It’s not easy when you struggle to find the time and energy to create but you have to do something else to pay the bills. A real job. A proper job. A defined payday at the end of every month. I take issue with the phrase ‘work/life balance’ only because it implies that work isn’t somehow part of life, and of course it is. For most of us, it’s a very big and important chunk.
I’ve had plenty of jobs where I’ve felt resentful of the time taken up by my paid work, and it took me an absurdly long time to realise this was largely because the work I did was dull and/or stressful, often both. When I began studying for an MA in art history I had vague notions of working in the museum/gallery sector. For many reasons (not least of all Covid) that never happened and I found myself back in the same kind of legal secretary job I did before my children were born.
That job didn’t make me happy, and last November I found myself actively job hunting (again). I was in the not unusual position of being over-qualified but lacking in practical experience for most of the jobs that sounded potentially interesting, so yet again I found myself working as a legal secretary. The big difference this time around is that I work in a department that engages my interest (wills and probate) and I work with lovely people. Not saying I wouldn’t hand in my notice if someone waved a magic wand to make it possible for me to become a full-time artist, but I know the most likely scenario is that I’ll be juggling paid work and creative work until I retire.
Finally, I’m genuinely okay with that. My paid work is fulfilling, and I don’t have the stress of feeling that every piece of art I make must be saleable. I can experiment, take a few risks, try new things, not worry if I don’t make an Etsy sale every week. Or even every month.
I’m also very lucky in that I work four days a week rather than five. Fridays are ring-fenced for ‘me time’, which means ‘making art time’. I’m also lucky in that my paid work is related to my art work, since many of the documents I use in my art are old legal documents, and I’ve learned to embrace that connection, tenuous though it might be.
I’m also very interested in social history and genealogy – the paper trail we all leave behind us. Every document is evidence of a life lived, of people going about their daily business, from the basic birth, marriage and death certificates to the bills and invoices, house deeds and Wills.
Even though I don’t get to work with old documents on a daily basis, I know they’re there, stored in the office cellar, calling me, making a connection with me.
I work in an office converted from a 19th century house on a street with many 19th century (and earlier) buildings. As I walk to work along this road I make time to think about the street’s history, sensing its past in my bones, the lives long gone, the marks they made without even realising it.
From my office window I can see Worcester Baptist Church, built in 1864. Many of the old buildings have gone (along with the former pleasure gardens) but traces of the past remain. It is these ghostly traces and echoes I try to tap into when making my art.
What I’ve learned, I think, is how to be fully present in both my day job and my creative life without feeling frustrated. It’s partly about acceptance – “it is what it is” – but it’s also very much about finding the points of contact and overlap between these two major areas of my life. I will never earn vast sums of money from either my day job or my art, but I have found contentment, and you can’t put a price on that.
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