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After spending an afternoon grading papers, I’m finally feeling like a real teacher.  A frazzled, uncertain teacher, but a teacher nonetheless.  There are certain components to my GA position that I am finding very rewarding.  I like getting questions and clarifying things in new ways.  I like learning things from my students and being surprised by their insights.  I like seeing the art through fresh eyes.   I also find it a bit intimidating to be responsible for the grades of these people and take that responsibility very seriously, which is why it took me two hours to grade 8 exhibition reviews.

In the midst of my enlightenment about the GA experience is a looming cloud on the horizon.  After submitting my application for a spring assistantship (I am still leaning towards working in the Bunting Visual Resources Library, but that is in no way guaranteed) on Friday I attended a letter-writing campaign meeting to protest the proposed budget cuts to our department and the contingent cuts of approximately half our GA/TA/RA positions.  In other words, this may be the first and last semester I have the experience of teaching.

In other words, I’m glad I’m still working at the gallery part time.

Well, so much for the contemplative life of a creative aesthete.  The past month has spun me like a gyroscope as I continue to carve out a routine that allows me to balance fulfillment and personal space.  The major change of plans was my decision to continue freelancing at the gallery, which means I’ve been trekking into Santa Fe two days a week.  While I’m glad to retain my affiliation with the gallery and while the opportunity is something of a financial relief, it also means my schedule is much more constricted than I expected.  Add to that the carnival of moving, starting a new semester, juggling students, office hours, new friends, and my own research schedule, and the whole idea of contemplative semi-retirement is completely ridiculous.  Which is good.  Even though I’m back in my default whirlwind mode, it’s obvious to me that’s where I function most effectively.  As long as I have a routine (still very much a work in progress for this semester!) and a sense of purpose, I am at my most competent when busy rather than brainstorming new creative projects.  Maybe that’s a little disappointing – maybe I wish to be a little more right-brained.  But it also convinces me of the fallacy of the whole stereotypical American “retirement” dream for my own future.

As part of my new routine, I am resolved to write more often, ideally on a weekly basis.

My summer vacation last week to visit family in Minnesota was not only a chance to contemplate my upcoming lifestyle changes, but also rethink the whole idea of what leisure time means.  In my mind, happiness is a sense of fulfillment and personal meaning, not “leisure” in the traditional sense.  Lying around reading glossy magazines (or the equivalent) holds very little appeal to me.  In this sense, my synopsis of full time studenthood to friends and family as a trial run for retirement (while obviously tongue-in-cheek) began to strike me with a bit of discomfort.  Retirement has both romanticized and derogatory connotations.  Does it even exist outside its mythical constructs as part of the “American Dream?”

Along these lines, J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly recently wrote an article on the shifting definitions of retirement.  Does it mean Financial Independence and the freedom from reliance on a paycheck, or does it mean the ability to engage in Flow-driven activities based on personal proclivities and dreams? In the sense that we are all seeking happiness (and if indeed happiness is defined by a sense of personal fulfillment) then the commonly accepted definition of retirement as ceasing one’s working life at the age of 65 seems like a true recipe for depression, most likely related to the anecdotes we hear so often about depressed and self-destructive lottery winners.

I’ve been in this purgatory before.  I’ve made the definite decision to quit my job, pack up my meager belongings, move to a new city.  In other words, jump into the roiling seas of uncertainty in the effort to be fully alive and engaged with my particular set of challenges. 

In the interim, I’m grounding myself with the principles of Voluntary Simplicity.  One of the positive side effects of the recession has been the increased interest in this kind of movement, which is at the heart of how I live my life.   Living by choice on $18,000 (or much less) a year.  Prioritizing experience over possessions.  My personal blogroll has increased exponentially lately with personal finance/consciousness blogs on these sorts of topics (e.g. The Simple Living Network, The Professional Hobo, Get Rich Slowly, among many others).  Many of these bloggers support themselves largely on the proceeds of their writing and related experiences.

There is a fine line between prioritizing experience over salary and going into debt, however.  While I don’t want to miss out on my opportunities, I need enough foundation to keep myself grounded.  That’s where I’m starting to get creative.   Leapforce is currently a satisfactory stop-gap measure, very flexible, decent pay, work that I can convince myself is moderately useful.  In the terms of the hugely influential V.S. book Your Money or Your Life, my life energy is set to be very well balanced in the coming year.  I will be paid to do my favorite thing in the world – be a student and a researcher.  I can pay the bills with flexible part time work and still have most of my time entirely to my own discretion.  In many ways this is my ideal life.  In other ways, the picture feels unfinished.

