Friday, September 05, 2008

surviving survival mode.

I've come to the conclusion that these nuances of life are interesting, indeed. One day I met a woman in a coffee shop. We became friends. And, since then, my life has changed.

Yesterday we sat at my dining room table talking over cups of tea and sharing a light lunch of crackers with avocado and tomatoes. Outside, there was the coolness of autumn in the air and, inside, was a pile of sleeping dogs at our feet.

These days, I often find myself struggling for words to describe how I feel or what I see. Words sometimes become unavailable to me and this is one of those times. But, in talking, I realized something. I realized that I have been living in survival mode for so long that I am often barely able to see past it. I have this odd sensation of breaking down and breaking open all at the same time. I think this must be what growth feels like. When I think about it, I keep seeing myself as some sort of unidentifiable garden mulch...breaking down, disintegrating. The breaking open...well, that feels more like a strange new version of myself breaking out of a chrysalis. Granted, these new wings are still stuck closed to my back. I'm still forming sight. But one thing I do notice is an awful lot of light and openness surrounding me.

There are some incredible things brewing in my potential near future--things that out-do my wildest dreams. But, at the moment, I feel like I am walking the razor's edge. These words are lacking many of the details, but I am writing this here in case another artist or dreamer should stumble upon these thoughts. This is the part where I am struggling. This is the part where I'm making the transition between having a job and becoming a full-time artist. This is the part where I have no idea if the money will be there. This is the part where I am scared shitless. This is the part where I am trying to figure out how to break out of survival mode. This is the part where, if I weren't so stubborn, I would probably have considered giving up.

I am writing this in case a fellow traveler might stumble across it someday and hopefully be reminded that they are not alone. Following your dreams is scary work. The more real it gets, the more courage it takes. There's a lot at stake. I mean, let's get real. How does courage equate to paying bills? Or raising a family. Or, or, or....

I guess courage is the ability to let go of fear, to Be Brave, to keep moving in the direction that is truest, to trust that everything will fall into place.

I am writing this now so that I can go back to these words someday and see where I once was. Today I am standing in a place that feels very scary. I am also standing in a place that holds more potential than I ever imagined for myself. Or rather, I did imagine it. I put images of what I want on my vision board and in my wish box and have written about it many times here and in my journal. And now (dare I say?) it is growing well beyond the seeds I planted.

I have a lot of fear to give up. I'm writing this in my current state of uncertainty to remind myself and others why it is worth the effort.

It is a process--but one thing I know is that I want to do more than simply survive.



Olivia said...

Jessie, I want to encourage you to GO FOR what you want. To risk, to keep right on being brave. You do not want to grow old with regrets---this is the saddest, saddest thing, and the most common choice for people.

I know that you are going this way anyway, but I want to cheer you on and tell you that you are choosing rightly. If you fail, so what...who cares? If you hadn't tried, if you'd settled, down to live an ordinary life with an ordinary job, think of how you would try to live with yourself and what you would have left. It is SO the only good choice.

I am so excited that you are flying---flying---towards your dreams, beyond your dreams!

Much Love,


Anonymous said...

It amazes me that you can find yourself in a hella scary moment, and use that place as a platform to encourage others (who may be in that same spot). Girl, I am so feeding off of your optimism here. Whatever comes next, I know it will be good. Close your eyes and jump off of that razor's edge. I've watched you leap before and seen so many of your dreams come true.
~Much love, B. xo

Sharon said...

Jessie, You are perhaps the bravest person I have had the pleasure to know (albeit mostly through your writing).
I applaud you on your journey, with its ups and downs, and feel confident that you will come through this current phase with more calmness and happiness than before.
Go for your dreams, Jessie, while you are young. Don't wait until you are my age and realize that there was so much more you could have done in your life if you hadn't been afraid of the unknown...

Kel said...

