Today marks an official acknowledgement and action towards the designation of the dayjob as a non-dominant portion of my life. It plays its part, yes. It contributes to my daily survival, yes. But it does not carry the meaning of my life. It is only a means to the meaning.
The meaning and value of my life is in my other work, my true work. The art and the writing. That is what is dominant in my life. That is what the dayjob is for. And even then, the dayjob will only be necessary for a while. Eventually the true work will sustain me in every way that a work can sustain a life, even financially.
It may seem an obvious thing for a while now, that I am indeed working on two jobs. But it is a very different thing when the shift happens inside, in the mind. When the clarity seeps into the very core of one’s belief on the way and order of Things.
I spent two decades of my life on the dayjob, for a good part of it believing that it was also my life’s work. It is not an instantaneous matter to shed that definition, nor the habits that go with it. Such pouring of attention, energy, and commitment etches something deep into the very bones of how one conducts a life. I have spent the past six years deconstructing and breaking down those old systems and old rules.
As with most of the shifts in my life, I went through this one the roundabout way, lingering, meandering, exploring every what-if, softening the turns, cushioning the falls. Then when nothing seemed to significantly change, I did a cold turkey shutdown. Something clicked then. And finally things began to fall into a semblance of place.
First I thought I could do the art on the side. Like weekend-warrior type. Or whenever-I-have-the-time type. It was fine for a while. But art grows and explores and expands in its own way. And unless I wanted to keep it small and manageable within the constraints allowed by the dayjob, it cannot simply occupy the time and space of a hobby.
Then I thought I could give the art its own time and place so I began claiming a “studio” space. But it was the same physical space where I did the dayjob work. At some point the line in my head and my mood began to blur and it was difficult to concentrate because the art started to distract and the dayjob started to irritate.
Then there was a period when the dayjob went away. No projects came for more than six months, and it pushed me into a discomfort zone with my art because suddenly it had to be something more than what I was allowing it to be. The art rose to the occasion, creating rickety bridges from one month to the other financially. But still, they were bridges, though they swayed and twisted alarmingly, broke unexpectedly in places, and shivered all the time.
So I thought I could make it that way, with just the art. I was lulled by beginner’s luck, believing for a moment that my novelty won’t pass. But of course it did. And after the initial surge of interest, there was only a yet-too-small core of supporters who are willing to pay for what I make with my art. Not enough. Not yet.
But it was the most joyful moment of my life despite the perpetually hovering possibility of not being able to cover all the bills for the next month. I woke up eager to sit in front of the blank canvas or paper. I ended the day tired but happy, holding a finished or progressed piece in my hands. Tangible and real and oh so bright and beautiful.
It was a struggle to accept that I needed to go back to the dayjob because the art is not ripe and ready enough. There wasn’t sufficient momentum, and I needed extra funds to help that momentum.
It was the most miserable moment of my life. It felt impossible to go back to doing something I no longer believed in nor felt for.
I started missing monthly payments. I had to resolve the matter quickly.
I cut off the art. Put it to sleep. I cannot do both the dayjob and the art at the same time in the same space and still be able to do well in both. I gave up the art because I had to prioritise the money.
For a full month I shut down the studio, and sat myself to explore dayjob opportunities. I was exhausted at the end of each day, half the energy spent on pushing myself rather than all of the energy creating something useful or significant.
When I finally had a dayjob project approved I was both relieved and stressed. But it was significantly easier to go through the motions of money work without the art. No mindset-shifts, no change-costumes.
Of course the art wouldn’t stay quiet for long. There was an inner physical pain as I did the dayjob, like a flood of tears dammed up inside me. Like a scream held back. I delivered on the dayjob brilliantly, as always. But I could feel I was chipping and flaking away inside.
It would not do to shut down one or the other for alternate periods. I have to find a way to do both at once.
But maybe not at the same place. Maybe I still have to split but I won’t have to do it all in my head. Maybe I can do it literally.
It cost me extra to set it up. But so far it feels like I am on the right track.
The dayjob has been removed from the studio, and even out of the house. I went back to working in the paid shared office space in the neighbourhood. I did it before but I was not clear as to why and so I thought I could do away with it. Now I see where having a fully separate space just for the dayjob can be vital to keeping the rest of my life together.
