Monday, December 21, 2009

I wish to share a happy story...

...that began very glumly. With a cut in pay to a third of what I was making less than two years ago, Cameron and I have scrambled to make ends meet, choosing to feed cats ahead of the people. Not that we've gone hungry, but that we give them Iams (less food eaten and less litter in the cat box needed) while we have eaten a lot of mac and cheese and such like. When Cameron's job ended last summer, we cinched our impoverished belt even tighter. Despite our lack of funds, miracles have continuously appeared. Each a blessing unlooked for. A generous and loving friend across the country put money in my paypal account, unasked. Friends praised my jewelry, things fell into place and I began my side business while attending grad classes, working full time, and spending time as a student therapist at the school's clinic.

When a friend suggested Barnyard Flea Market we checked it out and began vending. For the last six weeks I've beaded necklaces way past my bedtime, vended every weekend and walked around in a sleep deprived haze. Cameron has championed my efforts, providing biscuits, potty breaks and moral support. Cameron even created a panda bear focal point based on one of her paintings (which sold yesterday!).  We had some success at the flea market, but it was apparent that we were not in a venue that was appropriate for my work. We sometimes barely paid the table fee and bought hot chocolate. We lost money two weekends ago. One miraculous weekend we made $200 and were able to make it through the week. We worked out the table displays, improving weekly the putting up and taking down process.

Yet my work didn't seem to sell  like I thought it should. Sure, friends were buying here and there, but I could chalk that up to friendly generosity. My boss commission some pieces, but I still was loosing faith. Then an email came challenging my creativity and offering a fair price for my work and I wept (dearest sister, you know who you are--I look forward to beginning to create them next week!). The next day co-workers looking for last minute gifts received their Christmas necklaces from my boss that she had commissioned and started buying. And more today. And six more tomorrow!

What a joy to have my work appreciated. Cameron's excitedly anticipating a trip to the grocery story today for more than Ramen noodles, and I'm merrily planning my next commission. And my joy is so great that I needed to share my own Yule miracle.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Follow Your Vision

Despite the winter storm of last night, warming temperatures during the night cleared the roads and I was at work at 5am this morning for my monthly turn at working a Saturday. It was uneventful except for the constant calls inquiring if we were open. Given that the owner lives five minutes from the clinic and folks can't go without their medication, of course we were open.

From there I went to Barnyard to begin the last weekend of vending. Melting snow and ice had created a puddle on the table and I had to dig through the car for an old towel to dry it. Since we had a winter storm last night, Cameron had talked me out of putting out of putting extra energy into making the new displays. So I borrowed the table (the dry end) next to me and quickly stapled them together. Yea! We now have professional looking displays.

Crowds were thin, vendors arrived late or not at all, and I imbibed in a lot of hot chocolate.We sold a few things (sold a fair amount yesterday at work, so I'm not complaining!), and with dropping temperatures, decided to pack up early. A lovely lady from down the way came over as I packed up, and truly inspired me.

She told me about a local church that invested in her beginning her small business of baking bread. She uses quality ingredients, but folks complain of her prices, even when she reminds them that they aren't paying for white bread. Last summer she got a number of customers who asked for zucchini bread. She doesn't like making zucchini bread. Her vision of her business doesn't include zucchini bread.  But after several requests, she finally yielded and baked zucchini bread. The very customers who asked for zucchini bread did not come to her table to buy. Instead, they crossed the aisle to avoid her table and kept walking. She no longer compromises her vision. She just bakes banana nut bread.

Customers complain that all I have is "that glass shit," and Southerners must "wear a lot of glass." Customers complain of my prices (I'm making about $.50 an hour). Customers want this or that, but not what I have on the table. We had requests for pandas week after week. I put one on the table and it's gone unsold for weeks. Never mind them, I'm off to festivals next year where hand made beads and hours of time designing necklaces might be appreciated...and I can follow my vision.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Monday

And it's foggy and rainy, and I'm tired of the blues. So I stepped over to one of my favorite blogs for a little joy and a smile. I thought I'd share it with you, my cyber family .  A Fanciful Twist has such a joyful approach to living. While I'm too old and too jaded to be so cheerful, it does make me smile: )

And after I a weekend at the flea market, which was a bust, I need a smile. We payed $28 for a table for two days. Saturday was so cold that no one came to our forlorn, unprotected row. I made $6. We didn't even bother to go back on Sunday since it was equally cold and rainy. Instead, Cameron rested her hips on the futon while Brilliant and I made polymer clay beads, which turned out fabulous!

