Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Money Circle

Back in the mid-1970's, I worked for a camera company as a shipping/receiving clerk. Like most companies, this place had its good and bad points. So after a while, I was ready to move on.

But to what? I had no other tangible job skills, I hadn't finished college (where I was majoring in art), and any personnel manager I talked with felt I needed to have more goals in my life (not to mention more employable skills). Plus, I wasn't necessarily good at marketing myself.

All this lit a fire within me that lasted for years. I made arrangements to return to college (leaving my job with the camera company), get a degree in whatever sounded practical that would also interest me, and simply have more options when I re-entered the work force on a career level.

I started in ornamental horticulture but quickly changed to microbiology, medical technology option. This curriculum would have prepared me as much as possible to enter an internship to train as a medical technologist, the folks in clinical labs who run the tests on patient specimens, and then take various state board exams to receive a license.

I got as far as being admitted to the one-year training program at the City of Hope in Duarte, CA. That's when plans changed. It was either because of the overwhelming stress of trying to learn and do so much in so little time, or the fact that I needed dental work done and was taking prescription pain killers as a result.

The point is: I took a multiple-choice written exam and made some really dumb errors, thus failing the test. They allowed me to re-take it, and I tried to be as careful as possible, even to the point of working out math problems in the margins -- but then circling the wrong letter on the test. More dumb stuff -- and I was dismissed from the internship.

Whichever the cause, that was the first time I ever truly bombed out on anything important in my life -- an event I never entirely recovered from. I entered grad school and received a masters degree in microbiology. But the funny thing about science: a masters is not a help but a hindrance. I was overqualified to do what bachelors degrees people do, but not advanced enough to do Ph.D. work. In most fields, a masters degree is considered worthwhile. In the natural sciences, it puts you at a disadvantage.

None of the jobs I found in reserach were actually microbiology-related, although I had skills that worked in other fields (i.e., electron microscopy). Most of those jobs were also grant-funded, which means you can be laid-off if the grant isn't renewed. Which I often was.

So in 1991 I left science altogether, we moved to Colorado Springs and I took a position in a Christian ministry answering letters and sending out resources that I felt could help our constituents deal with their issues. As mentioned in a previous post, I have writing skills, so in some ways, this job was a good fit. Sort of a mix of customer service and light-weight counselor, mostly with teen girls.

The down side: I'm not as conservative as many of the people who were around me. Of the nine years I worked there, I spent at least seven of them trying to get out. The stress and pressure to conform to certain religious expectations and behavior was quite damaging, and to this day I have a difficult time relating to church or Christians.

After deaths in each of our families, we returned to California in late 2000 with the idea that my wife would find a local job and I would paint (and sell) full time. It seemed to be working at first, but wouldn't you know it: the economy started slowing down, and so did the art sales.

And here we are today, where I feel like I've gone a terribly frustrating full circle: no real employable skills (assuming I could even find a job around here); I've been out of the lab for 18 years and am not only rusty, I'm behind the times. And I'm still not sure I know how to sell myself, anyway.

For most artists I know (maybe all -- some of them may be lying!), sales are down or nonexistant. Some artists are speculating art business methodologies that worked in the past may not work anymore -- that buyers' attitudes have changed. Don't know about that -- history shows alternating cycles of parsimony and wanton materialism.

It all certainly puts me in a position where I have to decide what to do next -- and fast. I know it isn't just me -- but that doesn't affect the fullness of my pocketbook. I've been painting smaller lately: rather than lowering prices (which wouldn't be fair to my previous customers), I'm making paintings that I can offer for less.

BUT: do I need to make more changes? Are there enough people out there who want the things that I paint? More decorative? More colorful? More abstract/impressionistic/whatever?

The Money Circle has been a long-lasting, maddening, frustrating and sad situation. I hope I find out what I need to do soon -- before it's too late.

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