December 12, 2011

All About Me, Part 2

All About Me, Part 1 posted on December 2, 2011

When we left off, it was the end of summer, 2003. I was in the midst of my own personal debt crisis. My grad school interlude left me feeling deflated and antsy. I inadvertently derailed my life. I couldn’t simply pick myself up and get back on track because I no longer had a clue what track I wanted to ride. Shaking things up by moving to a new place, getting out of my element worked for me in the past, so I tried it again. After exploring moves overseas and to the West Coast, practicality won out and I moved back to New Hampshire. I got to be a hermit for the winter, allowing plenty of quiet time for self-reflection and soul searching.

I lived in NH from October to March. During these 6 months I fell deeper and deeper into debt. I worked 2 part-time jobs, one in a frame shop - which I loved - and the other at a restaurant. Unfortunately, I did not earn enough to cover my expenses. Have you ever tried to heat an un-insulated apartment with electric baseboard heat when the temperature regularly dips to 20 below? I don’t recommend it. I made it through with creative financing. Fortunately, my grad school days coincided with credit card companies pushing 0% interest on balance transfers and cash advances. At first, with minimal or no fees attached. So I kept moving my balance from one card to another for as long as the 0% interest offer lasted. And I paid myself a hefty $9,000 cash advance while in NH to keep myself afloat. I’m pretty sure I resorted to the cash advance when my student loans went into repayment. (For those of you keeping track, student loans and credit card debt now total around $57,000.)

During my hermit days, it dawned on me that I needed to make art again. When I quit the pub job in Pittsburgh in favor of working at a gallery and going to grad school, I didn’t make much art. First, I invested all my energy in my job, it left me physically and mentally drained. No room for creativity. Plus, I could no longer afford photographic materials. Then with grad school I had no time, let alone energy, for anything but my studies and my job.

For me to make art I need personal financial stability and color darkroom facilities. Where can I get those things? Pittsburgh. So I moved back. After a very lean year, year and a half, I was back on track. I landed a bar tending job, worked 15-20 hours a week and my take home was more than the $40,000/yr full-time position I worked briefly that made me sick with stress. So, once again, not only were my days free to make art, I had the money to pay for it.

Things might have continued like this indefinitely, but for 2 occurrences. I met my future husband and my work environment became intolerable. I quit my job and was in limbo for month or so while the future husband, whose work environment had also become intolerable, searched for a new post-doc position. He was hired in North Carolina and I chose to move with him. Originally, we thought we’d be in NC for only a year and a half before Jon moved on to the next step in his career trajectory, faculty position. For various reasons, including the recession and dismal job market, we stayed in NC for four and half years. During this time, I diligently paid off the rest of my credit card debt and continued to make my student loan payments every month. Also, Jon had hefty credit card debt from grad school to contribute to our newly combined finances, about $20,000. This will be paid off in the next few months.

And now here we are, up to date in Ohio. I’m getting back to making art. While in NC I reluctantly realized if I wish to continue as a color photographer, I need to learn to print digitally. So far I have the computer, scanner (I’m not giving up film!) and software. Now I just have to learn to use it. And eventually add a printer my collection of gadgets. But, for now, my time and energy is dedicated to getting Odd Bird Studio up and running.

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