The studio is now just a studio, where I write, where I make art, where I make plans for the art shops and my art as career or profession.
I make an effort to wake up early, dress up, and walk the ten to fifteen minutes from the house to the shared office space. I bring only what I need and get down to what I need to do as soon as I sit down. I pay a fee per hour or per day, depending on how much work I need to do.
When I am in the studio I do not think of the dayjob because I have already assigned a place and a schedule for it. The pressure has eased from the dayjob task lists and such because the studio is no longer able or allowed to accept them. I find myself experiencing less guilt when I use the studio as a studio. I feel less the desire to be seen doing responsible, practical, money-making work on my computer.
But of course I make a show of going to the “office”. It has now become my token “responsible adult act”. Even if I’m dressed in bohemian.
When I am asked about work I now say I have two jobs, and that each gets its own time and space, and that I am strict with those lines. Separate times, separate spaces, separate selves. Even if it’s only an hour of revisions I will do it in the office, paying the fee. The practice has to reflect the principle. And thus I will be strict with office hours and attending to and accepting requirements from clients. Similarly, art projects and commissions also get scheduled in the studio, though more loosely. And of course art overtimes are perfectly acceptable.
I also realise that I need to "heal" my dayjob relationship, because it still serves a purpose in my life though in a reduced capacity, no longer its center. But I cannot fight with it every time. I have to work with it but I don't have to live with it, so out of the house and out of the studio it goes. While it's in my life I will make the most of what it can give me. I see that now. I just have to be aware all the time on the degrees and depth of my value compromises as I agree to projects, and as I use my skills to help perpetuate an economic and consumer culture that I would rather change. Yet who knows? Maybe I am kept here on this path for the meantime because somewhere along the way I only need to drop a single seed of an idea for change...
Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/107804984809900892/
I am beginning to find my footing again. Separating the dayjob tasks in another physical space that is fully away from the studio seems the most promising solution so far. The studio now feels less violated and tainted. Also the recent minimalist decluttering helped a lot. It will all be put to the test in October when an ongoing dayjob project gets intense into fieldwork and analysis. But my hopes are strong.
I scheduled a dayjob admin work time in the shared office space for tomorrow ($2.50/hour). I have become conscious about not letting the demands of the dayjob, no matter how small, spill into my creating spaces.
With the dayjob set into its own time and place, I was able to use today to sit down in the studio without the niggling feeling of should-be-doing-something-else and plan fully for what I can do for the art shops and my art.
I checked my inventory of materials -- I have 179 potential pieces waiting in blank paper and canvas.
I made an idea pool of what I can do and what I can try. Not just for the pieces but also for creating awareness and interest, for finding new audiences, buyers, supporters.
What I am having a bit of difficulty now is actually starting a new piece. I've spent the past few days reworking and repainting old pieces. The thread was broken when I shut down the art-making many weeks ago. I cannot seem to find the vein of new roots, only the old ones.
Still, it's not a bad restart. And there's a bit of money coming in from the dayjob which should momentarily relieve the invisible pressure on my shoulders. I will likely need one or two more dayjob projects to carry me through to the first quarter of next year BUT I am also hoping that I can make up the extra with ART WORK. Especially now that the art studio is literally getting its own space and official calendar spots. From now on I am going to speak of my art as REAL WORK. It will have as much claim on my time and my energy as the dayjob. And in return it WILL earn for its own survival. It has to. There is no other way to live.
The other day I had a long conversation with the bank over the phone.
Before that, I had been on a weeks-long labour of minimalising my lifestyle, digging into the very core of how I live and how I conduct my day-to-day. The whole exercise touches on every aspect my life and my self, and I have had to make deliberate and final decisions on many things.
The bank conversation was due to happen, but at least I am glad that when it did, it was on my own terms, as much as it could be described to be that. That at least I was ready to speak when I finally spoke with them.
I have one last credit card to my name. Last year I paid off and cancelled my other credit card with the money I made from selling my car. The rest of the money I used to pay the monthly bills while I waited for the dayjob projects that came late into the year and stopped too early this year.
