What am I doing?

I can’t constantly be working.  Sometimes, a lot of times, I feel like I’m responsible to, anyway.  For example, tonight, it’s late, I’m up late, Mandy’s already fast asleep (for hours, now), I’m tired but I don’t feel like sleeping yet, but I don’t know what I want to do.  Probably nothing.  I don’t know.  Not a movie, I didn’t feel (two hours ago, when this started) like I wanted to be up that long.  Maybe a video game, but which one, maybe this, maybe that, maybe lay in bed tossing and turning and disturbing Mandy’s sleep.  I don’t know.  Took a nap, earlier, accidentally, because I was feeling bad and went to bed to pout and curled up in a ball and then it was two hours later and Mandy was waking me up, and she wanted to do something, but she didn’t know what and an hour later she was near to passing out, herself.  It was a day today.  An Art Walk day.  Local.  North Phoenix.  Angel’s Serenity – no longer slash Intatto Coffee.  Intatto Coffee closed.  Apparently two weeks ago, without me noticing it.  Or a lot of other people, apparently; people were trying to go in for a coffee all day and turning away disappointed.  I hear rumor someone else will open a new coffee shop in that location, though.  Weird choice, if you ask me.  So, up early on a Saturday, get stuff ready, load the car, yadda yadda Art Walk yadda yadda, come home, unload, it’s eight hours later and I sold one mini-painting and one book and made $25 for eight hours work, well, plus a couple hours’ work on the painting, plus … how do you figure time and effort into the book?  It was a copy of Worth 1k — Volume 2, actually, which prior to today I believe I have never sold a copy, so that was … different, interesting, good, really good actually, because she stood there and read nearly the entire book, then walked off for a bit and actually came back and still bought it, so she must really have liked it, yes?  Awesome.  But let’s see, not counting the hours I spent thinking about and writing the thing over the course of three months last year and focusing instead on the 40-100 hours (I didn’t exactly keep a log) I spent scanning in pages, cleaning up images, re-typing all the poems in their extremely specific visual constructions, getting the layout print-ready, writing copy, designing, modifying, redesigning, and re-working the cover image (look how much better the Volume 2 cover is than the Volume 1 cover – that took a while), and everything else it took to get it ready for print, plus the >$100 (I don’t feel like looking up the actual number, right now) it cost to get the title set up with my printer/distributor, and not accounting for the cost of the couple dozen copies of the book I ordered to be able to have the opportunity to sell them at all (in person – you can always order from your local/online bookseller and a copy will be printed and sent to you), selling one $10 copy of the book today brings the value of my time to…  wait, it doesn’t even make up for the money already spent, so I guess it’s like negative infinity dollars per hour if I calculate it that way, but let’s pretend it was just 8 hours at the art walk and two hours on the painting and $25 revenue and we’ll pretend the gas to get there and back again was free, so that I’m earing the round value of $2.50/hr for my work today.  Which may relate directly to why I passed out, curled up in a ball, this evening.  It may also relate to my recent post about money where I noted that an acquaintence of mine sometimes earns $250/hr or more for his creative work.  There’s hope, of course, because someone said they really wanted one of my paintings (I only brought the cheap ones out today – 18 paintings, 16×20″, with a “Halloween Special” price of $66.66 – that apparently didn’t help move them…), and would email me about or save up for it or something, and the same thing happened at the last art walk and they actually did email me about it later, so maybe that’ll happen again, and did I mention that my art apparently targets an audience in the 13 to 16 year old range?  Seriously, that seems to be who is most interested in and excited by my work, who really really, sometimes jumping up and down and dragging their friends and family over to see it, wants my art and who -because they’re teenagers?- can’t afford to buy it, even at my current (depressed) rates.  Which may also have been a factor in my feeling bad this evening; the mini-painting I sold today was also to a teenager, but I suppose that’s part of why I wanted to have paintings under $20, and I know that teenagers and young people generally seem to like my work.  But it’s still somewhat disappointing, because teenagers don’t exactly spend enough money on original art to support me.  Anyway, so, Mandy went to bed and Heath went to work and I was feeling ansty, tired from working all day, trying to make sales at the art walk, I think I got a bit too much sun, but my olive/italian skin will just turn that pink into a winter tan by Monday morning, and I didn’t want to really go to sleep, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but there was still this nagging feeling, this first reaction I seem to have to every time I wonder, what do I want to do, what should I do, what am I doing, and it’s that I should be working.  