Friday, February 13, 2015

Country of Solid Worth


A Map of the Open Country of a Womans' Heart, c. 1833–1842 Source: http://visualoop.com


(Alternatively Titled: Things I Might Want To Do Or Be When I Grow Up.)


When I in school I wanted to be either a lawyer or an artist. A lawyer because I was clever and I liked using that to prove that other people were not, or an artist because art made me happy. I chose art. I only regret that decision maybe two days a week. It's not that I wish I was a lawyer exactly, but it would be nice to have a salary, and for the part of my brain that was once clever to still work. And to have a salary.

So, Be An Artist; that was my dream. I didn't get very far with that, there's nothing like art school to kill your dreams, and your tolerance for artists. I left art school a year early; sad and angry and betrayed by the neglectful - borderline abusive - tutors I had been trusted to and completely, utterly unemployable. Someone asked us to photograph their wedding so we did that and it turned out that a) we were good at it, b) it was quite fun and c) people would PAY us! We were sold.

Eight years in and we've had enough though, the moments of fun are outweighed by the pressure, the responsibility, the logistics, the desk work, the back ache and the speeches. We've known since the beginning that it wasn't going to be our forever careers and we've been having the exact same conversation for as long as I can remember;

'I don't want to be a wedding photographer forever.'

'Me neither. What else could we do?'
'Dunno.'

Nothing has changed except that we can't, just can't, keep doing it. I've spent a lot of the last 6 months wailing at Nye 'But I don't know what I want to do, I don't have a dream.' Every time I say it I hear Ross from Friends; 'Ahhh, the lesser-known 'I don't have a dream' speech' (I keep this to myself, chuckling inwardly as the husband does not appreciate Friends references. I know, the things I suffer in my marriage.)

There still isn't a next plan. There are lots of things that I sometimes think I would like to do/be and I've been keeping a list. Let's imagine for a minute that any of these is even slightly possible, that education in England doesn't cost £9000 a year (NINE THOUSAND FUCKING POUNDS. Yes, yes, yes, I know that in America it costs like, Fifty thousand, but your country is absurd.) and that I have the time / energy / mental capacity to retrain as anything; these are The Things I Would Maybe Like To Be or Do (in no particular order);



Forensic Science. I have watched nine seasons of Bones and it looks fun. When I watch Bones I can think of nothing but splatter patterns and decomposition rates and bone markers and how much I really want to learn about that. Also, having watched nine seasons of Bones, I'm surely at least half qualified now.

Teaching. I have flirted with the idea of teacher training for years, initially because teaching is a qualification that I could use anywhere we decided to live and then gradually because I actually liked the idea of teaching. The thing is I hate noise, crowds and parents so I would need to teach only quiet kids and have nothing to do with the people who spawned them. Which I'm sure is an option they offer you when you're looking for placements.

Writing. I love to write, which you might have noticed and after doing a really excellent writing class at City University last year I even feel a little bit like I could do it in a more focused way, if only I knew what I would like to write about. That only takes me so far though, as far as a way to spend all my time but not a way to make an actual pay-for-food-and-raise-my-family living. No one makes money from writing. Even real, published, experienced writers with actual books have to get other jobs, like serving coffee or turning tricks.

Publishing. in lieu of being able to write my own work I would enjoy correcting other people's mistakes and I believe that books will save the world. Unfortunately I hear print is dying. Also it's a fairly London-centric industry and I think you need to start out with a) a degree in English and b) a willingness to work 50 hours a week without pay. I have neither of those things.


B&B Proprietor in the South of France. Basically I want to own this place, to drink wine and eat cheese and grow food and probably learn to speak French at some point and send my kids to school in a country that still values state education and healthcare for all. (I know France is no utopia, you don't need to tell me that, but it's not England. And it's warmer that Scotland. Which is currently being fucked by England. So there you go.)


Counselling. Friends of mine work in counselling and psychotherapy and they are full of interesting thoughts and conversations and opinions. Their training sounds like training I would like to have, the studying like study I would thoroughly enjoy. I've been to therapy, I've seen a couple of counsellors and it's no exaggeration to say that they changed my life. I'd like to do that for people. Sadly, I can only talk/listen to people talk for an hour a day before I start biting the inside of my face to stop me from closing my eyes and rocking back and forward with my fingers in my ears. That could be a problem.


