Tuesday, December 07, 2021

the perfect life

A few weeks ago, I was filling out a job questionnaire for some freelance writing work and it asked you to describe your perfect life. A decade ago, I might have conceded that i was living it. A decade ago, I had just left etsy to focus more on growing the press (instead of the other things that sold better there..vintage, soap, jewelry--all fun to make and a necessary income stream paying rent on the studio, but not what I wanted eating up my time.) I also was getting back to writing after a couple years away in a way that felt good. While things were hopping in the shop and every holiday season more successful than the last, I realized I was getting further and further away from what I wanted dancing girl press to really be.  (chaps were a part of it, but also my own zines and projects and mostly papery things.) I was succeeding but maybe not where I wanted to. I still had that idle dream that I could one day swing all of it full time--if not the press & writing (poetry always being dismal in that sense.), at least the art bits--selling more originals and prints and paper goods. But at the same time, I was also happy in my day job and it was one of my sole ways of actually connecting with other people and working toward something good.  So I would keep building the press and keep working at the library and come what may...

It did not pay very well, but it was steady for the past  21 years.  I initially was willing to endure dismal pay since my friends were all there, I liked the campus community, and i had flexibility in working my desired shifts in the evening. My health insurance was covered, I could get free tuition and had access to any book at any time. The skills I grew as a writer and artist sometimes fed that job.  Sometimes that job fed them.  More good things happened, but then sometimes those wound up having downsides.  I took on a huge amount of programming work--exhibits, panels, workshops etc...fun yes, but then steadily more and more was added to responsibilities (in addition to my regular workload.)  I readily did these things because I liked them,--always with a certain administrative carrot dangling that maybe eventually those things might comprise my job. Good work just became more work.  Job descriptions were drawn up and revised. Departments restructured.  My supervisors tried valiantly, but the college itself  threw up roadblocks.    There was the carrot of more money and a sexier title (esp as I moved about in conferences and professional publications.) I knew, at heart, it probably wasn't tenable.  There is a weird caste system in libraries between the degreed and the not degreed.  Perhaps I was overly optimistic--having decided way back in 2003 that instead of  going to library school, which didn't seem all that necessary beyond a couple letters, to use that impulse to get my MFA. Ie..if I was going to do another round of grad school, it should be in something I was passionate about.  This means that I am seen mostly as a clerk--not a terrible thing to be--but as I strived to do work that was a little more in depth..some people were very quick to try to put me back in my place. I never saw my career as being a librarian--maybe in libraries, yes, since I knew nothing else, but I goals have always been art-focused.  

But which also means I am paid like a clerk.  Badly, at that.  The big realization this fall was that in ten years, even my regular salary was a mere $100 more than it was a decade ago (while my rent for example is 25% more.)  This alone was alarming, but add in all that extra best-intentioned programming and the taking on of what not only used to be a whole position, but also it's own department with ILL for the past three years.  (a position that was almost filled, then pulled back after covid.)  Which means, now, about 50 percent of my work hours are doing that, with everything else jammed in around it.  The time would be do-able, but, as with most things, it's the band-width that kills me.  The amount of things, added with everything else. that I have to keep straight and keep running drains me more. 

And then there is the press and my own work, which is easily a full-time job in and of itself, especially when things are hopping.  Again, my own doing--taking on projects, making up my own, and of course the kind of rewarding work we want to be doing. But I am burned out, and scattered, and not living my best version.  I am also angry--randomly in fits and just  under the surface. I don't see things changing in the next year--anywhere--and it makes me want to find another way, another life, where I am not resentful and so tired all the time. There are things I want to be able to do--for the press, for my own work, that time and bandwidth prevents. I'm working on moving past the fear of uncertainty, of going it on my own. I don't know if I'm there yet, but there's been some progress. 

Becuase what I really need to do is fairly obvious.  For reals, even at it's most successful publishing and poetry will never turn enough of a profit to go it alone.  Maybe if every book was a best-seller success  and guaranteed to move at least a 100 copies.  (Maybe one book out of 50 gets there and sometimes it takes time.) Even without studio overhead, there are printing and material and shipping costs. Ditto on my own zines & books mostly. I am happy to break even there, with an option, someday of being able to pay authors. I do turn a profit on artwork and paper goods--esp. when I do craft shows and such (which haven't been as easy to do working full-time.) Some of the other doodads I like to sell in the shop--accessories, mugs, etc bring in some more income, and the more I put into it, the more it yeilds. But it's not guaranteed, especially if I don't hustle--but then maybe that's exactly what I need to do. Also, add in more paid design work and mss. consulting projects to make things interesting. 

As I've sort of idly scanned job listings, there are a lot out there--this being the great resignation--not just other academic gigs,  marketing and programming at cultural places or library-adjacent bodies that seem really exciting.  None of them require an MLS.  Maybe I would be qualified for them--maybe not--but then again maybe I'm not looking for a high-demand, possible 60 hour a week kind of job (which a lot of these seem like they might be just given their nature.). Would I be paid better?  Obv. yes.  Better respected. Oh yeeah. Would I be happier and better able to balance it with the rest of what I have going on?. Where my passions lie? Maybe not really. '

So then maybe the goal would be to not necessarily work MORE, but SMARTER.  I've been seeking out and taking on some freelance copywriting work. I am not taking on as much as I could just yet in the off hours, but it's paying me, per hour, about twice what I make at the library. That dream life?  Obv since I've cast my lot with poetry, it will never get me there entirely. But I can work to trim that work that I do to help foot the bills to something I am getting paid more to do--work less hours to free up time for all those other things I feel I should be doing--could be doing--if things were different.  But I never get there. So many people post-lockdown are reevaluating where and how they work and I am probably no different.  Maybe it's just this weird place called mid-life and this is my own crisis. I feel like I've spent years devaluing my own skills and abilities and perhaps its time for a change. 

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