THE POOR POET by Carl Spitzweg
I am a starving artist with two kids…by choice.
Rereading the sentence above, guilt fills me. How can one be a “starving” anything BY CHOICE when you have two kids??
Okay, just to clarify, my family is not technically “starving.” Not in the least. My husband and I have a home that we bought during good economic times. We have food. My kids have gifts on their birthdays and at Christmas. They have clothes. Holes in their clothes come from them playing hard outside. We even get to travel sometimes due to all the hotel and airline points that my husband accumulates through his work. But we do live paycheck to paycheck, we pay for our own health insurance, we have had to borrow money in the really, really hard times from family, everything we buy MUST be on sale and bought with a coupon, we rarely eat out, we have OLD computers and no smart phones, we apply for class and camp scholarships, etc…all due to me not having a full-time teaching job in order to pursue my writing.
And at times, the guilt drives me crazy.
My husband works full-time, but he is a freelance journalist, so the money comes in waves. My job many, many years ago as a full-time public school teacher was stable and secure. But I left it all behind before I had kids in order to pursue art. Now I often wonder if I’m being too selfish about my art.
Here’s a little backstory…
It seems that Wikipedia really does have a definition for everything. Take its definition for “a starving artist.”
“A starving artist is an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects.”
Truthfully, I’ve always felt a bit of romanticism about the bohemian lifestyle and starving artists. I love the mod Parisian poet lifestyle showcased in the Audrey Hepburn movie “Funny Face” (as well as the swell ponytail, black slimming pants, long-sleeved turtleneck, and ballet flats she wore.) I love artist enclaves and neighborhoods in big cities, the bohemian vibe of many indie coffeehouses, and those lovable artists in the film, “Moulin Rouge.”
What’s interesting (and I have no reasoning for this that I am aware of right now) is that I didn’t actually follow that way of life when I was in college and early adulthood. I was raised and trained by my family and conservative university to want a stable career and, God forbid, health care! So I buried my dreams of pursuing art and went into elementary teaching, got my first full-time job right after I graduated, began my new adult life in September wearing a conservative “vest dress” (very popular in the early nineties for forty-something year-old women, yet I was only twenty-one) and donning an apple necklace and earring set. I knew in my heart that I loved books and loved writing since I’d been doing it since I was in elementary school, but I NEVER thought of ever risking stability in order to pursue my art. My conservative choice in career felt safe, and since I had just gotten married right out of college, I wanted security for our new life together as well as money for all those student loans I owed.
After seven years, writing and the artist life called to me so strongly that I couldn’t resist its advances anymore. Even though I was a teacher by training, I desperately wanted to become an artist by choice.
My road to the starving artist life began, albeit slowly.
I cut my full-time, public school teaching job to part-time in order to work on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. After two years, having finished my MFA, I decided to quit my part-time teaching job and be an on-call substitute, which enabled me to have more free time for my writing as well as become by all definition what I had romanticized about earlier in my life– a true “starving artist.” Finally, I could be a bohemian in pursuit of truth, beauty, freedom, and love in my writing (as they say in the film, “Moulin Rouge.”)
No, it wasn’t easy. My husband and I had loved eating out. I had liked shopping at Whole Foods Market. I had liked going to lots of movies. But I also liked my new writing time, and my husband was (and still is) a good deal-finder and coupon clipper. We made do and still were able to have few little luxuries.
Less than a year later, my first son was born. As any artist with kids most likely understands, my writing went by the wayside as I began my new life as a mother. It came back in tiny spurts, and after two years, a little more. The economy was strong when I had my son, my husband was doing well in his work, and the “starving” part of my artistic life disappeared. I became more concerned about how to be a “writer and a mother.” Besides, it felt good that the starving part of the equation wasn’t there since I had a kid now…and another kid three years after the first one. How could one ever have kids and be a starving artist? The two just didn’t go together.
Two years later, the economy, and my husband’s job, tanked. Forget trying to find writing time and having an “artist’s life”. Now we needed money in order to live. I searched and searched for a full-time teaching job again, but could only find a part-time one.
Slowly, after a few more years up to the present, my husband’s work has come back, as has the economy. Both of my children are now in school, and more teaching jobs are available again. I could look for a full-time job now. I could go back to stability and security. A part of my brain says I should. I have kids. Kids cost money. They have needs. College funds. Cub Scout dues. Soccer and baseball clubs to join. Drawing classes to pay for. Swim lessons. The list goes on and on.
But I choose my art. Surviving this fact is hard. But my heart says that I must do it. I must keep at this artist life, this writing thing. Or there will be a hole in my soul. And I don’t think I could be a very good mother at all with such a void inside of me.
I don’t have a tidy ending for this blog post. I wish I did. I wish I could leave you with “Ten Tips About How to Survive as a Starving Artist with Kids” or something like that. But I don’t have any answers. All I have is hope.
A never ending hope that…
my art will someday find a home,
my passion and priority for the arts will inspire my children to become creative and have an appreciation for the arts into adulthood,
my children will pass a love for the arts onto their own children,
my children will learn to follow their dreams and passions in life and that money and material possessions aren’t everything,
not denying my artistic self will make me easier to live with,
a happier, more-fulfilled person,
and a better mother overall.
-Nicole Marie Schreiber