…to my good friend and amazing artist Sara Shawger, who opened a show of oils and pastels at Max’s Restaurant in Santa Fe last weekend.  I am always proud of my artist friends, but having a solo public openings is a spectacular accomplishment, particularly in such an artistically competitive place.

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One of my goals for this blog is to explore some of my more random musings on art,  basically the thoughts that fall outside the parameters of my more formal research and casual conversations.  I spent last year collaboratively blogging on my research and the art scene in Santa Fe, and while this endeavor has fallen by the wayside (the idea of bouncing ideas off each other in an artistic/Socratic dialogue getting bogged down in the reality of two overly busy schedules – blog partnership is more complicated than I expected), I would still like to devote more brain cells to the art scene past, present, and future.   During summer vacation it’s obviously more difficult to ponder the nuances of material culture in an academic context – while this is my passion and the impetus for my research (and I’m itching to dive right back into it in the next few weeks).

Part of my disconnect has been a gradual disillusionment with the sometimes stagnant art environment in Santa Fe.  When I first moved here, I thrived on weekly Canyon Road art walks.  I felt energized and inspired to be soaking up the creative juices of the second largest U.S. art market.  After 3 years, I’m discouraged to note that I feel like I’m seeing those same openings over and over again, like Groundhog Day on Canyon Road.  It seems that the same niche genres (western figural, realistic western landscape, abstract western landscape) are being filled by the same artists in the manner of an assembly line to address the collecting desires of the wealthy masses.  Not to be cynical or anything.  I’m not even going to address the effects of the recession.

Working a show opening at my gallery reflects another aspect of the art market – the aging out of the traditional collector of historical western art.  I have only anecdotal evidence to indicate the statistics in the more contemporary galleries in Santa Fe and the rest of the country, but in this primarily historical market it’s easy to see from one glance around the room at our crowded opening last night that the crowd is aging rapidly, with no young collectors in sight.  What is the future of the Santa Fe art scene? Will efforts like SITE Santa Fe and Warehouse 21 inject some new blood into a market sadly in need of transfusion? And will I uncover an art scene a little more raw and creative in Albuquerque?

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.

Over the past three years, I thought I was on top of my professional development.  I attended conferences, wrote articles and book reviews, and stayed actively involved in many associations and discussion lists.  However, now that I am again entering the world of independent contracting, I’m remembering just how much effort it takes to develop and maintain a professional brand.  A lot of that effort is brainstorming and prioritizing – there are so many options out there these days for online interaction, not just in the library/museum community, but integrating information professionals of all varieties.  I can’t join them all, so I have to be strategic.  My experience with the nepotistic nature of hiring in New Mexico has convinced me of the importance of networking and name recognition.

Along with new association memberships this year (AAM and the New Mexico Association of Museums), one of the new networks I’ve joined is LinkedIn.  I’ve shied away from it in the past because it seemed more like a redundant social network than a professional community, but I was convinced to join when my dad was recruited for his current job based on his profile.  Judging by the quality of discussions and member involvement in my groups, it is in fact a valuable networking tool.   I especially appreciate the discussions led by Kim Dority on LIS Career Options.  Here’s my profile in case anyone wants to join my network.

As I work out the configurations of my semi-retirement plan, I’ve noticed my focus in this blog shifting in the past month from the specifics of art and my career towards issues relating to personal finance and my bedrock of Voluntary Simplicity.  I’ve also noticed that you can’t turn a corner in the blogosphere without running into a blog on these topics.  This is an amazing development.  I love the fact that there are financially and ecologically conscientious entrepreneurs out there making their incomes off living and breathing and reporting back on the tenets of Voluntary Simplicity.  And the fact that the rest of us can read their blogs and contribute is an ideal manifestation of Voluntary Simplicity in the 21st century.  And considering the fact that waste and consumption are anathema to V.S., no longer do we have to publish and consume copies of a limited number of books on these topics.

My main blogroll reflects my career resources.  However, in the sense that Voluntary Simplicity informs the choices I make in my life, I think it’s fitting to post the personal finance/”consciousness” blogs I visit on a daily basis.  Here’s the basic list: 

Get Rich Slowly

Free Money Finance

Surviving and Thriving

This Wasn’t In the Plan

Alison’s Life

The Middle Way

Bad Money Advice

mnmlist

Goodlife Zen

Redefining the Meaning of Wealth

Balance in Me

Location 180

Advanced Riskology

The Professional Hobo

Simple-Green-Frugal

Mobile Kodgers

Simple Living Network

Think Simple Now

Zen Habits

The Simple Dollar

Wise Bread

Single Mom, Rich Mom

Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance

Early Retirement Extreme

Adventure in Voluntary Simplicity

Money Funk

Giving my notice this week was part of the plan.  There was an anticlimactic inevitability about the whole thing after planning for it for so long.  Though bittersweet, it went very smoothly.  My co-workers were all supportive and encouraging, and it was great to talk about my dreams to friends and colleagues and get so much positive feedback. 

