Stepping Fully Into My Life

So my New Year’s began with more of a whimper than a bang. My baby has a horrible head cold, so my husband and I were all set to spend New Year’s Eve together at home, snacks and drinks on hand, to begin getting giddy about our future projects, the things that have been put on hold because of the chaos of living, and New Year’s Day was supposed to be spent having a glorious planning session on how to implement the creation of those projects. However, my daughter kept waking up because she couldn’t breathe, and I could feel myself starting to succumb as well, so I would wander back and forth between cuddling her and trying to get excited amidst filling sinuses, and last night I wound up going to bed at 8PM.

My plan for 2018 is to begin living the life that I have always wanted for me and my family. One where my husband and I share both income-making and raising the children duties, one that gives me time to actually take care of myself the way that I know I need to so I can take care of others in the ways I want to. One that gives me more flexibility – for parenting, for travel, for fun, for personal and creative growth.

I had hoped to be freelancing full-time by the end of 2017, but that didn’t happen. We need to have a firmer financial base for me to make the leap (either more in savings and/or my husband bringing in new income streams, which both are being worked on). So new goal is by the end of June, by the time my son is out of school for the summer. I horribly hated having to work this past week when he was out on holiday break. It was the first time since he started preschool that I didn’t have the time off with him. Last summer was super hard too. So no more.

But getting this cold is a reminder that I’m STILL not as physically healthy as I need to be, so taking care of myself physically is important this year, as I begin implementing my plans. Self-care, self-love, and mostly more sleep need to happen. I need to have both patience and persistence as I begin to implement my plans. I need to accept that I can’t have it all at once.

So the online shop is on hold until I leave my current position. I can’t sew for 8 hours a day and then continue to sew late into the night. I have, at most, another hour worth of sewing in me, plus some extra on my days off. I have a costume commission for this month, and potentially 2 designs for the spring plus a paid workshop that I’m in talks to do, and I may have to bring shop work home with me once we get into prom alterations this spring. Any extra sewing time will be spent alternating between some personal sewing (want to make some things for the house) and coming up with the samples/patterns for my first offerings in the shop, so that hopefully once I leave my current position, I can be opening the shop within a matter of weeks.

That leaves me with 1 to 1.5 hrs a night to split up between music, writing, and art, on top of sneaking in a little bit of writing during the day when it gets slow. I want to start promoting myself more again, and I have some lofty goals for getting work out this year. We’ll have to see what happens. When I am able to be freelancing, I hope to double to three hours a day spent toward those things, setting things up so I can be painting while my kids are doing arts and crafts again, like I used to, having fun creating together.

Again, this is going to be about patience and persistence. About applying my will toward the creation process. About making sure I’m not burning out and then having to recuperate, rinse and repeat. About creating a sustainable and nurturing life for everyone in my home, myself included.

I do not regret my time working at the theater for a few years, even though I was so overworked. It gave me amazing health insurance to have my second child, and it gave me the financial stability to get a mortgage and a decent home for my family. I do regret this past year working the bridal alterations because of how much time I’ve missed with the kids, but it gave me the flexibility to work from home for the first six months for part of the time, which was huge for my relationship with my daughter, and I’ve learned so much working on these gowns that I can apply to my own designs. It means a lot to be able to support my family, so there is that too. But I’m ready now to step into the life that I’ve been saying I’ve wanted for almost 10 years now. Our time on this earth is too short to try for less than what we truly desire, no matter how “safe” other paths may be.

And if the world completely falls apart around me, if my dreams don’t come true, if we end up losing our civilization, at least I’ll have tried. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing of all.

May your 2018 give you the strength and courage to follow your own deepest, truest selves as I will be.

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Uncertainty

I am moving forward in my hope to be home with the children and freelancing as soon as possible, but the economic uncertainty in the United States and globally right now is making me nervous. I am trying not to let it freeze me up in my planning, but I am now trying to plan smarter as far as the planning my online shop for my sewing business goes. I won’t want to invest huge amounts into bolts of fabric to begin aside from some basic silks, which means going with the slightly higher cost and lower quality fabric available from the handful of local stores in the area. And I am rethinking my plan of only having truly high-end products and trying to come up with a few lower ticket items that will still be well-made to entice people. And I’ll probably take on as many alterations as I can reasonably do this prom season to invest back into the business, which means of course less time to get samples sewn up. All of that really is dependent on whether or not we get to the place of financial security to get out of the current situation I’m in. We’re working on it, but nothing is certain in this world right now.