Next week is the last weekend before Christmas. I hope to make enough to pay off the payday loan I had to get for cat food and gas money. Nevertheless, today I am warm,  I have a job, however low paying, and I deliver two commission necklaces to a friend. She'll be blown away at them!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Burned Out

Before I begin, I'll acknowledge that December has been my burnout month for many years. Having observed a school/semester schedule for 14 or more years of my adult life, I have often noted that by this time of the year I've begun streamlining, eliminating and dumping every person, responsibility and request possible. So take the following with a grain of salt. The feelings are appropriate and authentic. The perspective is narrow and exhausted.

I planned this year very carefully. I began this round Feb, 2007 (the third return to grad school, previous experiences in IL and GA in English and technical writing). I'm working on an Ed.S and will have spent four years and 88 semester hours when I'm done. We don't discuss the student loans. I began the practicum in Feb officially, but entered with approximately 30 hours I gathered in Dec and Jan that applied (500 hours total are required). I hit the ground running, clocking 45-60 hours a month, while working full time and attending classes. I know me, and I knew where the burn out would hit, and what I had to do to survive. I predicted myself down to the month. I started slowing down at my school site several months ago, and dropped from 12-15 hours of therapy a month to 5 last month. I've gone from 3 hours a week of supervision a week to 1. Everything has gone exactly as it should. I've even got the videos ready to edit for clinical comps next month. Without overwhelming financial burdens, I might have even survived better than expected because I had used my time and resources so wisely.

Having lost my home twice, once in the nineties and again in early 2000, I have become very sensitized to the possibility of loss. I bought my old, scruffy trailer because it fit my budget. It needed a great deal of work, has received some work such a roof, extreme repairs to outdoor siding where insulation was showing, a couple thousand in plumbing, and appliances. We removed the carpet following an ice storm that knocked out the power for several weeks. With so many animals at the time, it was ruined when we couldn't clean it without electricity for hot water and a steam cleaner. We've lived on the subfloors for several years now, simply because we haven't had the funds for more (can we say extremely high electric bill EVERY month?). We did manage to lay inexpensive linoleum in the dining room, which as become the repository of cat boxes rather than people.

With student loans coming in, Cameron's painting when the opportunity presents itself, and the miracle of guardian angels who have periodically helped (you know who you are, thank you again), we have limped by. And today we will limp by again. But the wear and tear is showing. My edges are frazzled. My knee has gone out and I'm using a cane this week (don't have sure footing, if interpreted metaphysically). Tuesday night, I reached a breaking point, screamed my anguish and fear, and now I've lost my voice (I haven't written here in weeks, so lost it metaphysically several weeks ago).

Out of desperation, I've been making necklaces like crazy, thinking to sell them at the local flea market. The other vendors all tell me I am a year late. Up until a year ago in April, the flea market was prosperous. However, continued layoffs in our geographical area have results in a desperate shift. Folks aren't coming to the flea market to buy necklaces anymore (one vendor said I could have expected $600-$700 a weekend in the flush days). Now they come looking for food and warm socks. I make $50 last weekend, and it cost $28 to be there. The previous weekend was better, but only because I sold things just above cost to pay the car insurance. Of course, cost of gas and groceries goes up, but my paycheck does not. My boss is too busy vacationing in Vegas.

Having been a debt collector, I have no fear of them anymore. I remember when I hid from the phone, crying because I couldn't pay money I owed. The only thing that shakes me now is when they can take something away from me. On November 30, I got one of those calls: "We are on the way to pick up your rent-to-own storage building. We'll be there in an hour." Our trailer is very small. And 4,000 books, camping equipment, and miscellaneous stuff that doesn't fit the trailer resides in that 12x10 building. It's more than half paid for.