I have a good credit record with this one last card. But in the past two months I had failed to make payments because there simply wasn't anything to pay with. (In case you're wondering, the purchases made on the card were on most part groceries and gifts for the household, and a good part for the books and materials I couldn't get for myself with cash because the cash went to bills. Yes, I know, I have been living beyond my means and I am correcting all of that now.)
So anyway, it had come to the point that for the last two months I got multiple calls from the bank every single day but I never answered them. I knew what they were going to say. And I knew that it would be a fruitless conversation because they would force me to declare a specific date and amount of payment which I know I could not give, and the conversation would only go round and round without resolution, and it would only upset me further as I kept feeling pushed into the corner with no way out.
In the last couple of weeks, two dayjob projects were signed into approval so I knew money was coming in. I made computations and budgeted for the rest of the year, working on the assumption that there might not be another dayjob project for the rest of the year. (At this point I realise how much my art could help out with small daily amounts but as it was I could not do art with the demands of the dayjob, well at least until I sort out all the arrangements on that one.)
I figured I could update my credit card payments by late September or early October. Not a specific date but at least there's a specific period. As if on cue, the bank called last Friday, and I explained my situation. Then I was offered a payment arrangement contract and was told to make a payment of any amount that day as a token of intention and to call the bank again this Monday once the payment has registered.
I forgot to call Monday so I called Tuesday.
And then there was a very long interview on my capacity to pay, how I earned money, and a whole slew of deeply personal financial questions. They were asked because I was asking for the payment arrangement scheme which will mean I won't have to face a continually rising interest fee, but instead I will only have to pay a fixed amount for two years and then it's all over. The catch is, if I miss even a single payment, the deal is off and I would be expected to pay the amount due in full. (I still can't figure out how they imagine that happening if the reason why the payment failed was because there was no money then how in the world can one pay the full amount?) So they wanted to know if I have the capacity to make that monthly payment for 24 months, without fail.
In the end, I was granted the payment contract, and when I put down the phone I first felt a brief relief, and then a period of depression that lasted for almost two days before I pushed myself to get out of it fast.
I was depressed to the point that I lay on the couch and imagined drifting off to sleep and wishing I would simply never wake up because I was just so damned TIRED. I could never take my own life, but I kept wishing I would die a sudden painless death. I have thought like this a number of times, often late into the night when I battled insomnia. But that day I was thinking it in the middle of a bright afternoon.
The conversation with the bank played in a loop in my head. It pressed upon me so much of my lack and my inadequacy, and then the guilt flowed along with it out of the disappointment of other people's expectations and their unspoken regrets at what I had wasted of my life and my opportunities. I scolded myself for my stubbornness and my foolishness. I regretted my past. I mourned my present.
How do you make money? How long have you been making money that way? Are there other people in your household working? Can't they help you? Can't they lend you the money you need? Are there any other people who can help you? Relatives? Friends? Do you have any savings? How will you be able to make the monthly payments? Isn't there really anyone who can help you out for the moment to update your account? Is there no other way for you to get the money?
They brought back to me another conversation with another bank two or three years ago when I gave up my condo unit because I could no longer afford the amortisations. But why do you insist on doing freelance? Why don't you go back to being employed so you won't have problems paying? Can't you take on even just a part-time but stable job so you'll have sure money every month? Is there anyone who can help you out with a loan? What about your family? Can't they help you with money?
Do they realise that they are questioning the very fabric and foundation of my life? The very life choices I have made in the pursuit of what I believe to be bigger than what I am, my own life's bid for everlastingness that is beyond material and financial gain? Do they not think I have asked those very same questions to myself, and that if I had any useful answers I would have taken them?
And then it spiralled into my questioning my own creative journey, the very spine and soul of what I am and what I am becoming. Should I just push it aside, take up the corporate mantle again, and just "focus on the money as a means". But that is what I could not seem to explain sufficiently. I lived that before, and the reality is that the life that makes that kind of money has no space for the life I want to live. The values are different. The thinking is different. And if I were to do a good job to deserve earning all that money then I must be a certain kind of person. And that certain kind of person is someone that is false.
And then I got caught in the vortex of guilt, because I was thinking such selfish thoughts while people depend on me and expect me to take care of things -- the rent, the utility bills, the upkeep of a certain lifestyle, the meeting of other unspoken expectations. I know that some people still believe this is a mad phase I would snap out of. A whim. An indulgence. Surely I cannot be so irresponsible, so impractical.
