It was weird. Just as I was stacking the almond milk beside the gluten free pretzels, I felt it rise up in my chest. Maybe it was the Adele blaring in the background, or maybe it was the fact that I spent all morning grocery shopping at Target just to save $10, but either way, there it was. Slamming into my ribcage, hard, leaving me disoriented and nauseous.
I've been working on a super long blog post all about our journey to find Braedon a high school, and I definitely touched on this in there, but I'm not sure I ever really felt the impact, like felllllt it, until a few hours ago.
Just as there always is with my physical anxiety, the fear thoughts followed. "Why are you so selfish? Why are you choosing to be an artist? Your family would have so much more money if you'd just stop being so self-centered."
Woah. Hello bully. Damn.
The things is, it's never been a choice for me. And I know that sounds so cliche and sappy, but I've always shared how creativity truly saves my life on a daily basis. If it wasn't for my pottery wheel, or camera, or journal, I truly would never be able to function. It's my Xanax. Truthfully. The act of sitting down to make something brings me right back to center, and gives me a most needed break from the beehives in my brain.
Kind of like yoga except different.
Either way, my point is, I have always known and accepted that I have no choice. That, much like Anne Lamott has expressed, without my art I am kind of useless. Sure I teach, and of course I do other things, but imagining my life in the absence of photographs and words is completely unimaginable. I am a mess, scattered all over the place in a hundred different directions, and it's my art that always picks me up and puts all the pieces back together.
So, where in the world was this heavy guilt coming from? What was this shame tapping me on the shoulder only to punch me in the face when I turn around?
And then I sat down on the kitchen floor and took some breaths and remembered- it's tax season. It's let's-get-real-about-your-money, season. It's tuition-contracts-need-to-be-signed, season.
Tis' the season of staring my monetary worth, and shortcomings, directly in the face.
Well, shit. Who the fuck wants to do that? Nobody.
When being an artist is soul work, and there is no alternative, but there's also no alternative to feeding your children and paying your bills, things can feel super frustrating, sometimes.
I straight up had a tantrum on the hardwood this morning.
On the books, before expenses, I had one of my biggest, most profitable years ever. But I also had one of my largest expense reports ever. So the final number isn't peanuts, but I'm not exactly picking out seasonal throw pillows from the full price section of Anthropologie anytime soon, either. And we can't afford to send both kids to elite private schools next year at 20K each.
Thomas is making awesome money at his job, and climbing up the computer science ladder faster than I can keep up with. And I'm over here slingin bowls barefoot while listening to Mary Oliver's books on repeat.
And I feel guilty about that. I feel like a failure because of that. I wake up at 2am and want to run as fast I can out into the parking lot and scream like a crazy person, because of that.
And again, I made good money. But, I feel like the myth that successful photographers are making it rain on their private islands is kind of fucking with my head lately.
And then I was like, why don't professional photographers speak honestly about all of this shit? Sure a whole bunch of people lie about it (and then sell workshops on how to get rich), but behind the scenes, and on their actual tax forms, very, very, very few are making more than a middle class wage (defined officially this year as under 114,000). The average, from the measly 12 people I reached out to for this blog post, after taxes and overhead and everything, is between 55-70K. Some (top wedding photographers) were ballin' and well into upper class territory, but some only made just over 10K. All told me they would only share their numbers with me if I didn't mention their names. And I didn't ask anyone to give me proof because it doesn't matter. The point of this post isn't about exploring the median income revenue of today's photographers. That's important, but texting 12 people is the max amount of scientific research I am willing to do today, and all I really want to do is speak up and be like, guess what, we are all in this together.
I know for a fact I am not alone in feeling uneasy this time of year. I know that I am not the only professional artist who writes a big fat check to Uncle Sam and then wonders if it's all really worth it? Am I worth it? I cannot even tell you how many times this month I've actually said, "Please for the love of God can someone just tell me how to make a million dollars taking pictures and THROWING CLAY VASES THAT LOOK LIKE A FIVE YEAR OLD MADE THEM?!" Like why is that not possible?
It's such a maddening feeling. I am not a starving artist. But I am far from what anyone would call rich, and my parents don't still give me an allowance. And this grey area I'm in, this magical space between diamond slinging millionaire and upside down on a stripper pole dealing crack, is filled with some pretty incredible blessings.
I just forget sometimes.
And I guess, I just want to say the following to everyone, but mostly, to myself:
Fuck the guilt. Fuck the shame. Fuck apologizing for not being a neurosurgeon. Fuck that argument in my head going back and forth about money and desk jobs and worth. Because money is real, and rent is real and tuition is real, but the heart beating in my rib cage is real, too. And the way I feel after running through the forest with a woman who's just been submerged in a sacred river, is real, too. And giving wedding photos to a couple to help them remember their love even when his chest hair is stuck to the bar of soap in the shower, is real.
And setting an example for my children that it's OK to follow the sound of the not so subtle callings that make you feel like you exhale stardust, is valid. And worth is so much more than your bottom line.
That being who you were meant to be, even if it isn't going to land you in the top 1%, is actually kind of important and beautiful and difficult and awesome.
And worth it. You hear me? I don't care what your taxes or whatever show. The work you are doing is worth it. And we need it. And if you didn't do it you'd probably be so filled with sadness or stomach ulcers that you'd be a miserable Mom. And nobody wants that. And as long as you have food and shelter and love, and some kind of medical care just in case you step on a rusty nail, it's all going to be OK.
No more guilt.