It also means I won’t be able to afford oodles of new art or music supplies and equipment, so I’m going to have to make careful stock of what I have and be very careful in my use of things going forward. Writing thankfully can be done anywhere on any machine.

It’s really difficult to stay positive right now with everything going on, isn’t it? It’s hard to make plans for the future when everything could be easily cast aside at a moment’s notice. Part of me wants to go be a survivalist somewhere instead, and hide away from society. But I want to do what I can with what I have to help. So I refuse to succumb to fear.

Planning All the Things

Right now I am in the midst of the planning stages on a lot of different things. It’s, quite frankly, something I adore doing, and I’ve kind of set myself from now to the end of the year to really outline, take notes, study, and develop firm business and marketing plans on top of the creative planning of the actual projects themselves. How fast I am able to move on the plans will very much depend on how fast I am able to get out of the 9-5 job (really crossing my fingers that it will be sooner rather than later) as well as how much extra contract work I get in. I’ve got some big audacious long-term goals though, that will involve letting all of my creative work feed into each other, but it has to come step-by-step, and I have to will myself to do the step-by-step piece of it.

So what am I doing? Well, I’ve started watching some handmade and small business videos on Youtube, learning techniques both for my sewing/costume work and for the work to come here. On the sewing side, I’m making concrete plans to build samples and open a shop up. On the writing/art/music side, I’m going through years of work and deciding what is worth keeping and what to discard. And overall deciding what is the most meaningful to me at the moment. I need to let my passion drive me forward. Because of course after having the most amazing week and 1/2 of moving forward and pushing outside of my comfort zones, I have a recoiling now with that little voice of doubt rearing up, whispering terrible things to me. I’ve had a couple of bad days, where even though I continued my process, the shine wasn’t there. Some of that is old insecurities still lingering, some of that is my letting the outside world bring me down… so to move forward, I must have that passion and drive that I’ve been missing for a while.

While planning, I will probably be getting the urge to create too, so expect more poems and sketches and little tidbits than there has been lately. I’m really excited about my next path.

A Dip Into My Past

This past week, while waiting for people and on mini breaks at work, I read through my blog from the very beginning, way back in 2012. It was an interesting trip back for me. Eye opening, and very helpful in finally honing in on the next direction of my life.

The first few years of doing this blog focused a lot on writing as that was what I was prepping for release into the world. I also kept talking about music and art projects that I wanted to tackle. And I really miss having projects that I am passionate about. I miss all parts of that process.

I also posted my dream schedule of balancing parenting with being a freelance creator, and I am so far from that dream at the moment, it is laughable. Working full time (plus) in theater left me with barely any other creative time, let alone quality parenting time, and while the job was fulfilling in different ways before the leadership shift and it gave me the stability to get a mortgage and health insurance to have my 2nd child, I was so much happier when I was only working part time for them. Then going back into a different full time position doing bridal alterations has been draining in a very different way, and because of the hours the shop is open, even though I am physically working less hours, I still feel like I never get to see my kids or create anything extra. Especially since I’m still self-healing from last year. I feel all this pent up creative force longing to burst forth though.

So, the goal for the past couple of months now has been to be freelancing by the end of the year and becoming the at-home parent. Once that happens, I will still do some alterations. I will do some costuming work too as it comes up and as I can find time to do it. But I want to focus the bulk of my energies on my kids and on creating my own work again. I need to feel that passion for creating that I get sucked out of me by scraping myself dry through overwork.

Nearly Almost Had It All Career-wise

I had the opportunity come up to work on a big project that is currently being done locally. Someone from that project contacted one of the higher-ups of my organization, they recommended me, I sent in my resume and my hours that I would be available, and they forwarded that email to the appropriate person on their end. I was excited, because it’s a side of industry that I haven’t gotten to do since 2009 and it would have been my first time doing it at such a high level. Not as a creative lead, but the process would have given me so much experience that I was willing to overextend myself to make it happen.