I had this imagined conversation with the devil (or a genie, or a wizard). That I would trade away this knowledge and experience of my art so I would not long for it and I would not be distracted by it, and in exchange I would ask for a basic animal-like contentment with the steady, stable routine of a high-paying job and going through the motions of a template of success. Everyone will thus be provided for, there will be no lack, no wanting, no shortages, no worrying. There will be security, stability, as defined by modern society. The only absence and emptiness and poverty will be inside me but they will be asleep and unrecognised and so they will not really make me suffer. My life would then be a white lie, a sacrifice for the greater good of more people. For how do I even convince myself that what I'm trying to do is worth sacrificing the care, comfort, and pleasures of those who rely on me?
So you see, before you even begin I have begun on myself a long time ago. You cannot possibly match how much I have questioned myself and my motivations. How much I have made myself hurt,
The minimalism move is an effort to distill my need and use of money. I want to spend as little of it as I can, so I need not make so much of it. I would like to revive the idea of barter and trading items or favours. Spreading the idea of value and what's valuable beyond mere money. It's a dream, but I know it's not entirely impossible. Of course it all all still connect to money in some way, for there will always be people and institutions who value financial profit above all else. But I 'm thinking for instance, free paint and brushes for a series of painting process posts featuring that brand. Maybe a doctor would accept a painting for his clinic in exchange for a few consultations. Individual personalised arrangements and transactions. Or even a combination of money + in kind.
It will be my dad's birthday this weekend and already we are planning to postpone the planned small celebration because the money (cheques from my clients) is delayed. Again. So many layers of money delays in the dayjob front. Corporations have little concern for the day-to-day needs of the people they use, and occasionally the people inside corporations love to play with their power to release or not release a cheque just because they can.
Where am I? I lost track of what I wanted to say. Simply this, that I lose sleep battling my guilt for daring to be artist because it is not creating the life that is expected from me. That I am refusing to engage one hundred percent in the kind of work that will instantly solve all of my financial problems, and instead insist on this struggle without even the guarantee or the promise of sure success. That I am indulging in this quest to be something I cannot, at the moment, afford to be. An artist! A writer! To publish a book! What silly notions.
Minimalism is not just about decluttering. It involves a full shift in perspective about possessions, and a full reevaluation of your relationship with everything -- money, people, objects, experiences, knowledge, and whatever else falls within the spectrum of your life.
I have always been an avid declutterer for many years but while I would enjoy the results of a cleaned-up space for a few weeks, the clutter I sent away would creep back in another form (and occasionally the same form without me realising it).
Decluttering is a surface action. It is external. It is cathartic and therapeutic in itself, but long-term positive effects can only go as far as how the outside action is mirrored inside you.
In my previous decluttering, I got rid of things I truly believed I would not need or use anymore. While there was always a significant amount gotten rid of, what was left behind was even more. And many of those left behind were the "undecided". Items I might need or use. Items I want to use but for some reason could not at the moment (or the past five years). Items I feel guilty about discarding because they have not been used much, well, or at all. Then there were the possessions in which I had assigned a misguided value. Items that I thought helped define who I am, like a real-life hashtag accessorising my existence. Items that I thought I should have if I were to be perceived as an authentic artist/writer/good person. Items that I thought I need to have because that's what responsible and practical adults have.
So all my decluttering were short-term solutions to deep-seated matters that I had not even begun to realise, much less addressed.
Sometime last year I came across Marie Kondo's Konmari book and I was moved to declutter by her simple question: Does this spark joy? But the answer to that question can still be deceiving if I still clung to my old measures of happiness, success, satisfaction, and fulfilment.
This year I came across The Minimalists' book, Everything That Remains. It gave me the missing pieces from Kondo's book, and constructed for me not just an effective and efficient decluttering strategy, but a philosophy on possessions and beliefs on value.
I believe that I was also most receptive this time when I felt that I was at one of the lowest points of my life's journey. I felt trapped, weighed down yet empty, heavy-hearted yet wanting so much. The spaces in my life were of absences and lack, potholes of poverty and scarcity. Yet if you look around my home you would find layers and piles of things, a seeming abundance.