Zoologist. I was standing in a bus queue a few weeks ago when the man waiting next to me admired my purse (leopard print) and my scarf (leopard print) and my tights (leopard print). He told me that he was a zoologist based in Paris who works with South African wildlife reserves finding ways for the wildlife and the local people to live harmoniously together. His wife was a wildlife photographer (also fond of leopard print although I'm sure she approached it in a more restrained fashion, most grown up people do.) Anyway, we were just standing chatting about life, leopards and the ridiculously small print on the Oxford bus timetable when I felt a lump rising in my throat and my eyes burning, envy and a sense of pointlessness washed over me, that is what I want to do, I thought, I want to work with animals and the environment and cuddle baby leopards.


Rare Breeds Farmer. I like animals (see above), both looking after them and more recently, eating them. Raising them myself seems like the best way to make me feel less bad about eating them. Also they don't talk. I do hear that farming is quite hard work though. And that land is expensive. And I find mud to be a bit of a drag.


Micro-distiller. This is one that Nye and I have talked about quite seriously, to the point where he has researched stills and the laws preventing us from having one. We have talked a lot about moving to an island where the only things that grow are sheep (see above), potatoes and insanity. There's no money to be made in sheep or potatoes (possibly in insanity, if I pursued that counselling qualification first) but there is money to be made in single estate British potato vodka... Sadly the rules in the UK to make it very tough to set up a micro distillery, not impossible but rather a ball-ache. I also worry about the state of our livers and general ability to function if we had liquor quite literally on tap. 

Artisanal Toy Maker. Plan; move to island, (see above) buy sheep, name sheep, shear sheep, spin fleece into wool, knit toys, label them with their sheep's name and photo, price at £100 each, sell them to Londoners as Single Estate Island Teddies, live in perpetual state of shame at calling myself an 'artisanal' anything, repeat. 


Photographer. I wanted to be a photographer from the second week of art school, when I used the dark room for the first time and from that rancid smelling liquid a fleeting moment I had thought interesting the week before appeared in a mixture of magic and alchemy and the teaching assistant told me I had 'an eye'. The problem is I don't know how to make a living from it, I don't have any experience and I'm not very good. Joke! I do! I have! I am! The real problem is that I'm burned out. That I've been making a living from it for 8 years and I'm exhausted. I don't want to keep photographing weddings (which I'll write about one day) but I don't have the energy to try and break into other areas. I am a tired photographer.



So there you have it; my career plans. Thank god our plan for the immediate future is to eat, sleep and milk Nye's parents for both childcare and accommodation because our longer term ideas are, um, questionable to say the least. I am living in a state of faith at the moment, faith that our immediate plan won't drive us crazy and that our longer term plan will become clear, and that that longer term plan is not deeply unrealistic, unaffordable and unsustainable. Living in a state of faith isn't a bad place to be.  



28 comments:

  1. yeah, the writing thing (particularly the beginning-of-writing thing when you're figuring out what the hell you want to write about and who the hell might be convinced to pay you for it) tends to run a bit more smoothly if one has a partner whose gig can provide health insurance and a more regular paycheck. (there was an interesting piece on that in salon last month in which a successful novelist asserted that she was sponsored by her husband - not a word that i would use, but her assertion that writers should be more open about how they make it work is a solid one). when it DOES start working - in the instances when i've actually talked someone into giving me a respectable amount of money for something i'll write for them - it's pretty heady.

    as for zoology, can you volunteer with animals when you're out in france? working in wildlife rescue has definitely broadened my perspective on what it would be like to have a full-time gig tending creatures, particularly delicate ones. might be interesting to dip your toe in that (spoiler: zoology involves a lot of involuntary dipping your toes in things).

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    1. I kind of laughed at the notion of being 'sponsored' by one's partner. I mean, I get the point but the word is hilarious, I *think* it's called 'sharing resources'.

      That's a really good idea re volunteering in France. I hadn't thought much further than 'I can't speak french so that prohibits almost everything but eating cheese and sitting at my desk in my pants' but you don't really need to be able to speak to volunteer with animals.

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  2. As for writing novels (not that you said novels, but if you did think of novels as something worth writing) you might want to check out Dean Wesley Smith, JA Konrath, The Passive Voice blog, and the Absolute Write message boards for a ton of examples of people making a real living self-publishing fiction. I thought it was a pipe dream to write novels, and then I tripped over all of those websites last summer and it changed my mind. The basic issue is to toss out the idea that one should only write one book every ten years, and change that to more like six novels a year. Throw them onto the Internet and see what happens.