The thing is, I like to work.  I like discipline and structure and the satisfaction of a useful job well done.  I don’t ever really want to “retire,” just evolve through a series of challenges in (what is already) a unconventional career.  I don’t really want to only work 10 hours a week, even if it does leave me almost unlimited time for exploration, hiking, creative endeavors, flea markets…all that good stuff that I daydream about in my current life and don’t have nearly enough time for.  Maybe it’s just the definition of “work” that needs to be adjusted.  Does it need to take place in an office? Does it need to be salaried? These are the things that give me security, though the recent waves of massive unemployment show that’s often false security.

Through this process, I think I’m circling around the convergence of my personal convictions with my career path.  Where life and work click seemlessly, that’s my destination.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to post, because I’ve been surprisingly busy lately.  In my quest for viable options to plug the holes in my little money-making vessel (more a tugboat than a schooner in the best of seas), I came across the idea of search engine evaluation.  I think it was actually on a library list-serv that I heard about Leapforce, and after doing quite a bit of research on what initially sounded vaguely scammy, I finally decided it sounded legit enough to at least give it a shot.  The idea is that after submitting a resume, reading through a 100ish page “general guidelines” on how to analyze web page utility and taking a tedious 2-part exam (you’re eliminated immediately if you don’t pass either part of the exam), one is qualified as a Leapforce Search Engine Evaluator.  After about a week of reading and URL simulation, I passed the exams and was hired on as an independent contractor.  That means I can work as much or as little as I want, from home.  It’s not something I would want to do longterm or 40 hours a week, but is so far a pretty flexible part time solution. 

What compells me about this work is its similarity to many aspects of librarianship.  It reminds me of the types of queries I would get when I worked as a virtual librarian for OCLC’s QuestionPoint service (basically analyzing user intent and determining the best web resources for an information request).  From what I can tell from the comments of other evaluators, they are discerning information professionals.  Presumably the tests weed out the riff raff.  Anyway, my little proactive experiment means I’m working a little more than usual…

I find myself wondering how anyone really manages to swallow the fear of unknown outcomes and take on huge, dangerous responsibilities such as mortgages, car loans, children, etc.  Sure, as a country, as a global economy, we were riding on a credit high for the past couple decades and are only now seeming to come back down to earth.  People are losing their houses.  People are losing their jobs.  Until now, I have largely avoided the ill effects.  I live well below my means and I am a compulsive saver.  I do not take on consumer debt.  Thank goodness I remained cautious and did not take on a mortgage, despite lots of advice that it would be a great financial move.  Regardless of my good intentions and careful planning, the recession is starting to nip at my heels.

The art market is a strange and unpredictable bellweather of economic conditions.  In government employment, you know pretty immediately when things have taken a turn for the worse.  But art sales are part commodity, part investment, part consumer-driven emotion.  They’re like a microcosm of the larger capitalist system, playing by unique rules.  For months the lower end of the market has slowed precipitously.  I’ve seen galleries representing emerging artists struggle and fail.  Yet the high end of the market has remained strong.  The wealthiest investors continued to buy up the priciest art on the market.  In the same way that investors were turning to stable commodities such as gold, so were they turning to long-term investments in art.  Then the stock market fell off a cliff, and nobody’s buying anything.

I’m seeing the effects of the recession in all areas, which makes sense in a period of 6.5% unemployment.  The hiring process for the university VR position has been suspended due to budget concerns.  It may or may not be reopened next year.  I think the same is true for the state of NM, and my friend in Colorado said there is also a hiring freeze there for government jobs.  My brother works for a retail distributor and could lose his job any day.  If art sales continue to slide, my job is very much in jeopardy.  This means putting all my plans on hold until I see how things work out.  That’s a disappointment.  From several choices I have gone to just hanging on by my fingernails, like just about everyone else.  But like any challenge, this will be a learning opportunity if I stay positive and avoid panic.

My job definitely has its perks. We went on a field trip today to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the new exhibit of Marsden Hartley’s New Mexico paintings.  Hartley is a modernist who intrigues me – he has so many apparent influences, yet he refused to be pinned down in his art or his personal life. 