One word that has been going around lately in the Creativity Salon is "lightly". To go lightly through the days, to not be burdened, to not be heavy with our desires and our disappointments. And I realise I want to take that idea further, for my very life to embody that light tread upon the world.
Hand-in-hand with going minimalist is conscious consumerism. Buy less but better. Buy products with a conscience. The truest vote for a healthful and mindful economy is where we put our money. Reducing a life to its essentials brings up the question on how to maintain it. It cannot exist in a vacuum, without consideration of its own impact on the community and the environment where it stands. Suddenly a purchase is not merely a habit of function but an exercise in consideration. If we are being so conscientious about how we conduct our own life, shouldn't that naturally extend to how our choices to support that life are conscious of the world? Is the manufacturing of what we buy destroying the resources of the earth? Is the disposal of what we buy killing the oceans? Minimalism also means reducing our carbon footprints, and finding easy alternatives for many of the things that we have taken for granted and at default.
Minimalism for me also translated into reduced expenses, while at the same time it enabled me to identify what I should have prioritised paying for when all the clutter dust had settled. There could be such a thing as misplaced resourcefulness -- again a result of misplaced values on needs and wants. For instance, it never occurred to me to get a proper clothes cabinet. Yet I have spent more money on various storage systems for paper files and trinkets and souvenirs (most of which I ended up disposing). What I have is a store clothes rack that I cover with a blanket to protect the clothes from dust. It has worked but it's not the best way to keep my clothes.
On the matter of clothes, I halved the contents of my wardrobe. Half of what remained, I realised, will need replacing soon -- worn out and faded from having been used repeatedly (while some of those that were disposed had remained as fresh and new-looking as the day they were bought because they were hardly or never used at all).
I no longer have anything in "storage" waiting for a season or an occasion. Broken items were either sent for repair or disposed. Many pieces went into donation boxes.
The idea of donation was one thing that excited me. In the midst of all my lack and many aspects of scarcity, I wanted to give. If I lived in the desert I would plant gardenfuls of flowering cacti. I wanted to counter the neediness in me with generosity, to neutralise the poison of disappointment when nothing came for me even as I saw torrents of "blessings" shower upon others. It is so easy to envy, to be jealous, to be resentful. Especially when there is something that your heart yearns for, and has yearned for a long time. All that sweet desire can turn bitter and sour when repeatedly denied. I have tasted it many times, and many times I have pulled myself back from becoming the kind of person who has forgotten hope.
The usual way is to sell off decluttered items in order to gain back some cash. I chose donation over this because the selling could be a tricky u-turn into regression, It has happened to me before. If the items don't sell, having assigned cash values on them, it became more difficult to suddenly just give it away. What often happened was that the unsold items were kept for the "next garage sale", and thus they never leave the house. This time, my mom had to convince me to let her sell as many as she could before I called the charity foundation to pick up the boxes. While I knew the money would be a help given the current financial constraints at home, I was more concerned and driven by the need to empty and to make space. I wanted to re-start fresh. I wanted not to be weighed down by all the half-baked meanings and intentions seeded into the purchase of all those objects. I didn't want them cluttering my physical and mental space, demanding notice, maintenance, repairs, and pressure to be used or made into something that truly adds to the quality of anyone's life. More than the cash that could be made from selling them, I was more interested in the karmic rewards of simply giving them away. I wanted to harness those energies into fixing the dissonances of my own daily life.
While common images of minimalism portray the lifestyle as bare, all-white, and very modern, they are not the definition of what minimalism is. I am old-soul, an artist, and I love colours. My art is not minimalist. Yet I find that I can embrace and practice minimalism just as well. To date I have less than half of what I used to own. This morning my first task for the day was bringing bagfuls of books to the neighbourhood library (and in the process discovered an alternative dayjob working spot for free). As I emptied and sorted yet another box of possessions I find myself flooded with new ideas for painting and for books. Potential answers to old questions begin poking fingers at the back of my mind, released from long forgotten prisons of my own making. Decisions were made with clarity across all aspects of my life. At the same time, a few things on standstill are starting to get unblocked and to flow.
