Mar. 16th, 2016

I started working when I was 13 years old - old school style, babysat over the summer from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for $20 a day. That family ended up moving without warning; I transitioned to after school during the school year, went over to their house like usual, they were gone. Without paying me my final check no less.

That's not what this post is about, though. Not really.

We also had chores growing up, like most kids do. Dishes after dinner, cleaning our rooms, an actual chore schedule (the kitchen garbage can, for instance, got washed out once a month without fail). I was so short I had to stand on something to do the dishes; my dad would check the water temperature and, if it wasn't hot enough for sterilization, he'd let it all out and run the hot water in. Any time I protested the water was too hot for my delicate little hands, he'd grab them and plunge them into the dishwater until they acclimated. It only hurts the first minute or so. Little bright red paws are clumsy, but the dishes got done.

This is closer to what this post is about.

When I was 14, my brother moved into the college dorms. After we dropped him off, dad drove us to a furniture store where he bought a lamp. He held this lamp in his lap and cried all the way home. My brother was 16. He would drop out of college at the age of 18.

That has much more to do with this post.

Despite dropping out, my brother didn't move back in with us. He worked at a restaurant and split a studio apartment with two of his friends, who jointly owned a comic book store.

I stayed home, of course. Despite hours - days, weeks - spent daydreaming of running away, I knew I didn't know how to take care of myself. I did, though, know how to take care of my parents. I knew how to iron dad's dress pants and work shirts to perfection. I knew how to loop his tie and draw it just tight enough. I knew to use up the fresh produce as quick as possible, as dad hated the expense of food gone bad. I can see him still, holding a fistful of wilted, slimy radishes in his hand, "Do you know how much this COSTS?" and flinging it away. I knew how to make a shopping list in aisle order, so my mom could get through the grocery store as fast as possible. I knew which coupons to clip, how to double them.

At 17, with a better job at a local restaurant, I was promoted to more cooking duties and the expense of grocery shopping. I learned you can half-ass lasagna by not boiling the noodles first. Put enough watery green vegetables in there, pop the tinfoil on top, and the noodles steam on their own. I pored through cookbooks. I made meatloaf the way dad used to, with a package of onion soup mix, Saltine crackers, and ketchup on top. I scrubbed, wiped, sanitized, made it to work, made it to school, made it out for parties now and then.

Nearing 18, it was college time. My vote was no college - My jewelry teacher thought he could swing an apprenticeship with a local silversmith. I wanted this. I wanted it badly. I floated the idea of beauty school - cut hair on the side, make jewelry, become a famous artist, done and done.

Dad wasn't okay with this. He'd had one child drop out of college, negating all the status and attention he got for having a child prodigy in the first place. Dad wheedled first - promised he'd figure out how to pay for the entire thing - then threatened. If I didn't go to college ("real" college, 4-year liberal arts type), he would give me 2 weeks to pack everything I owned and find a new place to live. Anything left behind he would burn. I capitulated. After all, "real" college would at least get me out of the house*.

Over and over through this process he told me, "Art doesn't pay the bills. You can't support your family with art. You can't support yourself with art." The argument that being a hairdresser would make up for this fell on deaf ears.

Off to college I went. I worked - couldn't be a burden on my parents, had to buy textbooks, gas, insurance, beer, all that stuff. I made it through. I got jobs. I mostly lived with my parents, dad's logic being that I'd have to pay rent somewhere, why not pay it to them? I could never save quite enough to move out, though I did run off to Brooklyn for a year. Slunk back after realizing the big city wasn't for me, but I go out for awhile.

At 26 I decided to train for medical transcription; I became self-employed at 27 and have been doing it ever since. I'm supposed to be transcribing a report right now, in fact. I'm no longer self-employed** but still a transcriptionist. Since becoming an employee again, I've had to borrow around $3000 from my brother, was forced to stop paying my mom's cell phone bill, couldn't send my dad any more cash***, and am now living with my granny and my mom in a trailer manufactured housing unit, struggling to make ends meet.

Today I'm waiting to hear back from a man named Josh, the manager of a local paint store. Industrial, commercial, domestic paint. Not oil paints, not acrylics, straight house paint. I should hear by tomorrow, Friday at the latest, if he would like me to join his team and sell the shit out of some paint. I have a choice - I can continue on in medical records, buy a business casual wardrobe, maintain certifications, claw my way up a ladder, and make beaucoup bucks. Or I can work at a paint store, make enough for me to support myself (and only myself) and have access to all the free mis-tints my heart desires. There will be no stress. I will have the energy to clean out the garage and set up a silversmithing bench, an easel, move the gemstone faceting machine from my brother's apartment to here.

I will make art. It might be mediocre art; it might be sloppy, ill thought out, unsellable art, but it will be art, and I will be happy.

Also, since this post will reach a wider audience than usual, this is where I ask humbly for good thoughts, prayers, and chicken sacrifices on my behalf. I'm sure the Gods of Paint will also accept chocolate and whiskey sacrifices if you're squeamish about the chicken.****

*There is a long and possibly triggering story behind this, which I will not share now.

**There is a medium-sized story behind this, which I will not share now.

***There is a very long story behind this; in fact, because I can't figure out where to put 4 asterisks, there's two stories - one about the jewelry career and one about dad having a drug-induced psychotic break, neither of which I will share now.

****I keep telling myself I shouldn't get my hopes up, but right now it's down to me or one other guy, and I can't help but hope.

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