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The day I almost quit my full-time artist life

It was a Friday. There was soft snow falling from the sky, the kind that disappears when it hits the pavement. I woke up that morning asking, 'What would I do today to make money?' Every day this month, I have been in my studio space with the same question hovering over my head.  This particular day was the Friday before a virtual workshop I was offering. Only one person had signed up. And that wasn't the issue. As far as workshops go, I've experienced low attendance before. I've had more workshops than I can count with less than five people and then there are the few times that no one has signed up. I'd been sharing it with my subscribers, in my stories and in posts. I followed up with a few folks through texts and messenger. And this is not to guilt anyone into taking a workshop with me. I'm just saying sometimes I could do all the things and still only get one person to sign up. No matter what I stick to the plan. I lead the workshop whether there's one or twenty. At least in my experience, I've never regretted being present with whoever shows up. I should also note that this is mainly an issue when I'm offering a workshop independently. When folks bring me into their organization or classroom, I don't have to think about how many people will be there and payment isn't coming through the individuals participating. So why do I keep offering my own workshops on my own? Because I need to generate income that isn't dependent only on who does or doesn't show up in my email to book me. 


When it doesn't go as planned, I can keep it together, go back to the drawing board with optimism and push forward. Except this particular Friday. I was still waiting on unemployment funds and I could feel the stress at the nape of my neck and in my left shoulder. That morning I let the hot water in the shower run and since then it's been my prayer space, whatever is weighing me down, I pray it washes down the drain. I do this ritual and I write and I get dressed for the day in the clothes I laid out the night prior. I keep going because, well, the alternative sucks.


So I thought I was going through the regular stressors. I got off of the bus and a thought hit me to check on if there was anything hindering unemployment funds or if by any chance I had more funds from my employer. I think sometimes when stress levels are high, things make sense that shouldn't. I had already gone through the math. The workshop fee was $35 and since only one person signed up, that meant that I would only make $35 but anything could happen in the next 48 hours. Maybe people would sign up at the last minute! I had been telling myself this all week but I knew the chances of that happening from experience were slim. That morning I had gone through my calendar for the month of January. I had an exhibit to curate, one project to finish, two performances, and a workshop to lead for an organization. In total, I'd make less than 2k for the sum of all that and that's if I received all the payments in January what with processing and snail mail. I thought about all the bills I was behind on and threw a plea for a miracle up with the snow.


I remember walking away having asked all my questions and gotten all the answers that one would expect, that unemployment takes time, that I should call them, and that my last check was indeed my last check. As the cold air hit my face, I found tears welling up in my eyes and I was holding my breath. I started walking faster, each step closer to tears falling and each breath shorter than before. By the time, I made it up the flight of stairs and into my office, I was experiencing something I can only describe as a panic attack. I sat down, palms flat on top of my desk, face looking toward the window, in full hyperventilation. Breathe, I kept saying in my mind. Watch the snow and breathe. I collected myself enough to call three different people but no one picked up. I was going to have to bring myself down from whatever this was. I started counting with my breath and I kept watching the snow. I let the tears fall liberally down my face and onto my top.


It's no secret that pursuing the arts independently or being an entrepreneur or running your own business is hard. I just wonder if it has to be. As of today, I've only gotten 3 out of the 5 checks that are guaranteed income for me this month. Unemployment funds came to less than $200.  I've worked hard in the last couple of weeks to make sure I have gigs for February. I even decided to reoffer that workshop for folks who'd missed it the first time. I shared with more people. I followed up with folks who expressed interest. But still, I was left wondering how to piece it all together to cover the bills I have. What no one will tell you is what it's like to wait between checks and the mental fortitude required to think, plan and stay positive. I think that's the primary reason people avoid this kind of life. At times like this, I even look at job opportunities that'll pay me every two weeks. And I'm learning that there is no shame in that. I learning to reframe my idea of a full-time artist and whether working for an employer makes me any less full-time especially since I've now seen both ends of this stick.


Last night, I was awake at 3:05 am. I made myself some green ginger tea and dropped a basil leaf in. This wasn't even the blog post I had planned to write. But I haven't let go of that morning yet. Truthfully, I'm nervous about it happening again. That morning I thought about quitting. There was a voice in my head yelling, I quit. I remember picking up my phone and posting a status on Facebook saying 'Don't quit'. I know folks found it inspiring, a few telling me they needed that that day. But that was me talking to me. I wrote it down on my calendar for January. Don't quit. I don't know maybe because I'm writing this and I have a workshop coming up on Sunday. It's technically Friday now and I  have no one signed up, I have to remind myself not to quit, to pour into myself, to keep from having another panic attack. And maybe that means quitting some things for a while or changing up what I do or how I do it. If everything starts looking brand new around here, it's because I'm paying attention to my wellness and my peace of mind. The only way up is through.


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