With less possessions to keep track of, it is much easier to find things, and decide on what I really need. Resourcefulness and making-do skills also get re-calibrated into true practicality. I wanted and needed a large studio table on which I could do everything without stuff spilling out over the edges or hitting my elbows or having to drag an extra table to hold the materials I need to work. I started canvassing. Then I had a conversation with the bank yesterday and realised I cannot afford to buy a table because I had to rechannel the money to pay the bank. But to complete my fixing of the studio I needed the table in place, and this (yet another) money shortage had threatened to cut short another forward path. But I was seeing more clearly now, with so few things to block my vision. I took measurements of all the least-used tables in the house, and found two that were of the same height as my current too-small desk. I repurposed them into studio desks, aligning them with the old desk into a flowing L-shape that gave me exactly the working space I needed. Obstacle overcome. Disruption averted.
In my next post I will write about how my financials are faring with the energy waves of this minimalism move.
I leave you with a snapshot of my minimalised studio. Not white. Not bare. And lots of vintage-flavoured/ old-world things. But everything in it is accounted for, valued and validated, adds joy, performs an essential function. No just-in-cases. No mights or maybes. Every thing reflects the direction I want to go, and every thing here will help me get there.
I am raising funds for the last quarter of 2016, and if I'm lucky (and you are exceptionally generous) I will have raised enough even for the first quarter of 2017.
I need to reopen my studio and make art again.
I need help to buy the time (and the materials) to make art.
I don't ask for much these days. With my recent embracing of minimalism I have nothing much to ask for, except for time to make something of this creative journey.
I have relied on myself for so long, and others have relied on me for so long. And I realise that this time I need help. I am now asking for that help. Almost all my income now pour into supporting others and I need the help for my own support.
Here are the ways how you can help.
May you be blessed, and may I be blessed through you. ^_^
I haven't made art for at least a month. I feel half-dead and withered inside.
As of today I finished a dayjob report. It's a fairly simple one but I struggled nonetheless. Normally it would have taken me two days (i.e. at least eight hours a day packed tightly with serious work minutes). But now it took me five half-days, no matter how I tried to push myself to get it done as soon as possible.
The physical manifestations of resistance have become stronger and more debilitating. And the environment of my studio where I try to do the work conspires with my inner self to throw upon my dayjob self every distraction and taunting and haunting.
This morning it occurred to me to revive an old idea I had earlier this year (before the dayjob projects dried up for more than six months). My thought then, coming from the last dayjob project I did in December, that it seemed best to totally separate the space where I make money and where I make art. The ultimate goal, of course, is to have both in the same place, meaning that I make the money from my art. But right now that is not the case.
There is a collaborative office space in the neighbourhood where I can rent a desk for the duration of a project. All dayjob-related tasks will be done there. Whatever it costs me cash-wise will be made up for by the efficiency I expect will result. In that space (and I've used it before), I have the ambiance for the kind of work I need to do. It's cozy but also office-y, but much nicer than an office where one might be employed because I can work to the fullest of my productivity quirks. I will only bring in with me what I need to get the tasks done, and I will be discouraged from distraction and dawdling because it will be a bit of a walk in the hot tropical sun or too-wet tropical rain to indulge in any "breaks" outside of the office space. It will be cool (air-conditioned), quiet, just the right amount of white noise, wifi, free-flowing brewed coffee. Everyone else will be working. Everyone else will be moving and talking in a hushed manner, careful not to disturb or distract.
I think the important part here also is the fact that I can leave all the dayjob things and thoughts behind when I leave that space. Hence when I come home, to the studio, perhaps I can finally allow myself to engage in art projects simultaneous with the dayjob project. Because there will be a literal demarcation of space. Dayjob is out there, outside. Art-making is here, in the heart of where I live, in my studio. So I must make sure that no dayjob will cross the threshold, it must all be finished in that rented space.
It's worth experimenting with.
It will cost extra cash though. I can charge for it for every project, but not by much. A portion will still come out of my earnings, and I must factor in the light snacks and lunches just as if I am indeed going into an office.
Still, I think it might work. I've never done it consistently before, only for the few times that the internet was not working at home. But it might work if I make it the structure of Things. It will be worth it, the extra expense and the extra effort to take myself away. Much more, even, if this total separation will mean I can make art again.
And then the time will come when I won't even have to go out to do my work because my art will take care of everything. And my studio will be the at the heart of my day's work.