Tonight, pushing through the heavy entrance door to my apartment building, I say hi to my neighbor who lives upstairs. He is probably getting home from work and a full day of classes,like always. We laugh about the lack of parking on our street and both turn in for the night. Immediately, I push into the bathroom to relieve myself. Staring at the ceiling tiles, peeled back from moisture and neglect, I wonder how many spiders can are waiting to crawl from the ominous triangles of darkness. As I go pee, I can hear that very neighbor doing the same a floor above me.
Down the street a similar apartment is occupied by a mother and her four kids. That is affordable housing here in Burlington- small apartments with thin walls.
With fundraising, one expects a high no to yes ratio. Sometimes the no’s are a little biting.
This isn’t the first time I have had to ask people to give money to a non-profit. I spent a summer on bicycle toting praises of VPiRG- Vermont public interest research group. I guess fundraising and bicycles go hand-in-hand for me.
I knocked on doors and talked to strangers about genetically modified foods, Monsanto, and why giving money to a kid on a bike might help Vermont “fight back.” Though I believed in the cause, many doors were shut on my face, harsh words of criticism hastily hurled back. I sympathized with their reactions more often than not.
Raising money is not comfortable, no matter the setting nor the cause.
The response came to me a few days ago. Handwritten, it rang something to this tune:
“You are a smart, capable woman who can get a job if you apply yourself. Do your research.”
Today on my 15 minute lunch break I ducked into the bathroom (my muse room) trying to stop thinking about the ebb and flow of boxes that were entering the store on wooden pallets…
from 16-wheel trucks, and where the boxes would go when we carted them on 6 foot long U-boats to the sales floor, and how my coworkers would work with each other while opening these boxes, and what I should say so they would heed my leadership position. I tried to stop thinking.
As I peeled sheets of toilet paper away, I had the reflex to fold a triangle into the remaining piece- a flashback to my days as a maid. I sat on the porcelain seat and wondered how many rolls of toilet paper in my life I have put on spools for strangers to wipe their butts with.
Is this not work? I wondered.
I work my full time job, leave work to train, return home to write fundraising letters, dodge over to my studio to paint, usually skipping dinner for something that I can carry between yoga and the studio, between the gym and my computer. My body is always sore, on work weeks I sleep on average 5 hours a night, and daily life-responsibilities (like doing laundry, cleaning my room, …bathing) are terrible, horrific detours that I push off until they are unavoidable . The things I have decided to care about- art, training, and fundraising- are another full time job.
There is this weird dichotomy between art and class. As an artist, i have always struggled with the sense of class and privilege. I pride myself from hailing from a place where work is valued. But art is often viewed as a pastime or hobby rather than work, seen as a sport for the affluent. The cliche is that those who go to school for art are those who a.) have parents who pay for it and b.) have parents who are not worried about their child finding a job because it is not and urgent issue. Art is the act of wasting materials for indulgent purposes. Plus, only rich people can buy it, right?
I did not have my family leaping for joy when I decided art was my calling. As a dependent, I romanticized the struggle, unaware of the defense I would constantly need to maintain into adulthood.
If you are a not a doctor, can you help anyone? If you are not a teacher, are you working? If you choose to volunteer, are you lazy, or are you just stupid?
I live in a two person apartment with three roommates. I have loans and no savings. I work a 40 hour job that requires physical labor- lifting carrying filling, opening boxes.
But Burlington is a very safe sense of life for me. I work at a place that ensures a sense of community. I enjoy the comforts of access to local foods at affordable prices, to physical activity in a place graced by the beauties of nature, the support of a tightly webbed body of intellectuals. I have a studio. I make time for art. Sure, rent is not easy, life is not always comfortable, but it is golden compared to the struggles many families face, many of my neighbors face. I work a lot but I am happy, and I am damn lucky to have these opportunities.
This brings me to yet another pivotal reason for choosing to do bike and build:
One must make art through experience, experience comes with challenge, and challenge is not comfortable.
You have to defy your sense of space, of self, and of home to know how to interact with an audience. You don’t know the world you live in by staying in place.
I want to be honest- I deal with a lot of guilt. I know art is what I want to do, but I struggle with the sense of self-indulgence, of selfishness and waste. And while I know to my core the art has an irrefutable cultural value and continues to be extremely relevant in day-to-day life, I feel like the only way for me to address my torn drive is to find a way to give back. My education gave me the language of art, and that is a privileged many do not have. I want to challenge my sense of space, self, and home, I want to work hard, I want to give back.
The truth is, we are all looking for answers. Twenty four and our diplomas are only used in the summer when our un-ventilated, overstuffed apartments force us to fan our faces with those flat, square black books.
I like this life. And If this is not work, then why is it so damn exhausting? What it comes down to is that I am just one of those people who will always being doing something that someone else does not approve of. I don’t mean that in the mom-I-pierced-my-nose type way (which my mother was definitely not pleased with), or in the spray-paint-random-buildings kind of way (unfortunately, something that I have first hand experienced on my studio windows and DO NOT condone!) As someone who feels pretty shy, someone who shows up to work everyday, never attends protests that are not candlelight-ceremony, and whose best defense in an argument is growling,walking away, and stewing until something comes up and distracts me, I don’t see myself as a rebellious person.
It feels like we live in a world where be honest to yourself is an act of rebellion. Perhaps I am just young.
Here is to living life with a booked agenda and no time for nay-sayers, to the working-class, to learning how to give back.