagnosed with asthma that fall and one was in the hospital, quite sick, for 6 nights. It was a scary time and my work performance suffered. It was abundantly clear that the people on my “team” didn’t want a single mom with sick kids around so they set out to get rid of me. Being hounded is stressful. Watching a paper trail develop and knowing full well it’s building a case against you just sucks. Ugly and itchy eczema took up residence all over my face. I had to start taking anti-anxiety medication. I took my daughter to school sick so I wouldn’t miss work. I ignored her asthma symptoms to be a good employee and she could have died. They fired me in January three years ago for “being late” and “making mistakes” and they got away with it. Mother fuckers. I was glad to get out but it shouldn’t have happened like that. It did, however, open things up so I could become an artist again. It also gave me time to take better care of my family.
I never want another full-time job. I’m scared to death of the prospect. I would prefer to make a better living and fully support myself and my children but not at the expense of being treated like crap. I will stick with my photography and hope someday soon it will really take off. My kids need me to pick them up from school and be present in their lives. So I can’t have the Patagonia coat I am coveting. So what.