Monday, January 02, 2012

Luck and those damned Puritans

Solstice candles.
After Holidays. That weird sort of Twilight Zone period before you really resign yourself to knuckling back down to the everyday crazy routine again, while hanging on by the fingernails to that holiday let-it-go sort of mentality. I'm clinging to that with a headache the size of Minnesota and an impending feeling of Doom looming over my head because of all of the Big Things we need to face. Ring in a new year full of hope and joy. I do believe in a positive attitude, I do, I do...

I've been hard to live with lately. The fact that everyone has been spending Quality Holiday Time together, together, together probably doesn't help, since normally I need and like having some time alone just to myself. I get cranky and bitchy when I am crammed in together with people for too long at a stretch. And the fact that my body has been ailing hasn't helped either. It all makes me cranky.
I got really mad at Paul a few days back in the midst of an argument about time and money and energy and too much commitment and worry. I ended up totally losing it and I burst into angry frustrated tears (I hate when I do that) and told him he was so freakin' (okay, really, I said fucking) lucky and he didn't even get it. But what it really came down to was more 'You unappreciative bastard, your dad is still alive and you don't even know how lucky you are to still have him around, and you just take for granted that he's always going to be around to loan us money.' I think I spluttered something even less coherent at poor bewildered Paul (less coherent being an understatement) and I stormed out of the house to run away, go to the bank and deposit unexpected and wondrous Christmas gift money, spend a chunk of that money to fill up the tank on the van and roar around ineffectually in my frustrated rage at our stupid circumstances. Yeah, so there's some unresolved stuff there about good dads and money and loans and privilege and all that, I admit it. Why is family stuff is so painfully tied to money?

I've never really believed in luck, except maybe in a sort of 'luck favors the prepared' sort of way. I do believe that some people start out with better prospects than others, due to being born into better economic circumstances. And bad things just happen sometimes to people, like getting cancer. It just happens, it doesn't matter if you have lived a good life or bad or whether you deserve it or not. Nobody deserves cancer, or any number of other horrible diseases. Nobody deserves that bad luck, even if they threw their luck down the drain by smoking for thirty years.
Money luck, though, that's harder. Financial comfort just plain gives people better opportunities. If you're born into a family with money, you get better chances, better options, better health care, at least in this country. You get to go to better schools, better colleges, get a chance at a better-paying kind of job and a more comfortable life. They say money can't buy happiness. Which is bullshit, when you think about it. You can have a miserable life even if you're rich, sure, but odds are you're going to spend less time worrying about how to keep your house and feed your kids if you have money. Money sure as hell can buy chances for greater enjoyment and less stress and worry and despair. People who say that stupid line about money and happiness aren't the ones who can't feed their kids, or can't afford to get that medical procedure that might save their life or their child's life. Money does matter and while it isn't everything, it has a huge impact.

Puritan Work Ethic I was raised with: It's totally up to you to be sensible and careful, act in a responsible manner, and get a decent paying job. Pay your bills, pay your debts to society and pay the taxes you owe for the privilege of living in this society. The clear assumption is that if you just knuckle down and follow the rules and do everything you're supposed to do, you and yours will Do All Right. Pursuit of happiness comes dead last in that equation. If you were raised, like I was, with that Puritan Work Ethic, you were taught that we are masters of our own destinies, we must be self-reliant, we have the power to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, be self-made men (it's a whole other kettle of fish if you are female, but that's another entire rant). If we can't or don't succeed it's because we haven't applied ourselves and tried hard enough, been diligent and hard-working enough. If you fail to thrive, fail to make enough money, fail to raise splendid children, fail to have a fabulous career, then the fault is entirely yours, nobody else's. You are the only one to blame, you are at fault, you have Failed.

That Puritan work-ethic, what a merciless judge and jury. So much Guilt and Shame.