Then it came. The email from the person that was the creative lead. And it was a firm job offer sitting in my inbox. I could have been head of the department, but I was needed for 12 hour days 5-6 days per week for five weeks. And I had to turn it down. I again offered the hours that I could commit to for a lower position, and I recommended a few other locals that could potentially fill in too, but they wound up bringing in a non-local. My town just isn’t a freelance town. We can’t clear weeks of our calendar on two weeks notice. Even when I was freelancing full time out in CA, I would run into this though. People wanting me to commit on days’ notice when I was usually booked months in advance.

There were bitter feelings on my end, for a little bit. I hate turning down opportunities. Hate feeling trapped. And my ego flared a little, wanting to say yes just to have that on my resume, just for bragging points to boost my opportunity for marketing myself online a little. But that bitterness was short-lived, which honestly surprised me a little. I have such a great blend of job security and creative freedom with the organization I’m at now that I would be foolish to sacrifice that in the name of my ego. I have a huge project I’m working on for them that wraps up when this other project would be finishing, where even if the other project had taken me up on my offer of working partial days or one to two days per week I would have been taking away from the quality of my work for my regular employer. And honestly, with wanting one more child soon, I don’t want to get back into that side of the business yet that requires me to work 12-16 hour days away from my children. Yes, I’m working days like that sometimes now, but I can do some of it from home or after my son goes to sleep. I can have him come into work with me. I fully plan on having my next child at work with me for most of the first 6 months, and my work is going to be fine with that.

There is a part of me, though, that mourns the loss of that parallel-life me that focused everything on business, just as there is mourning for the parallel-life me that was 100% a stay-at-home mom. Staying the middle course has given me so much joy and growth as a human being, but it also comes with frustration and exhaustion from the constant tug-of-war. I try my best to avoid asking “what if’s” in my life, but every once in a while, maybe when the veils thin, I feel my other selves on their paths, and I feel a longing for their experiences in addition to my own. ┬áIt’s very strange.

Anyway, I’m not entirely shelving the option to branch into that part of my field sometime in the future, and I won’t stop offering my assistance when the opportunities come up as much as I’m able to, but it will be more years down the road before I am willing to sacrifice the time away from my family. And that’s okay.

What You Miss Out On By Freelancing or Running a Small Business

I have come down with the plague. Not two days after I posted about how productive and good I was feeling. That’s what I get, I guess. But it got me thinking about the things I used to have as a salaried employee, working for “the man”, that I don’t have now as a freelancer and sole proprietor. No one contributes to a pension fund, I have to provide my own life and health insurance (we actually currently don’t have life insurance policies, so don’t try to kill me because you’ll get NOTHING), no office gatherings where the CEO or the boss picks up the tab, but the biggest lack I think is in not having paid sick time. I mean, in theory as a part-time salaried employee on my regular creative gig, I have a handful of sick days that I can use, but as I set my own schedule and as the work I didn’t do today still needs to be done by the end of the week, it is a moot point. For the freelance job I’m trying to finish up, I need to try to force myself to work for at least a few hours later this evening, if I can. I emailed my client to tell them that there would be a delay, but I owe photos of the work in progress, and I need to get this job out of my queue so I can move on to other things.

But this is one of the problems of going towards an increasingly freelance/contract job market, and one that has yet to be solved. This, in addition to the rise in service industry jobs and part-time jobs, means you have a pool of workers that have very little protection should they get sick or worse. You have more and more people without any maternity leave, not even the paltry six weeks disability that most companies give. You have employees pushing themselves to come to work even when they really shouldn’t be. And don’t get me wrong, I love the flexibility of my current work schedule. But there are prices to pay, and the price for many people are too high.

Anyway, I do not succumb to illness with any kind of grace or dignity but rather with a grudging acceptance that I need to rest in order to heal. My stubbornness and sheer determination makes it very difficult for me to give in, though. But sometimes I have to.

Organizing, Making Decisions, and Sticking to a Schedule

I have been on a massive internal organization kick lately, overhauling how I work and when I work on what kind of projects, giving a new priority to building both my career and my local presence, and re-thinking how I parcel out my days. I’ve cut down vastly on my online time, and I’ve implementing new focus in promoting myself on all fronts while balancing actual creation time and family time and work time. It helps that this is a calm-ish month at my job.