I hadn’t been to the Georgia O’Keeffe since I moved here (other than the internship at the Research Center). It’s funny how quickly one becomes complacent to such cultural opportunities. Whenever I visit a place with museums that’s how I spend all my time, yet somehow it’s easy to overlook the ones I walk past every day. A good metaphor for life, I suppose. What initially struck me with awe and wonder when I first came to work at the gallery is now a bit less wondrous. For one thing, a necessary component of the business of art is that some of the magic is stripped. While I don’t think I will ever see art as a commodity, I do miss the thrill of the object that has been dulled for me somewhat. It’s like a class I took a few years ago called “Desire and Distance” – the theory being that desire ceases to exist once realized. So…maybe it’s ideal to have a less than enthralling day job in order to keep the thrill alive?

Now that I have accepted a job here in Santa Fe, suddenly I’m being inundated with interview invitations.  Sigh.  I really like my job and know it’s an experience I would never get to have otherwise (particularly allowing me to stay in Santa Fe and get to meet people and experience the whole art scene here, which is amazing).  It’s the right thing for me now, but it’s still hard to turn down some of the other opportunities that I applied for.  Most importantly it’s a very important lesson learned – don’t lose confidence, as the opportunities will eventually come with determination and patience.  The process will always take longer than expected.  I’d like to develop these observations into an expanded description of lessons learned by the job searching process, and hopefully an article to help other anxious soon-to-be-grads in similar situations! Taking the plunge is worth it. I haven’t had time to do much writing lately as I’m finishing my last class (Intellectual Freedom) and swamped with papers and presentations, but that’s the next thing on the agenda.  

It gives me a better perspective on how the game is played, and what works and what doesn’t in the application process, for the next time around.  

I had a great conversation with Eumie Imm Stroukoff at the Georgia O’Keeffe today about how these things have a tendency to work out for the best, if in fact you end up taking the least predictable route.  I really admire Eumie, and she and Jenni James have definitely become my mentors and art library role models.  These internship experiences have been such valuable experiences for me, and I really feel involved in the New Mexico library community because of them.

I came home yesterday to a hand-written note in my mailbox asking me to come in to interview at a Santa Fe gallery. Apparently my resume had cut off the pertinent contact information other than address (stupid printer), and they pursued me all the way out to Eldorado to set up an interview. I don’t think anyone’s ever gone to such lengths to contact me. I met with the Director today at one of the biggest and most prestigious galleries in Santa Fe (the first piece that I looked at was a $750,000 Georgia O’Keeffe painting) . I was a little worried they were going to ask me about my impressions of certain contemporary artists (I know pathetically little about the contemporary art market, though that may change), but luckily it’s a gallery of mostly historical paintings and Native American pottery. So those of you who know me know I was pretty much drooling at the idea of actually being paid to work at this place. It’s basically the kind of work I’ve volunteered my time for in my various internships and research projects – researching and cataloging the art in the gallery’s inventory. They get new pieces every day, so it will be very much like working for a museum or an auction house. I was basically offered the job on the spot (contingent on salary negotiation) and accepted this afternoon.

Finally gainfully employed – I’m so excited! I went into information work (originally Museum Studies) with the lofty idea that I would combine my love of art with my love of organization, classification, and cataloging, and find a job in a museum where I could combine these things. Being a registrar has always been a dream. This is also definitely a firm step in the right direction of being an art librarian, as I will get great experience with art research. And who knows who I will meet in the Santa Fe art community? Maybe Val Kilmer will come in and buy a painting. As long as I stay involved with the professional library side of things, I would say this is the best of both worlds.

That actually wasn’t my only interview of the day – I also survived phone interview #2 for a job at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Yes, I keep moving further south from Minnesota winters for a reason, but being close to family is definitely a compelling draw. The interview went surprisingly well. Maybe I’m getting the hang of phone interviews. I got to talk about my ideas for implementing Web 2.0 concepts in academic libraries and making ILL and circ services more pertinent and useful to patrons.

Though the phone interview and all the other hoops I’ve jumped through have been good experience (I think this will all be so much easier the next time around), I am SO GLAD to be done with this process for the time being. It is no overstatement that job searching is a full time job. I have used more ink on cover letters than all the papers I wrote in college and grad school combined.