Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Have $161,635.78 in Student Loans, $15,000 in Credit Card Debt, and I Want To Be An Artist…

First off, we'd like to thank everyone who helped make the SF Zine Fest possible - organizers, creators, and attendees alike. We had a great time, met some really awesome people, got some cool new comics and zines, and even won a few raffle prizes!

So today's post is a reprinting of something Monkey wrote for his short-lived "Monkey Zine" that he published a few years back. Lots of stuff has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. Monkey will be posting an updated version of the story a later on.

The reason we even remembered this was because at the Zine Fest two years ago we had the pleasure of talking about art school and life and pursuing your dream with an UC Davis student (who shall not be named, since we didn't ask for his permission to talk about him). He bought the Monkey Zine back in 2009, and two years later, he stopped by our table again! He even brought the zine with him!

So since this was never published on the Monkey + Seal blog, we thought we should republish it for everyone who missed it being posted on Monkey's personal blog way back when. Anyway, thanks R for being a fan, and best of luck pursuing your true passions!

I am 26 years old and have $161,635.78 in student loans, $15,000 in credit card debt, and I want to be an artist. I already have a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, yet because I was too busy running a student acting group and painting, I have no resume-building biology related experience, nor do I care to gain any.

Like I said, I’m about $177k in the hole, and currently my fiancée and I want to be working artists. We’re currently in art school, but I just hit my cap on student loans (wtf, who knew there was actually a ceiling on how much you can take out for education…) so I may not be able to afford another semester. If you ever were interested in pursing art, you’d know that it’s not easy to make money quickly, steadily, or easily. There’s a lot of work, dedication, and a never-ending commitment to your craft that you need to have.

How did I get to where I am? I grew up in Stockton, California, located pretty much dead-center of the state. It’s a politically conservative town of a couple hundred thousand, where public transportation is a joke, my high school had a day care, and our per capita murder rate is the highest in the nation.

My dad works as an environmental coordinator at an aerospace firm and my mom is a dermatologist’s assistance. My mom is very progressive and DIY, my dad, not so much. He’s your standard Democrat, but he’s definitely no Green (my political affiliation of choice). My parents do their best to support my dreams and they are surprisingly calm when I tell them things like I quit my high-paying, health-insurance graphic design job for unemployment during the start of the recession. They divorced when I was 18, and my dad remarried 7 years later. My step-mom is pretty cool, but since I life in San Francisco, and they live in Stockton, I haven’t gotten a chance to really get to know her.

I have a younger brother (5 years younger, to be exact) who still lives in Stockton. He’s super cool, and although we’re into different things (he has something like 30+ pairs of Nikes while I have 2 pairs of running shoes and a pair of interview shoes) we get along pretty fabulously.

My fiancée is pretty awesome. She is a feminist activist, intelligent, an artist, likes the outdoors and is Wilderness First Responder Certified, dances, sings, acts, likes to bake, and is a sexy lady. Basically, she’s everything I could ever ask for.

The two of us are following our dreams of surviving off our art. We make zines, comics, paintings, stationery, sculptures, prints, and also do graphic design work. I have a under-funded and under-advertised non-traditional custom wedding invitation studio. We are also currently very under-employed.

I never thought the recession would really hit us, but it definitely has. As we struggle to make our credit card payments, and rent, it’s sometimes hard to just keep focused on our art, let alone positive about our current situation. We’re not even sure that we can afford rent next month, and there aren’t a whole lot of options in terms of borrowing some cash.

I keep finding job listings that are unrelated to art, but might be kind of cool. I don’t think I’d mind working for a non-profit, or doing something sciencey for underprivileged youth, and I know I’d be great, but I’m always dissuaded by the job posting as I don’t have any resume experience to show how awesome I am with kids, or how I could totally act as an advocate for immigrant reform even though I’ve never worked in a law office.

It’s actually surprisingly difficult (although I guess it’s not that surprising now that I think about it) to get a retail job when you have a degree from UC Berkeley. I really want a job that pays me just enough to get by, and requires nothing mentally taxing, so I can go home stress-free and just focus on my art. Granted, I would most definitely quit as soon as my art career takes off, which I now understand is probably why most prospective employers would be hesitant on taking me on.

So I’m stuck in a resume limbo where I’m underqualified for the jobs I want, and I’m way over qualified for the other jobs I want. But I lucked out and got a job at a place I used to work at, so even though it’s not enough to pay the bills, at least it’s a steady flow of income.

Money and I have never really gotten along. My parents declared bankruptcy when I was 15 or so, and so I worked really hard to get into a good school. I was offered a nearly full-ride scholarship to UC Riverside, but after touring the campus, I knew I would be totally unhappy. I’m sure telling me that it was okay to go to UC Berkeley, where they would be co-signing on my loans, was one of the hardest things my parents have had to do.

Hearing that I would be going back to art school was probably equally as hard to hear, but fortunately for me, like I said before, my parents are surprisingly supportive.

When I first decided to write this, the title was going to be “I Have $161,635.78 in Student Loans, $15,000 in Credit Card Debt, and I Want To Be An Artist FML.” But then I realized, no, not Fuck My Life. I thought about it, and I realized it should be FMLIA.: Fuck, My Life Is Awesome.

Granted, I might not be able to pay next month’s rent. Granted, I may end up eating rice and ramen every meal for the next few months. Granted, I might not be able to finish school. However, I have so much to be grateful for, it’s ridiculous.

I still have a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I have a computer to type this out on, and a job to go to tomorrow. I’ve been able to travel outside the country, learn from some of the greatest minds in the world, and find someone I want to spend my life with. I might not be as skilled as Rembrandt, but I can paint and draw, and even if I’m not as prolific as Stephen King, I get to write zines and make comics.

We often are led to believe that life is about making it big. Being a Hollywood superstar, or a millionaire, or a supermodel, or a business executive. Basically, we’re socialized to care about money and fame and glory and being the best. But I’ve come to realize that while the urge to become a famous artist is still there, that’s not what I need to focus on. I need to focus on the little things that make me happy.

As long as I get to paint what I want to paint, I’ll be happy. As long as I get to wake up next to the person that has the screws to my heart, I’ll be happy. As long as I get to stick my hands in my pocket, pull my hood up on my sweatshirt, and stroll through the foggy San Francisco night, I’ll be happy. As long as my family is healthy and doing alright, I’m happy.

Yes, student loans and credit card bills are painful. They are utterly crushing and overwhelming at times, but I did sign up for them in the first place. It was I that accepted the high interest rates and stellar fees to be able to open my mind to unimaginable wonders, make life-long friends, find my life partner, and to learn my craft. And at the end of the night, when my head is swimming with the burden of debt mixed with inspirations for new paintings dusted with hopes and dreams for tomorrow, I find that I couldn’t be happier. For this I am eternally grateful.