It also has come the time for us to begin making very serious decisions again for our family, regarding my son’s future in or out of school, which may involve a move to a different district, and that will determine a lot in the coming months for us. We need to take a serious look at our definite income for the next half year and decide what we need to do moving forward, which means spreadsheets and research. All that nasty stuff that is frequently difficult for creatives to do. Fortunately, the years spent working in between school and creative jobs in the financial industry at least has equipped me with the knowledge I need to forge ahead on this. It’s just incredibly distasteful and not fun.

But I have already noticed so much progress on all creative fronts! Which is a good thing. And I’m also very careful to schedule some down time for myself everyday, which is also good. Because my work will get crazy again. so if I already have this kind of focus in place, come the end of March, I’ll be ready to go.

A Calm Moment

I have things I should be doing right now to finish up one project and prep for a client meeting for another project tomorrow, and I don’t care. After a lovely time dozing off and on between cuddling and playing with my toddler on my bed this morning, I’m sipping my coffee and doing an Internet trawl while he plays happily by himself (first he was just walking around reciting a favorite scene from Monster’s Inc, then he played with a set of beads for a while, and now he’s studying a Spanish-English workbook… he loves his workbooks, kooky kid that he is). I know I’m going to be paying for my idleness when I’m up til 2AM tonight to prep for that meeting, but it’s okay.

Sometimes I worry about our lack of a set schedule. There’s a part of me that feels like I’m cheating the system somehow, by keeping such odd hours. Or that if we decide to do preschool next year rather than homeschooling, maybe we should be getting more on a regular schedule now to get used to it. Also, I feel like I lack discipline sometimes, like if I really wanted more writing or art time, I’d be getting out of bed at 5:30AM for an uninterrupted stretch of solitude, despite not going to sleep until midnight or later most nights to work on my paid projects. But this morning, after working really hard to get a lot done over the past two weeks, and knowing I have about a week and half still until I can take a whole day off, I’m just enjoying myself guilt-free for a change. It actually feels really good.

For you creators of all types, how do you balance your work time with your relaxation time and family time? How much sleep do you get? A friend of mine posted this graph from This Is Colossal of the daily routines of famous creative people, and firstly, I am amazed to see how much sleep they all actually got, and secondly, how much leisure time they had.

I feel like with the bulk of creatives today holding down outside jobs or running a household/raising children full or part time, this kind of schedule is really difficult to achieve. I also would be interested to see what these famous peoples’ schedules looked like before they were famous. And I also would have liked to see some females on the list, but maybe they didn’t have the information for them. Regardless, what are your thoughts?

And next up…

I finished my enormous project that I was stressing about. It went really well, thankfully, even with the stress. I managed to not make myself sick, although I did end up losing another few pounds, causing my husband to threaten me with an office job if I don’t start taking better care of myself on these projects. It was just a lot to deal with, to wrap my head around, and to logistically bring to a physical reality. But I managed to do it with only one really late night, and when the situation got it’s craziest, I kept my sense of humor.

It was strange working on a creative project that dealt with racism while race has been brought to the forefront of America’s mind, much to the displeasure of many white people. To feel myself exhausted and stressed and buried in work and still fully present in so important an issue… I haven’t really words to describe it beyond saying it felt like a profound place to be.

Along with dealing with the many thoughts and theories and emotions surrounding the project itself and the greater societal issues, life decided to throw two major past personal problems in my face when I was at my most exhausted and stressed, I guess as a test of whether or not I had learned some of the lessons I needed to learn. And I did. I passed the tests with flying colors, which means I’ve dealt with SO MUCH of the my teenage baggage, which is this huge affirmation towards my personal growth. I was annoyed that the tests came when I was so exhausted, but what better time to really know, right?

Anyway, this is the first time in a long time I’ve finished a project of any size and felt energized to jump right back into other creative work. I’ve let myself rest the past couple of days and spent loads of time just cuddling and playing with my son, but I’ve also penciled three small paintings, dove back into writing, and started the early work on my next project for my company I’m working for. This one in January will be my last extra project until summer, which I am actually looking forward to. It means I will have time this spring with my son, to focus on my freelance and personal creative projects, and maybe even to take on some extra projects with outside companies. I have my next voice lesson this week. And I’m eating calorie-dense foods and slowly getting back into my exercise and meditation routine. All good things. And I’m excited to share some of what I’m working on with you in the coming weeks.