    It doesn't immediately solve the problem of money, it's more of a long-term goal thing. But it's not as impossible as I once thought it was. I'm almost done with my first book and have three others going at the moment. At this point I think it's probably shit, but that's for other people to determine.

    I also loved this post because I have all of these thoughts at least monthly. Last month I was convinced I could go to med school. Basically I make no money right now but after surgery I might be able to get a real job for the first time in five years. But in what, exactly? So it goes.

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    1. I had no idea you wrote books Jessica. Thank you for the suggestions, that's a really interesting thing to think about. And oh to solve the immediate problem of money... sigh.

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  3. Well, first of all, I am re-watching all seasons of Dr House these days and I am convinced I should have gone to med school. So there´s that. But really, I think you are doing the exact right thing. I was in a similar position a few years ago and I made a list like yours. I also evaluated what it was that I hated about my job at that time and what aspects I liked. By making a few adjustments, I eventually was able to stay in that field and I am now actually happy in my job, gasp. So if you still like photography per se, maybe don´t give up on it just yet. I think the two of you are brilliant photographers and even if you don´t do weddings any more, there´s got to be a place for talents like yours. But then again, maybe the answer for you is to retrain, who knows! Or raise sheep. I really do like that island/sheep scenario.

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    1. Thank you. I do keep coming back to photography, there's so much that I love about it. Maybe after a break it will all make more sense.

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  4. I have to put my hand over my mouth because analytical people simply must deconstruct these objects to understand the underlying connections.

    And that's now how choosing a forward path works for everyone;). But let's just say, for fun, that you started with yourself and moved outward, do you know what your particular map looks like? How space is occupied by Love Of Making, how much is Love Of Being Alone, how much is Having An Impact On Lots Of People, and so on. I'd love to see the map of C's heart.

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  5. Oh god, yes to all of this. I actively run a mile when people ask me what I want to do/ what I did before children. I figure that I can continue to faff for a good few more years yet. I really like the idea of potato vodka though. I spent some of my childhood in the Hebrides and it was fantastic. my dad still raises, spins and knits his own sheep and its a lovely way to live.

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    1. Faffing is a perfectly acceptable way to live.

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  6. How about running photography holidays at your B & B in the South of France or where ever you decide to root?
    Oh and if going to uni does appeal ignore the £9,000 a year you aren't paying it back unless you earn over a certain amount and then its only a small amount just think you could spend your whole life studying and never paying anything now all you need is an income?!

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    1. Ugh, debt nauseates me but I do see your point.

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  7. This is a great post. I think that feeling of doing something else is something we can all relate to sometimes. I like to think that maybe I would become a interior designer if I was going to do something else. I'm a counsellor and your description of how you would feel after an hour listen to someone talk about themselves for an hour made me laugh out loud!

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    1. Thank you! And glad to make you laugh.

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  9. Finally coming out from my quiet corner to say hi and comment, having been wanting to for a while now. I'm so glad to read your thoughts and hear about your challenges and ideas lately - glad you came back. There is an honesty and rawness and humour in what you share that inspires me to try to do the same in my own writing.
    You also just nailed to the wall the reason for wanting to be a lawyer that I had when younger and never realised or admitted to, and I laughed like a drain. I went the salaried path, though, as I lacked the risk appetite to write for a living, and regret it more than 2 days a week. So your current situation strikes close to home, and I live a little vicariously, even as I take a bit of time away from salarying to do full time mumming, which both frustrates and delights me more than I ever imagined it could.
    Anyway, enough of all this pouring my heart out to a total stranger, even one I feel I've known for years! Thank you for sharing your life with us, and travel well as you bravely decide what's next.

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    1. You are so welcome, thank you for your lovely comment.

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  10. Ha - I became a lawyer but now come up with at least three more creative ideas for work a week. I didn't even become a well paid lawyer (I work for charities on human rights/environmental stuff) so I still have the debt but I've been able to do some interesting things over the last few years. I think I took the lawyer option but now lack creativity, maybe you chose the other way around and balance eludes us both.

    Good luck with the discussions/decisions, trying to come up with new life plans for both of you plus kids is tough (we're there at the moment too) and the urge to JUST RUN AWAY is always strong in me but I trust it will all work out.

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    1. Thank you. I always imagine that being a human rights lawyer would be so fulfilling but I forget that creativity is just such a huge part of what I need and that even when you're working for the good side, creativity is somewhat lacking.