This is a stunning bit of writing - powerful thoughts, powerfully written. I agree, without fear there is no courage. Scary times are our opportunities for bravery. All the best in your adventures!

Leah said...

you ROCK, girl!! i so believe in you.

reading your post, i couldn't help, but think of the quote, "love the questions." here's the full quote from Rilke:

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day."

jzr said...

If we stay locked in at home there will be no adventures. We need adventures to grow ... we need them to keep us creative and sane. Just keep on moving forward!

Melanie Margaret said...

What a wonderful, beautiful post.
You are so really do inspire me!
I feel that scary place too, but I keep moving forward.
Love You!

Anonymous said...

Jessie, I am right there with you.
I quit my job 2 weeks ago and I am
scared beyond anything I have known, but also feeling that excitement that anything is possible. Be brave, it is the way to go.

Sunday Scribblings said...



I am inspired and impressed. You are wonderful!!!

I'm writing you now!


Anonymous said...

I'm exactly at that same place, and this morning I really needed your post.
I love your last line and will keep remembering it in the days to come.
Thank you for writing this, for establishing a fence post that will stay put for ages, for others to find, by either touch or sound, in their way along this journey.

Anonymous said...

You have inspired me w/ your writing and your bravery--your very willingness to be brave.

I think I recognize the feeling you describe, that realization that the burden was far heavier than you knew when carrying it; it's only when you set it down that you can really know how it weighed on you and weighed you down. That is what survival mode is to me: a burden that keeps me looking down, not up, not even straight ahead. When I let go of it, my head comes up and my back can straighten. Relief. Lightness. Joy.

Sometimes, when in the heart of the struggle, I am able to look up ever so briefly because of a glimmer of what is possible. Can we let go and 'live the question'...surrender the struggle? With my head down it's hard to remember that surrendering, too, is a process, a choice made again and again until it is second nature.

Thank you so much for sharing this 'breaking down and breaking open'. The compost heap and the chrysalis--what wonderful metaphors! They will stay with me and encourage ME, I know.

Here comes some enCOURAGEment right back to YOU!

Anonymous said...

Love, love, LOVE this post!
You are so brave and write so candidly. I am one of those people who needed to read this and for that I thank you.
Go in the direction of your dream. Everything will fall into the right places.
Go Jessie!

Jamie said...

You brave, beautiful generous soul. I see you in that garden grown by planting the seeds of your dreams, reveling in abundance, giddy with joy, surrounded by love, amazed by your own magnificence.

Wise and magical you knows that stopping here and taking a lay of the land, of this razor's edge, is a mark of your courage, something to respect and honour.

Namaste, my friend.

Maria-Thérèse ~ said...

I just found your blog and this was the first post I read. I've worked as a teacher for a few years but am now making a huge change and starting my own creative business. I'm going to work as a writer, publisher, artist, designer and follow my desire. My creativity blog is one step in that direction: , if you want to check that out.

Connie said...

Go for it! are on the edge of one career and chapter of your life...not on the edge of a high wire. You are completely safe---you are this close to your dreams...because that is the next step forward...soon those dreams will only lead you to others! Everything in nature finds a moment that they are at the edge of something...look at seasons, flowers, birds before they's natural to go forward!!! Jump baby!! You have a whole web of souls beneath you that love you and will never let you fall!!!

Peace & Love.

Anonymous said...

Three cheers for feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

You rock girl!

Anonymous said...

as a fellow dreamer, and traveller, i stumbled upon your blog one day and actually had to read some entries twice...
is it really possible that there is someone out there who feels almost exactly as i do?
suddenly, i'm not painfully alone.
thank you so much for writing.

- alissa

Erin Kathleen Cheyne said...

Hey, I just wanted to let you know that you're certainly not alone. I'm doing the same thing...often you'll wonder if it's really worth it, but believe me, it is. I've officially reached starving artist status, and I'm happier than I've been in my life. I take a lot of weird side jobs to make ends meet - henna tattooing, washing dishes or slinging drinks, but it's so much better than the corporate world was.

