Everything I’ve done my life was a conscious choice to help make me a better artist
And now I’m reaping the “benefits” of my choices.
When I was in first grade, my teacher rattled my brain with a handshake as she told me that I had written the best story she’d ever read.
I think that’s probably when I became a nerd.
From third grade until probably middle school, I wrote and drew a comic book about an average teenage girl named Lezlie. She had a little brother named Sam, and several cats and dogs. But the interesting thing about Lezlie is that her best friends were twin aliens. Yep, the bug-eyed, oblong-faced, green dudes. One of them was named Alex. Alex’s sister’s name has long since departed my memory.
In sixth grade, I discovered Fanfiction. Though at the time, I didn’t know that’s what it was called. My friend and I wrote in spiral bound notebooks of our adventures as NSYNC fangirls. I filled at least three books.
Then I started high school. After a trip to Japan in my sophomore year, I had an idea for an epic fantasy that I knew would take me years to write. I didn’t have the skills or confidence to start it while I was in high school; so I compiled notebooks full of notes, invented a language and created a dictionary and grammar guide, made maps, illustrated characters, and wrote outlines.
After some time travelling France with my best friend I met online, I started studying theatre at Ball State. I’m honestly not really sure why I chose theatre. I didn’t have a drama program in my high school, so I was woefully behind the curve in college. I persevered and learned how to let actors talk about their favourite roles in their high school plays. I also learned about story structure and how to analyse works. Design, acting, and Shakespeare captured my heart. After 2 years, I didn’t feel any more equipped to start my epic tale, however.
So I looked to some of my favourite authors for inspiration. How were Tolkien and Robert Jordan able to write such brilliant high fantasy? Well, they both had military experience. I decided to try it out for myself.
Between my sophomore and junior years at Ball State, I did an Army training course at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. It was harsh, difficult, austere, and full of extreme idiocy. For some reason, I loved it. I signed a contract and completed my last two years of college while participating in ROTC.
Just to be sure that I graduated with enough experience to be a successful artist, I decided to spend my last semester abroad in France. I had studied French since ninth grade, and had come to Ball State with a minor in french without having to take a single class. At the last minute, I abandoned my theatre major and completed my degree in French while drinking Irish whiskey in Rennes, Bretagne, France.
After graduating and returning to the US, I went on active duty and spent time at Ft. Lewis, WA; Ft. Gordon, GA; and Ft. Leonard Wood, MO as an IT manager. During that time, I painted periodically and tried NANOWRIMO once. Otherwise, I did nothing related to anything other than my job. That’s what military is. It’s all-encompassing soul-sucking stress.
When my military career ended in disability, I turned back to drawing and painting to help cope with my new normal. Woefully out-of-practice in all things creative, I was less-than-encouraged by my products. The professional artist itch began to irritate me once more.
By that time, however, I had a husband in grad school and a bunch of pets to support, and I needed to find something a little more practical than “starving artist” to make ends meet. I worked at several bridal salons and craft stores before going back to school and getting a second bachelors degree. This time it was education. I was going to be a teacher. Teachers get summers off. That’s a lot of free time to work on books and painting.
While in college round 2, I saw an advert for an audition. The theatre department was putting on a retelling of Macbeth called Macbeth is the New Black. I auditioned, and to my surprise, they offered me a role. For the first time in about 5 years, I was using things I paid to learn. From there, I played in several more Shakespeare plays and delved fully into Bardolatry with no concern for my own sanity.
The summer after graduating with my second bachelors degree, I went to Oxford, UK to study Shakespeare at the British American Drama Academy. When I came back, I started a theatre company with my friends so we could all max out our Shakespeare stats.
Before graduating, I was hired as a teacher in Knoxville. I taught English to speakers of other languages for 2 years. During those two years, I discovered that teaching isn’t anything like I expected. Summers off didn’t compensate for the daily stress of creating curriculum, breaking up fights, trying to be a therapist for kids with PTSD, trying to be a lawyer, and sometimes getting to teach. Being sick all the time sucked pretty hard, too.
When I moved to Durham, NC, I decided to try something else.
And now I’ve been looking for a year, and I’m not a step closer to gainful employment. I’ve even started applying to teaching jobs though I know that I don’t want to work in that environment again. I feel like I’ve got too many skills and experiences to really have a cohesive resume. I’m overqualified and under qualified at the same time. I’m spending all my time writing cover letters and resumes, trying so hard to get a “real” job. While in my free time, I paint and slowly put together the book that I finally think I might have the life-experience to complete.
I have an acting agent and out-of-state gigs planned. I’m starting to sell paintings and apply for art shows. My artistic style is finally starting to show its face. I’ve outlined two fantasy comic book series. I’ve started sewing costumes again.
And I wonder how I’ll be able to do all this once I get that grown-up job. If I get one. I mean, I’ve been applying for a year and I’ve only had 4 interviews. I feel like I’m being drawn to the arts—like my only option is to create for a living. I’m going to have to become an artist out of necessity. If I’m going to make ends meet, I need to sell art, book acting gigs, and write stuff. Though I have never wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I hate selling myself, that’s what it is to be an artist.
This is the bed I’ve made for myself, and I’m finding it a bit too big, soft and cold. I’m too overwhelmed to fall sleep in it.
But as I’m getting turned down and turned down and turned down for jobs that I’d love and excel in, I’m more and more feeling like time spent on applications and cover letters would be better spent on building my brand, creating a new website, and learning about marketing. I think it’s time to give up on the American dream of gainful employment and lots of dollars and refocus on my own original dream.
It’s going to be hard. Probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But if I can overcome my genetic defeatism and fear of hard work, then I’m going to finally have something to be proud of.