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  11. All very enjoyable to read, less enjoyable to be mulling it all over at 3am most nights, as I imagine you probably are doing.

    I think a combo of French B&B with a small-holding for earning the dough, and a bit of writing for exercising the noggin sounds like it could be a plan. I'm sure it will all work out though xx

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    1. Thanks Flora. It's all actually okay at the moment. I'm trusting that it will come to me and just not thinking about it too hard. x

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  12. I've just discovered your blog recently, and was just going through old posts and having a good old read as I'm enjoying them all so much. This one struck a massive chord with me -- practically everything could have been on my "What I Want To Do With My Life" list too, also something I spend endless amounts of time wondering about as well. But it's the Artisanal Toy Maker one that shouts out "go for it!" to me, as I have the basic exact same dream except with alpacas instead of sheep. And maybe ridiculously overpriced blankets that I would sell to the Conran shop instead of toys, but, y'know, the principle is the same. I'd have quite a lot of micropigs on my smallholding too, for cuteness factors.

    Anyway, just wanted to say best of luck with the France move, that sounds incredibly exciting. I will be reading along to find out how it all goes and looking for inspiration for all the myriad changes I'm constantly planning...

    Sabrina (Wolves in London)

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    1. Thank you so much Sabrina! x

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  13. My fallback dream for when I grow up is opening a miniature petting farm. Bantam chickens, pygmy goats, fallabella horses, micro pigs, alpacas (to guard the chickens), and then an Irish Wolfhond for contrast. This all started when I discovered you could get miniature highland cattle and realised I needed one. It has all the benefits of rare breed farmer but you need less land and there's less mucking out because they're miniature, therefore miniature poop spread over proportionatly miniature space. Also, I shall use the miniature fleeces to create miniature artisnal toys and inflate the price accordingly.
    I don't know what I'll do to afford the initial outlay, and I've never owned anything more complicated than a dog, or had much experience with any kind non-basic house pet, but theoretically it's the dream.

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    1. Pretty good dream. The only flaw I see is that there's not much food on miniature livestock!

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  14. Photography, yes. Though it's an excellent list all round - lots of variety! ;) I've sort of somehow-accidentally stumbled into lifestyle & product photography, & it could definitely work for you - I do it from home, mainly, & I get to write copy sometimes too!

    Love that you're taking this leap. Have enough adventures in France & it'll be perfect memoir material!

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  15. Your blog is so lovely. I am a teacher, have you thought about teaching ESL in France? You could teach adults and avoid parents. Also, avoid most conversations, if you teach a low level :) You could even tutor one on one. All the best. I have no doubt you will end up doing something fabulous and inspiring, but it is a hard road to get there sometimes.

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  16. I just love your blog. I've been away for a while and am just catching up on some old posts. This one struck a chord because I went through a similar career-change thought process, and our lists of potential careers are crazily similar. I started in publishing and am now teaching. It's been 4 years, and I adore it. I teach junior high, so I am not with a group of little ones all day—the older kids are mellower and I only have them during their English periods. I am generally a quiet person, and (at least at my school) there is a lot more quiet time in my job than I initially realized! For instance, grading essays takes a huge portion of my time. I have to plug teaching because it offers things I've always liked (and that you might like): 1) Editing: I still get the fun and satisfaction of editing without the corporate element; 2) Writing/creative work: I get a good deal of creative freedom at my current school, and writing lessons and assignments is one of my favorite parts of the job; 3) Reading: I teach literature! I nerd out about great novels for hours a day!; 4) Genuine interactions: Children have excellent BS detectors. Interactions with them feel meaningful and genuine. While I am more of an introverted person overall, genuine interactions don't drain me nearly as much as fake-feeling office interactions (I've been told I "light up" in class). I think your quality of life as a teacher can depend a lot upon the school and how much freedom they give you to actually TEACH. And parents...they're not so bad. Even the tough ones. I always try to remind myself that they're just worried about their *children*, whose actual lives are being shaped—not whining about a slightly off-brand shade of blue or something. The stakes feel real. As I like to say, we teachers work with live ammo. No two days are the same. What works for one student probably won't fit another. There's lots of creative thinking and it is crazy exhausting and hella rewarding. ::end shameless plug:: Anyway, whichever path you choose, you will have put such deep and careful thought into it. I admire you for not "settling" and for searching hard for a career that will be deserving of your creative energy and talent. Thank you for sharing your thought process and for being such an authentic voice in the blogosphere.

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play nice.