We all make choices as we move through our lives, and those choices about what career to work at, spend or save, what we choose to spend our hard-earned money on, how we choose to spend precious time; all those things don't feel like they fit into the 'luck' category so much. I chose to become an artist, which as my dad took many pains to tell me, would be a hard road to follow, not a good stable way to make a living. Paul chose to go into what he loved, making games. Not a safe career choice as it's always been a very volatile industry. We chose our pathways knowing it might be difficult to make decent money, but we decided to follow our hearts. 'You made your bed now sleep in it' has been ringing in my ears for decades now. So what's the point in whining about our financial circumstances now? It isn't like we didn't know the risks, after all.

"Follow your bliss and the money will follow". Heh. That usually works better if you have a stable financial platform to stand on while reaching for your dream. And it really helps to combine that with one or more other elements:
- a stable income from other sources
- a supportive partner who is whole-heartedly behind you and has a solid head for financial matters
- a solid and unrelenting drive and energy to work like crazy all the time combined with a single-minded determination to succeed in this one area
- the ability to say no to others' demands on your time, energy and  financial resources, especially extended family
- no kids

I realize that is a rather bass-ackwards, negative approach to the whole 'success in a creative field' idea. The positive flip-side I usually tell people who want to be successful as an artist is that there are three things you need:
- You have to be really good at your art
- You have to meet your deadlines
- You have to be easy to work with.
If you have even two of those three you will do all right.

The thing that isn't really covered in there, though, is that you must have confidence and the ability to sell yourself. If you lack the ability to sell yourself, it doesn't matter how wonderful your work is; your work won't even be out there available for people to see. You have to believe in yourself to sell your abilities to others. You have to want to get it out there, and you have to work damned hard to get it out there. If you lack that want or the drive to sell what you make, you fail.

And that is where I am right now.  How do you balance happiness and love with that need to pay the bills? What if you're tired and you just want to relax and sleep with the cat?


  1. This is where I'm at as well. I want to continue my illustration career, but the more I talk to established illustrators, the more alarmed I've become at the way many (if not most) live their lives. I have things like a life, a child, a husband, no desire to wreck my body by drawing non-stop until all hours of the night, no desire to wreck my health by heaping stress on myself, taking any job no matter how tight the deadlines or evil the art director etc.
    I did what "they" tell you to do too - go for your dreams and all that. Come to realize, that's easier for some people than others. If you come from money, for example, it's a lot easier to schedule those trips to NYC to show your portfolio around. >:(
    Realism has kind of been kicking my tush lately. It has been made abundantly clear to me that I don't have a back up plan and the industry I was running towards is coming unhinged in a variety of ways. And now that I've had my own dance with cancer, I find myself understanding that "I can never, ever be without health insurance again" headspace in a whole new way.
    Needless to say, I relate SO much to what you're writing about here - and it breaks my heart for you, for me, for all of those creative kids out there who just wanted to "live their dreams" too. There's so much talent and creativity being lost in this culture right now it's staggering. Mindblowing. Infuriating.

    I'm in the same boat - trying to figure out if there's some way to balance happiness and love and family and paying your bills adequately. And of course, it'll have to be something I can do until I die, since I'm 42 and have exactly zilch saved up for my "retirement." Needless to say, I'm sending lots of positive thoughts your way and hope that you can figure out something that gives you what you and your family need. A gigantic "easy win" button for all of us would be perfect right about now, wouldn't it? We've earned it!

  2. I've thought a lot about money, happiness, work ethic and luck myself. Your line about "luck favors the prepared" reminded me that my Mom used to say "God helps those who help themselves"!

    I am certainly not following my dream, and see our dreams as a family going down the drain. Its very disheartening if I think about it. I have been coping by putting my head in the sand. But what can we do, but keep hoping things will get better.

    Also, heard a woman interviewed today who acts and does voice-overs for a living. She is very successful, but had a rough time of it for a while. She says things turned around for her when she got an agent (that marketing thing). She was asked by the interviewer what she would say to others who are thinking of a career in her field - she pretty much said what you did - you have to have something special, you have to work hard, and you have to do what your told (you can't say, I just did that in the last take, you just shut up and do it again when they tell you to).