My financial perspective, or perhaps my luck, has shifted a bit.  In my quest for housing I can afford and still keep my cupboards stocked with saltines and ramen noodles, I came upon a Craigslist ad for an apartment in the foothills of the Sandias, about 20 minutes from Albuquerque, and I made the trek to check it out.  It is surrounded by incredible views and hiking trails, and access to the main house most of the time when the owner is out of state.  The best part? It’s FREE, in exchange for keeping an eye on the place and doing some light cleaning.  Obviously the owner got plenty of responses to this ad, and it felt like a job interview.  It is a job in the sense that it will allow me to forego other, less appealing jobs. Luckily my borderline OCD tidiness comes in handy in certain situations, and I blew away the competition.  So now that particular albatross has been dismembered and I have another piece of my financial puzzle in place.  According to the permanent budget calculator implanted in my brain, between the GA stipend and the housing arrangement I have my needs covered.  Whatever creative means and schemes I pursue beyond that goes towards savings and discretionary spending.  I’ve already maxed out my Roth for the year, my emergency fund could last me 2 years, and savings account rates are in the Arctic.  Additional savings is not high on my list of priorities.

Die Broke by Stephen Pollan and Mark Levine is not one of my favorite personal finance books.  Not that I disagree with the premise or some of the points made, but I don’t like how it is geared towards the rich and much of the advice (such as leasing a car being a wise financial move) is pretty ludicrous.  However, the authors do make one point that has always stuck with me: “Your work is not your life. Your work is what you do so you can have a life.”   In other words, we’re all independent contractors.  I feel like I am finally embracing my inner independent contractor and making my own rules.

There is great freedom and there is frightening personal accountability in this situation.  I feel like I am entering into a period of “retirement” in the sense that I have my financial needs covered without the bonds of a traditional job.  Like anyone facing such a period of liberation, there is the pressure to make the best use of my time and opportunities, for exploration, for learning, for creativity.  I have grown so accustomed to working according to the schedules and proscriptions of others, and now I’ve been hired on as my own boss.  Am I up for that role?

I’m pondering something Tyler Tervooren listed on his “5 Pillars of Awesome Risk Taking” over at the Advanced Riskology blog: “throw away Plan B.”  The idea being that we all know deep in our infinitely wise and visceral hearts exactly what it is that makes us burn with energy and desire, and we should do whatever it takes to achieve that Plan A, because, as Tyler puts it, “If you know deep down what you want (and I think everyone does, but most are afraid to allow themselves to believe it) then you should avoid having a Plan B at all cost. If you already have one, you should do everything within your power to dismantle it. Plan B is a major distraction to Plan A.”  He also distinguishes plans from dreams.  In other words, the dream is the bedrock that does not change.  Plan A is just the current course to achieving it.

I can see evidence of this in my own journey.  The dream has not changed – doing research and working with cultural resource management.  That’s the bedrock.  The rest is the detritus of uncertainty, past and future speculation.  What I take Plan A to mean in this context is the present.  Seizing the moment and what it can do for the dream.  And, importantly, the dream is not the same as the “dream job.” That can manifest in a variety of unexpected ways.

Obviously this is part of my wake-up call to stop getting ahead of myself.  I hate waiting for decisions outside of my control.  I hate the sensation of getting energized about an opportunity that fizzles out.  That feeling of discomfort does not mean it’s a negative experience, however.  I have experienced enough significant synchronicity in my life to realize that the proper unwinding of experience is not the way I envisioned it in my daydream. 

As the waiting game continues on my fellowship applications (and my practical side is already resigned to the fact that they most likely went to Ph.D history students as they have in the past), I realized I’ve been coming back again and again to the same mantra.  Rejection is always opportunity.  Is this counterintuitive? It feels that way.  Of course our ego tells us we want the perceived “dream job,” and the sooner the better.  But if we always get what we think we want in the moment, who knows what opportunities are unrealized?

In my case, I still revisit the disappointment of coming so close to my “dream job” at the Museum of New Mexico 2 years ago.  Then I dig a little deeper.  Even if I had decided to pursue my MA at that point, would I have had the flexibility in that position to take classes? Probably not.  And if I felt like I had reached my intended destination, I probably would not have followed the instinct to continue my education.  In doing so, I discovered a passion and proclivity for art historical research that infuses me with meaning and flow.  I don’t know if I would have figured that out in my “dream job.” And now, I’m not sure that would have been my dream job after all.  I really want a job where I can apply that drive towards research and scholarship.   That’s the real dream for me, the real life-long pursuit.

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 spent the week tweaking my cover letter to apply for the Sophie Aberle fellowship at the Center for Southwest Research at UNM.  This fellowship represents the best of my ambitions – a chance to get paid to do research and work on a library project at the same time.  Specifically it is a project to choose historical state documents and digitize them into the library collection: “The fellow will select documents for scanning, create descriptions, and load them into the CSWR image management system, CONTENTdm.  The fellow will also write contextual information to help users, especially students, understand the events leading to statehood as well as New Mexico society and culture in the statehood era.”  My cover letter stresses my digitization experience and the fact that I have worked with CONTENTdm on several other projects.

Anyway, it sounds like a unique opportunity, and fits perfectly (20 hours a week, spring and fall semesters) into my schedule for next year.  Perhaps more importantly, it was the push I needed to make the decision to accept the GA position and go to school full time.  I was riding the fence when the fellowship was advertised, and it definitely seemed like a sign.  Whether or not I get it, it was posted three days before I needed to decide whether or not to sign the GA contract.  While I would have gone with my instinct regardless and may have made the same decision, who knows?

I am not really a new-agey believer in portents, but I do think signs are useful indicators of what we truly want to happen in our lives.  I felt a rush of excitement when I read about this fellowship, telling me what I needed to know about seeking new challenges and opportunities.