So, right now it’s that I should be typing up my new novel – another 77 pages to go of the rough draft, then a once-over, then print a copy and do another reading, then maybe get several copies printed for advance copies to go out to try to get blurbs (I’m thinking of sending copies to Max Brooks and The Lizardman at the very least, since I mention them in the book, and a blurb from either of them would be neat, though getting their addresses perhaps less so) and editing help from friends/family/pets, and I was hoping to already have the typing done but I’ve been having trouble concentrating lately, focusing, really, and I’ve had several bad days recently, even one where I couldn’t get myself out of bed before noon because I felt so bad, and anyway, right now there’s that stack of pages sitting there, taunting me, making me feel bad for writing this blog post instead of typing away at that, not to mention church in the morning (do I have to go?  Right now I don’t feel like going, I don’t feel up to it, especially since my ‘life group’, instead of doing a normal gathering/bible-study tomorrow evening is having a halloween party that I really don’t want to go to, and the whole social thing has me feeling pretty lousy right now, and … ugh. If/when we go to church in the morning, they’re going to be there, along with everyone else, and everyone’s going to want/expect me to be friendly and happy and social and right now, and probably in a few hours, I don’t feel like being there much at all, especially with people) and I’m supposed to get up in a few hours for that and I ought to be sleeping if I’m not getting any work done, not goofing off, not playing games or blogging or twittering or plurking or reading feeds or whatever else it is I might do with my time, and it always goes back and goes back and goes back to the same thing, the I should be working thing, the why aren’t you painting or writing or typing or recording or something, something, something, accomplishing something, and then on the other hand that just fuels what’s been bothering me the most lately, which is money, and the value of my time, because if I put in another 10hrs typing this thing and then probably 20 to 50 hours designing the cover and writing the copy for the cover (unless I decide to paint the thing on canvas, and then probably a lot longer), then spend $110 getting it set up at the printer, account for the cost of the ISBNs, then spend more to get copies printed, then again disocunt the hundreds of hours over the last 4 months I spent actually writing the first draft, then there’s the ten to twenty hours reformatting the thing for eight eBook formats and getting it online in three different places, and until/unless this one sells more copies than any book I’ve ever put in print it still won’t reach the break-even point where I can divide income by time and get any sort of reasonable number that has to do with what my time is worth.  I keep having to see that my art, which isn’t making a lot of money on its own, is literally paying for my publishing business to keep operating.  I keep having to see that my time, based on the money I’m actually bringing in right now, isn’t really worth anything – and is worth less than nothing if I try to account for the publishing side.  Not worth anything, monetarily.  Not worth a hill of beans.  So all those people who think time is money, they think my life is a waste.  A waste.  A total waste.  And since they’re also the ones who control things like the supply of food and power and most everything else, their opinion matters, and matters enough to make me feel pretty darn bad.  But then there’s the value of what I’m doing to me, to my family, to the handful of people who have risked a few dollars here or a few hours there to see what it is I’ve been doing, and hopefully to more people in the future.  There’s the value of not working a job I hate, the value of being able to do what I love, the value of being able to follow my talent and my inspiration and to be creative instead of economic.  And that value is unfortunately diminished by this constant feeling, this oppressive feeling that I ought to be working all the time, that if I’m not sleeping or cooking I should probably be working, that somehow I don’t deserve to relax.  Just sitting still for an hour or three in the evening after Mandy comes home from work is pretty anxious for me most nights, when it should be relaxing, because even in the midst of watching some program we both enjoy, I’m thinking, in the back of my mind, that I ought to be working, I ought to get up from the living room, go sit down at a computer, and type.  That I should find a piece of paper and a pencil and sketch something, a canvas and paint and get something going, that sitting still isn’t accomplishing anything and I’m wasting time by not working.  And that feeling is diminishing the value of the work, diminishing the reward of doing what I love by turning it into something I have to do.  By making it feel like it’s work, work, work, or starve.  By making it feel like sitting down and typing up my next book is always, always, a better choice of things to do that anything else, than relaxing, than sleeping, than playing games or watching movies or being social or helping friends in need.  By making it feel like none of those other things have value.  Which, with the added weight of the recent thoughts of the hourly value of my work coming in somewhere between negative infinity and $2.50/hr most of the time, gives me an overwhelming feeling that my entire life is without value, and meaningless.  Like no matter what I’m doing, it’s a waste of time.  Like working is more valuable than anything else, and working isn’t even able to bring in more money than it costs to get the work done, like my whole existence, even when doing what I love (loved? can I get back to that place?), is worthless, valueless, meaningless, and that… well, from there, where can I go?  What can I do?  I become paralyzed.  It’s punishing to work (if aware of the existence of money), and it’s worse to do anything else.

