I think all of us who went into art degree programs did so with the knowledge that this path would make us perhaps spiritually richer but would not do anything to enhance the state of our bank accounts. Those of us interested in teaching figured our MFAs would get us positions as adjuncts and that we would maybe struggle for awhile, eventually move into full-time positions, make enough money to get by but also have enough time to continue to make our artwork. Anticipating this, I even moved to a place where I figured I could actually survive on the money I made teaching art.
I did land a job as an adjunct, thanks as much to who I know as to what I know. I've spent the last four weeks or so getting ready for these two classes, and have invested substantial hours in planning and pondering. And I know I'll put a lot more time into tweaking the syllabus, reviewing and grading, meeting with students, and all the other things that go into being a good teacher. I'm excited about teaching and looking forward to the experience.
Yesterday, I applied for a deferrment on my student loans, which I've paid faithfully every month for four years. I'm also considering dropping my health coverage, because the money I'll be making over the next four months will cover slightly less than half of my expenses. And this is without factoring in the increased gas costs I'll incur from commuting the 150 miles to my part-time job.
This is not because I live in a super-expensive area; in fact, I moved away from one specifically because I anticipated a big reduction in my earning power once I moved into teaching and art full-time. I also don't live a lavish lifestyle. I'm not supporting children or elderly parents. My expensive hobbies have all been put on hold. If you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of my blog, you know that I love shoes, but you may not realize that all my shoes come from either Desiger Shoe Warehouse, the sales on Shoes.com, or the "unloved shoe racks" at Macys. I don't belong to a gym. I get my hair done at the local beauty college by students. I don't eat out. I don't go to concerts or plays or travel abroad. I don't buy jewelry. And these are all things I used to do, but stopped doing because I wanted to be able to live within my means.
Yet, I cannot do so. And worse still, I have a creeping suspicion that the combination of commuting and teaching (and all the things that go with it) are going to eat away most of the time I have to make, consider, and promote my own artwork.
And I'm not the only person in this situation. I know other MFAs, very fine artists, who are in the same boat. We work, we work hard, and our debt load gets bigger rather than smaller.
Maybe there is a rhythm that I will find where I can pull all the pieces together, but at the moment, I'm not entirely sure. I feel that I'm drifting and hoping to bump into the right thing, when I don't even know what that thing might actually be.