Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Where the Road Goes...
Before I continue, I want to fill in some of the backstory. I did not have an idyllic childhood. After my brother left, my family began to fall apart. We fought. We argued. We blamed each other. Our family was fractured. As the youngest of a heartbroken family, I was mostly left to my own devices. I cultivated a fierce sense of independence and roamed the streets of Orlando on my bicycle in search of something that would fill the void. Luckily I found many friends who would become the family-unit that I so desperately wanted. Even still, I think I grew up far before my time.
Fast forward a few years. On the surface, it might seem like I lived a charmed life. I was on the honor roll, an AP student, participated in after-school activities, won awards for volunteering, writing and artwork, I was the youngest board member of a church, and worked part-time for not one newspaper, but two. But at home, my parents and I fought constantly or ignored each other completely. I think part of my good deeds were to overcompensate for what wasn't there.
I became jaded with the state of journalism and wanted to pursue my passion as an artist. I really didn't know what that would entail. But I saw an exhibition at our local art museum of Suzanne McClelland's work and read that she had went to college at the School of Visual Arts. I had also seen a movie called, Art City: Making It In Manhattan, and after some research, discovered that some of the artists featured in it were faculty members. A loose plan formed. It was more of a dream than a plan. The idea of leaving everything behind for a city that I had only seen in movies was crazy! And then September 11th happened and I knew that I had to make my way there, no matter what. I wanted to be a part of the healing process and I wanted to be an artist in The Art City. I applied for every scholarship and grant possible and met with a recruiter for what would become my future alma mater.
My parents, particularly my father, did not approve of my decision. But at that point we were at each other's throats so much that I wasn't the only one relieved when there was a majority of the Eastern Seaboard between us.
That first year was one of the most definitive of my life. For the first time, I was able to embrace my independence. I worked hard. I played hard. And somewhere in between, my parents and I started talking again. Becoming an adult, I realized that they were just human and they were people too. Just because they wore the titles, "Mom" and "Dad" didn't mean that they were superheroes with the ability to right all the wrongs in the world. Even still, there was a long way to go before things would be completely repaired.
And... that's when I made the worst mistake of my life.
I got a letter taped to my door that said my funding had run out and that if I didn't act, my things would be removed and thrown on the curb. I met with my financial advisor that informed me that due to budget cuts and funding issues, many of my scholarships were either discontinued or had run out. The only way to continue was to borrow more money. She said that if I wanted to be a successful artist, I needed a degree and without the additional loans, I wouldn't be able to get my degree. I would be a failure. I would be a loser. I had sold some of my paintings and was already building my name. I didn't want to stop learning. I didn't want to stop my career before it even really started. I thought that if I could keep selling my work, that I could pay it off without a problem. All I needed to do was get a co-signer for my loan. I was panicking and scared. Even though I had grown up in a lot of ways, I wasn't prepared for this. So, I encouraged my parents to co-sign on the loans. I think that they thought that if they didn't sign the loans, they'd lose me like my brother.
After reading all this, you might be questioning... so what's the big deal? You signed a few papers. You got your parents to autograph some forms. So what?
What I naively did was enter into indentured servitude, not only for myself, but for my parents as well. The amount that I owe in my student loans is staggering. I've ruined my credit. I've ruined their credit. I've ruined their retirement. Even if I live to 100, I will never be able to repay the debt in its entirety. Even if I go bankrupt, the student loan debt will remain. I could live high on the hog and max out a sack of credit cards and then file for bankruptcy and with the help of high-interest, low-limit credit cards, be able to restore glowing credit within 7 years. The same cannot be said about student loans.
I carry this weight around every day. Knowing that my dad still has to work, even though his hands are crippled by arthritis, adds to the everyday anxiety. I try not to let it get to me too much. I try to focus and visualize on how I can do my best and hopefully, by some miracle, overcome this obstacle.
This overwhelming pressure certainly has an affect. As we build our business, this challenge has shaped how we operate and has prevented us from doing many of the things that we would have liked to do. In some ways, it has been a good thing. It has forced us to be creative and utilize the resources at our disposal in interesting ways. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
One of the recent changes that this has had an influence in is that we won't be able to help my family out at trade shows anymore. I have been working shows for almost ten years for Green Girl Studios. Some people don't even know my name... just that I work for "Green Girl". But realistically it's too expensive for me to leave the store for long stretches of time at this stage in the game. I have to be proactive and hands on. I also want to devote all my attention to making sure that Allegory Gallery has strong foundations to grow from. I have to embrace my own path completely. It was a hard decision and one that wasn't considered lightly, but one that had to be made. I love and support my sister and her husband and their company and will continue to promote them and their work endlessly. There are no hard feelings or ill will.
As I contemplate early mistakes and make major changes, I also must also acknowledge that despite hardship, there is room for limitless possibilities and potential.
It's time to see where the road goes...