    I struggle with knowing what "gift" I can offer the world. Especially one someone would want to pay me for. In the meantime I put one foot in front of the other, doing what I can.

  3. I'm sorry we got stuck there, honey, I know it made things more strained. I sent a lead to your email for Paul and we'll keep trying to think of options.

    All our love

    L n A

  4. Oh, I hear you. I hear you loud and clear. Your sentence:
    "If we can't or don't succeed it's because we haven't applied ourselves and tried hard enough, been diligent and hard-working enough."
    It really echoed at me, as I updated FB today (yesterday???) with a comment about needing to work *harder* to turn things around. I'm about to start my fourth part-time job in an effort to get back on track, but nothing seems to be working.
    I listen to friends talking about how their father died and left them enough money to buy a house, and that it's OK because they've lost their dad for this thing, and isn't that payment enough? It takes everything I have not to shriek that I lost my Dad too, and didn't get a brass farthing, so no, actually, that's NOT ok. I'm jealous. I'm jealous because I wish I'd had the chance to have someone give me a house when I was 30.
    Money does make it easier. I guess it can't buy happiness, but it makes it much easier not to be swamped by worry.
    Love you, lovely lady.

  5. I hear you. And I wonder how people with the self-esteem, self-confidence, self-belief enabling them to market themselves & sell their work, their skills come by that.
    I so wish I had some of that, too.


  6. Granted, some of the marketing gurus have some good points--your stuff has to be organized sharp, interesting, etc. You have to be able to explain clearly. But pushing yourself out there like a cold-calling car salesman is not (these days) that much of a successful marketing strategy for most people. It's out of style. Sincerity trumps it, easy. Pushy marketing is not the same thing as being comfortable in your skin and thoroughly aware of what you can and can't do, totally interested in the other person's needs for your work--but also not hungry enough to bite on crap jobs. TO some degree, getting plugged in and getting projects going in a chain may be a matter of luck, but you keep doing good work in whatever sub-area of the industry that you want to work in, in the time frame you want to, and I don't think there'll be any shortage of clients. The problem is whether you can get enough to *live on* doing that. You need more data, more exploration of what's happening now, to figure that out.
    There's a lot (a lot) of folks on my flists scrambling around doing part-time this and no-pay volunteer that and a day job over there, it's exhausting. You can only do so much.
    I'm going to echo Rob's comment about how health care issues stared me in the face a bit too much about 20 years ago. Gotta love the Reaper's grin, you know that look--talking not so much about endings as about dragging awful transitions you already know too much about. So I had to get serious--in a time with much better economy--about shifting from underpaid grunt work into something better. I know damn well I got lucky for the skills levels I had. Thing is, most of the lucky older folks who did that when the economy was doing better *still* don't realize that at the bottom levels, nothing ever changed. Folks in the bottom percentiles of income (where I was living at the time) never ever saw their boats rise, not since Reagan was in office. Yes, I know there's huge, huge pools of money pulled out of the economy, sitting. There's currency and gold and "imaginary numbers" money sitting out there poised, currently held in offshore shelters, not even invested yet. Not *all* of it simply evaporated into thin air when the markets started crashing. That kind of potential energy doesn't just sit forever. I'm still wondering where it's going to go when it starts falling into kinetic forces. Huge, huge kinetic forces.
    The unemployment numbers are just, just now, barely barely starting to wane a little. I have hope. I see hopeful things among some of the green energy changes, some possibilities among the political upheavals. I insist there shall be a future that doesn't look like goddamn stinking, oily, wasteful idiotic Bladerunner *everywhere* in the world.
    I just don't know if I'm doing enough, from my privileged perch, to make sure it damn well gets better. I want to see bison grazing under the wind turbines, dammit.