Why I Stepped Off the Beaten Path & Stayed Off
“Perseverance is impossible if we don’t permit ourselves to hope.” – Dean Koontz
It all started when I was homeless. There were seeds before that, those miserable nights of sleeplessness. Dreading work the next day. Pummeling myself to fit a certain form. Doable, yes, but detrimental. But, ultimately, it was my time on the street.
I’d been spiraling into it for three months. Illness and downsizing after a divorce frittered away my life savings; a relationship did the rest. I turned to odd jobs. But something peeked out and nudged me from the sidelines: Art. It stayed with me when I hit the last skid. Asheville, NC, and her homeless system.
I spent some of my spare time—out of the shelter, off the street, off the porch, off the couch—at the library, trying to return to a career in education. I thought to myself: I’ve always done it, I have a Masters Degree in it, what else am I going to do. It’s my “right thing”. Right? I thought to myself: it’s always been a way to help other people. It’s my service job. The “real” kind of service. Right? Except for I really had lost myself down a dead-end, unhappy road with my last education job. Nothing ultimately worked out. It was the structure and the poor supervision that tanked me; it didn’t provide the joyful innovation I so desperately needed. But, I thought to myself anyway: go back. There’s money in it. And if it’s not all about the money, it sure feels that way when you’re homeless.
I spent some of my spare time—in doorways, in the shelter—writing.
The writing was so easy. And so necessary. Writing for healing. Writing for sanity. Writing for artistry. Writing like breathing.
The education work fell through as I was getting off the street. Over the days and weeks that followed my transition, I was strangely unable to materialize any work in that area.
But the writing work, work I’d done my whole life, didn’t fall through. It was as though the universe was trying to tell me something. So finally, finally, looking at my writing and my visual arts work as a whole, I took a step back. And I looked at my real needs, outside of eating and sleeping. And I understood myself to be really and truly an artist, capable of doing the supplementary work needed to support my true work. Not the other way around.
It’s not the path I chose to follow originally. And it’s a path many “responsible” adults will steer you away from. But here’s why I know to stay off the beaten path after stepping off it, why I know to keep straying from the main to follow my artistic life:
- Money isn’t everything. I never got happy from having fistfuls of it from the wrong type of work; instead, I had less “me” time, and the money flowed away like water. Instead, I got stressed. And I spent most of the money soaking up that stress. I used to make $70,000+ a year; now, I make less than $20,000. I can actually breathe. I’m not anti-money, mind. I’m just anti the wrong work making money.
- All my favorite people are artists. Hey, go where you know! If it worked for them, it can work for me.
- Artists live differently. We’re wide open in terms of experiences. It’s really amazing to view the world as a creative construct instead of a destructive one.
- You really do have to stop impressing your parents and other people at some point, and just do you. Anything else is illegitimate, strangling. It just leaves you feeling sick.
- The world really is growth-centric. When you find your path, strange and beautiful things start happening. Shivery, dream-come-true things. The right-sort-of make-you-happy things. You feel as though your eyes are opened for the first time. And, oh, what a view!
Guess what? Now, I can be my remarkably artistic self without the structure formally imposed on me. What’s that worth? My whole life.
All it took was an epiphany after losing everything.
May you find your new path with less suffering.
What will you do when you find it?