Stuff I've figured out:

-be cautious in picking your "backup work!" I worked a few hours per week doing secretarial, but found that the environment really killed my creative stream. Another secretarial job worked out fine, but the environment was better. Choose carefully, and try to enjoy whatever you're doing as much as you would creating art. You never know when a former employer or co-worker will need a new logo or refer you to someone!

-Always have a backup plan - my landlord liked the charm factor of having a starving artist upstairs, but it's less charming when I'm late on the rent.

-Try to create something every day, even if it's just a postcard-size watercolor. Keep variety in your work, try mediums you're not comfortable.

-Grants: there are SO many grants available for individual artists and writers, and very few people apply for them. I was reading one of the larger grant guidelines - they give out $40,000 to 8 artists every year - only 80 people applied. Regardless of education history, they look for talent, professionalism and creativity. Make sure to follow the application guidelines exactly as they ask, and don't be afraid to call them if something is unclear.

-Don't be afraid to throw in a shameless plug for yourself now and then. Example: I roll my own cigarettes - it costs about $3 per week. I was in the gas station a while back, and saw a new brand of rolling tobacco. Asked the owner if he'd try it, he just rolled his eyes and said he's always been able to afford real cigarettes. I just laughed it off and said I was a starving artist - and left with a contract for a website, logo and advertising package.

-Don't be ashamed of it. You're doing what everyone wants to do and nobody has the guts to do. Make a list of your artistic achievements, experiment with new stuff, and don't be embarrassed about weird part-time jobs. My relatives used to give me an awful time at the reunions, but after I came up with a good elevator speech (I'm working as a freelance graphic designer, working on launching a full-scale studio, teaching art at a private school and working on an animated short for fun!) they started taking me seriously - and it made it easier to take myself seriously. Eventually, instead of joking about me to their friends, they started referring people to me. You probably do more than you realize, and as soon as you take yourself seriously, everyone else will.

-Network like CRAZY! Don't go to networking parties, duh, lameness. Always keep a stack of business cards in your purse, hand them out whenever you meet anyone new. Students, professionals, bartenders...anyone! (I had a separate set printed without my name and only my business number, good if you're at a bar or gym...haha.) My doctor has referred me to people, my pastor has helped me find work, and the mailman's girlfriend just called about a new business card.

-Keep track of local artists! I can't stress this enough, go to gallery openings, wacky open-mics and anything else of that sort. Talk to the guy sitting next to you at the coffee shop. Keeping an eye on the local art movement gives you a clear view of trends and local quality. Figure out what the best local artists are doing and try to one-up it. Maintain good relationships with other artists - if I can't do something, my friend Brent probably can. And vice versa.

-Maintain a beautiful lifestyle. Even if you're flat out broke, it's possible and necessary. Try do something for yourself once a day, grab a book of poetry from the library and have a cup of tea, take a walk in the park, sneak a bubble bath, have a glass of wine. Can't afford flowers? Go out and pick some. Can't afford pottery barn? Make something! It's the only way to keep sane. Learn to bake bread. Learn to sew - when my clothes hit rag stage, I take them apart and reconstruct. And as far as nice furniture goes, most towns have an annual large-item trash day, so you can throw out furniture without having to buy a tag. It's on my calendar, and once a year, all of the women in my family drive around with a u-haul and pick up cool, abused antiques. Paint them, put new seats on chairs, reupholster - you've got a sweet set. I was offered 5,000 for a swedish hutch we re-painted. It's cool, and the only expense is paint.

-The wider your variety of skills, the better you'll survive. I know one girl, single mother of two, who is a tattoo artist, designs garb for renaissance festivals, paints, sculpts and is a fabulous photographer. She has a gorgeous loft, a nice car and no debt. Diversify.

Anywho, that's just off the top of my head, but best of luck & keep your chin up!