Did I mention I met another local author, today?  A published author of ‘Speculative Fiction’ whose comments -mostly not because that was what he was intending- made me feel like crap.  Made me feel like my choice to start my own publishing company was wrong, like the ignorant fool that I am for a variety of reasons ranging from my not ever having been part of a writing group, to my not writing in a particualr genre, to my not joining any of the major, national associations of writers, to my views of the future of publishing, and even to -apparently- my writing itself, after he took a brief flip through one of my books.  But he let me know about his writing group and gave me info about where and when they meet, so maybe after I’m done feeling sorry for myself I’ll go meet with them.  Or not.  Always easier to not do, right?

I need to find a way to relax, to let go, to stop worrying about working all the time, to stop freaking about about the value of my time.  To have faith that God will provide for my family – He always has, He’ll always love us, and did you see how well he took care of the birds of the air?  I’m sure we’ll be fine.  I was excited a couple of weeks ago because I’d reached a point of profit, according to my accounting software, and barring any unforseen expenses, all future sales this year would have been profitable.  If the profits actually reached $400 or more, I’d even have to pay social security taxes!  But then I realized that I’m planning on publishing two new books before Christmas, and that between the up-front costs of that and paying for the Art Walk for November and December, I’ll have to have some pretty sweet sales to get that far into profitable.  Which is to say that after working hard from March through the end of the year, the next financial contribution of my work -according to accounting & tax rules- will probably come out to nearly $0.  If I were counting all the money I spent on “assets” (which actually costs me money, right now, thank you very much bookkeeping principles) this year I’m way, way in the negative.  But the near-$0 is somewhat refreshing, perhaps, for my mental outlook because hopefully it can take some of the pressure off.  Because even without my contributing financially at all since I left ICE in March, we’re doing fine.  We’re taken care of.  The money we’ve needed has come at the right times to pay the bills.  We’re not getting ahead of our pre-existing debt any time soon, but we’re not delinquent on any of it, either, and there’s food on the table.  Every day.  Every night.  Instead of seeing this in the negative, instead of reading this as ten months’ work worth $0, I’m going to try to look at it as a sign that it’s safe not to be worrying about the cost/value of every minute, of every hour, of every choice about what to do.  I’m going to try to look at this as an indication that if I work hard and do what I’m led to do, and if I take advantage of the opportunities, inspirations, et cetera that just keep coming at the right times, and if I follow my talents naturally, I’ll continue to be taken care of, our needs will continue to be met, and things will just get better and better.  I’ll feel better about the work I’m doing and -if the waxing and waning of this year, and the thirty that came before them, are any indication- I’ll get more done, and better work done, not thinking about it and not beating myself up about working all the time.  I’ll create more art, better stories, and sell more of both by letting go, by letting myself just do what comes naturally, by letting go of worry.  I know what needs to be done, I understand deadlines, obligations, and my own over-amplified perfectionism / high standards / desire to create value, and I can and will create great things if I just stop trying, stop worrying, and start doing.

One more thing.  I’ve been thinking of trying to adapt one of my paintings to another format.  Maybe poster prints, maybe t-shirts.  What would you pay for a poster of it, and what would you be willing to pay for a shirt?