Marketing of Some Kind is a Necessary Annoyance

As an indie creator of anything, marketing yourself is necessary. You can’t just make your book or your art print or release a single, throw it up on some site, and cross your fingers that you somehow go viral and start raking in piles of money. Even if it is an absolutely stellar project, you cannot expect immediate success, or even that the one project will be successful by itself. Yes, you’ve accomplished a lot all ready, just in completing, polishing, and releasing the creative piece, but you aren’t allowed to rest yet.

The marketing process is one that annoys me, primarily because it is yet another pull on my time. I’d rather be creating than trying to get my past creations out to more people. Also, I am someone that does want my work to speak for itself. I’m uncomfortable talking myself up, a tad suspicious of compliments that come my way (although I feel bad if they aren’t forthcoming when I’ve busted my butt – go figure), and would much rather pass off this work to a third party. But I’m an indie artist and writer and freelancer so I don’t exactly have the budget for hiring a publicist. My guess is that most of you don’t either. And in the wilds of our global online community, it becomes less necessary maybe.

So, here are the current (and immediate-ish) future plans I’m in the process of implementing both online and in my local area. Perhaps you will find some of these useful for yourself.

My freelance work under my actual name:

  • I am continuing with the social media work I’ve been doing. This actually nets me quite a bit of extra business, as friends and associates recommend people to me.
  • I’ve begun a Tumblr blog that is about another passion entirely but I talk about my freelance work in conjunction with that passion. This is a soft marketing experiment that I’m giving about six months to see if it works in getting me some more projects. However, Tumblr seems to be a wasteland of late, and I’m considering starting yet another wordpress blog and posting both places, but I don’t know if I want that kind of time dump. I mean, if the pictures I’m posting are already formatted and I’m just copying and pasting text, it’s maybe only another ten minutes each post, but still, that is time I could spend creating. Things to consider.
  • Thanks to a friend, I’ve got the names of two local companies to contact to do one-off jobs for, and I need to craft the perfect introduction letter. It’s a side of my business I haven’t done since 2009, so I want to make absolutely sure that everything is as perfect as I can make it.
  • I’m considering marketing myself offline, again in a soft marketing kind of way, toying with the idea of joining one of the local business women’s groups. Again, though, this would be a pull on my time that I don’t know if I can commit (for events, volunteering, etc) with my busy schedule and hands-on parenting. But if I do, it would immediately get me involved in my local community, I could potentially be helping people, and there would be much “Oh, you do this?” in conversations. I’m not much of a “belong to a big group” person, but maybe it’d be good for me.

Writing

  • I need to promote my books here more. I’m so bad about that. I won’t be posting every single week, but expect a more frequent reminder.
  • I have a small list of reviewers to contact about The Little Book of Insurrection or the Poetry of my Discontent. It needs to be done, and I haven’t done it.
  • I need to check out local writing and poetry groups, maybe get brave enough to attend an open mic reading. I’ve made a connection with an older woman who belongs to a local political theater group and she thinks I’d be a good fit, but again, I can’t commit to that kind of time. But I hope to at least attend a performance and network with similar-minded and passionate local people.
  • The biggest trend I’ve noticed in talking with my writer friends and witnessing online is that writers need to have a list of books out. There is a snowball effect that happens, and even if it’s a case of quantity over quality, that doesn’t matter so much. Which is sad. But, that being said, I need to carve out more time to write, so I can be releasing at least one book a year. Even at that rate, it’s still going to be a very long time (if ever) that I make any kind of significant income. And I’m okay with that. Writing cannot be my full-time creative endeavor, no matter how much I love it. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be doing it when I can.

Art

  • I need to find an alternative to Etsy for selling prints (and signed copies of books). Etsy has become so over-saturated since they’ve begun allowing factory-made items on their site with a looser definition of what defines an “indie” or “cottage” industry, and it’s just not what it was when it first began. So there’s that.
  • I have made an initial effort to get involved in the local arts community and need to grow that.
  • I need to check out local galleries and such to see if there are any openings to show my work and begin getting my name out there.

The thing I’ve found most important about marketing myself is staying flexible and constantly tweaking as I go. Also, I am almost always positive in my attitude, in a sincere way. I could maybe garner more attention by throwing temper tantrums or jumping on the latest hot debate and being a jerk, but I’d rather be pleasant and calm and save the rage and heat for situations where it’s actually necessary.

What are some of your favorite ways to market yourself? What do you find works best for you?