I freaked. Usually Tina calls and gives me time to make the payment. She claims to have left messages. I didn't get them. Since I missed a vital client call this week as well, I believe her. A kind friend bought some necklaces on the spot, once again bailing me out. But on December 8 Tina called back, saying we are two months late, again, and they were coming on Friday to take the building. Shesh. Normally they'll wait till the payday at the end of the month. Not any more. Once again we scrambled, found a friend, bartered goods, and I talked Tina into waiting for Monday. I had hoped to depend on funds from the flea market, being this close to Christmas things should pick up. But the weather forecast is not promising. So the friend's offer stands, and it'll be paid.

On the one hand, moving to SC is the first time in my life that friends and loved ones have helped, taken care of me, been there. I have family of choice who come to support me at the flea market, barter for Cameron's haircut, provide funds when we have nowhere to turn. I am no longer isolated, without resources or friendless. This child of abuse, disrupted attachment, and neglect is overwhelmed by the love and outpouring of support. And I make beautiful necklaces, so I offer goods in return. There have been gifts and charity, but also honest exchange of money and goods, which soothes my sense of being. My therapist says I need to believe the universe will provide, and it has.

On the other hand, the universe didn't always provide, and the losses out number the gains. When I moved to South Carolina, I called myself a winnowed woman. Like the biblical image of women throwing grain into the air to separate the chaff from the wheat, my life had been thrown in the air to separate the valuable from the trash. At that time, there wasn't much left. I had friends, including Cameron and Luna who took me in. My connection to Luna led to a job. A friend paid for my storage and I lived in 1/2 of Cameron's small studio. I had lost my sons (one still does not speak to me). It was a hard time.

Compared to those days, my life has improved considerably. Cameron and I are together. I have amazing friends, in California, in Atlanta, here is South Carolina. I have people who love me, will give me anything they have available, who value and honor my life, my person, my work. Nevertheless, I'm raw and I'm exhausted. We've had both cars repaired ($400 each), plumbing repair and subsequent high water bills ($900), missed electric payment resulted in $250 deposit, and the list goes on. It doesn't take much, living on the edge, to fall off. Especially if it happens within six weeks. We've survived this far because of our CA angel (goddess bless you, my friend, the cars run, the water leak no longer runs through the air vents under my floorboards, and the plumber insulated the pipes).

Not an unreasonable state, really, all things considered. I work full time. I am in graduate school. I just finished the most emotionally difficult class yet, which left me triggered and wounded (the class dealt with child abuse and taught by a cognitive behavioral therapist who has no clue how much harm it was doing to several of us). Cameron's work ran out, and the promised December work didn't materialize because of budget cuts. I'm staying up nights making jewelry for a flea market that is not the right market for my work. Moreover, this is a challenging and difficult time for my clients (as attested to by the late night emergency phone call from one after I went to bed last night). I'm sleep deprived, in pain from knee and scarcely have any voice around the damage I did earlier in the week.

I believe in what we are doing. Vocational Rehab is helping Cameron with tuition and will be extremely invested in finding her a job (with insurance so she can get the other hip replacement) and work around her learning disability. Indeed, she's amazing with teens and with her art therapy, they'd be crazy not to find a good nitch for her. I graduate next year, and with a lisence won't be limited to my current job which does not pay a livable wage. Hopefully, my two year internship will earn enough to cover the additional student loan payment. And I believe in this jewelry business that has thus far generated $800 that we might not have had otherwise. In a better market (festivals, Pagan Pride, etc) we should do well. Currently, I'm transferring two clients to new therapists in January, and no longer have to attend group supervision. My Gender Identity Disorder client will stay with me through the spring semester, but my other two will be reassigned in March or April. I only have to attend one hour of supervision. Moreover, I'm taking an independent study and child art therapy class next spring, which will provide some healing.

Yes, I have an appointment with my own therapist on Monday. Yes, I have help at the flea market this weekend from Cameron and Brilliant, who is spending the weekend and a delight to be around. I'm doing as right as possible. Nevertheless, I've been off my blog for as long as I've been in crisis. Surprisingly, I still have hope. I can see how things may work out next year, and we actually might be able to exchange gifts valued at more than $5 for the first time ever next year (yep, always seems to hit in Dec but we have each other and all that mush!). But today I'm burnt. I'm exhausted. And I'm going to freeze my ass off at the flea market tomorrow with highs in the 40s and rain on Sunday!