As I said in my last post, sometimes you have to be willing to close one door before you can open another, even if that means standing in the dark hallway alone for a while. I feel very comfortable in the hallway actually: it’s all about how you look at it. Recently a friend told me she thinks I have problems with commitment. Two days later another friend marveled at my bravery, at my willingness to experiment and try new things throughout my entire life. PotAtoes, poTAHtoes, right? Do you focus on the endings or the beginnings? It’s up to each of us of course. For now though, I’m more focused on sniffing out the next adventure.
Financial Security vs. Retail Therapy
As part of this new phase in my life, I decided yesterday to take a hard look at my finances and see if I will be able to tighten my expenses belt enough to make up for the small bit of revenue I will be forfeiting by leaving my very-part-time job. Yes, I can do that, but it will take the same amount of vigilance that my sainted mother put into counting her pennies. I will never forget the day I stood by her in the grocery store (I was probably about 25 years old) and she stated in a righteous tone, “I am NOT paying THAT for a loaf of bread!” She acted personally insulted that anyone thought they could get away with charging that amount of money for a loaf of bread, when undoubtedly it was only a few pennies more than last month, and it was generic not-so-special bread to begin with. It is so much easier to rein yourself in if you never cut yourself any slack in the first place.
God bless you Ruth, I am not willing to follow in your steps exactly, but I can take a lesson or two. I can go about my day with only a cash purse when I am out shopping, so I am not tempted to whip out my credit card for an impulse buy. Like everyone, I have a few expenses that I see as essential, like health insurance and electricity and yes, internet access is right up there as well, but my ability to justify and fritter away money has really crept up in recent years. I am very comfortable wasting $20 five times in a week when I would never blow $100 in one fell swoop. So I am following the same wisdom people get from tracking food calories and applying it to budgeting money. First, I need a plan in both instances: a goal expenditure of either calories or dollars for each day. Then I need an extremely easy way to track my “budget vs actual” reality. With calories it is through an app on my phone, and it is working: after six weeks I am seeing good results. With money, I am going to make it even simpler. I go to the ATM machine each Sunday and withdraw a specific amount of cash. That cash has to cover groceries, coffee dates, personal impulse buys, and when the money is gone, it’s gone for the rest of the week. Credit card is reserved for doctor appointments, prescriptions, and emergencies only.
Caffeine, get thee behind me!
This new practice is enlightening and actually enjoyable because I am not being a slave to a budget: rather it is a way to take back control of my life and become aware of how easily ‘retail therapy’ has slipped into my life. I live in the middle of a small city, and my neighborhood might as well be called the Coffee District. Within a two-block stroll there are no less than five very active cafes, three bakeries, and a dozen ways to spend money and consume calories that would be best saved for very special social events with friends visiting from out of town. Instead they all can easily become my ‘extended living room’, a place to take a book, or sketchbook, be with people without being with anyone at all, and indulge in gastronomic luxury.
No more. Now my regular cafe habit is limited to a Tuesday morning date with my good friend L., followed by a blog-post hour and a second cup of coffee. Then home to get on with the work of the day.
Saving [watercolor] time by spending [pencil] time
Speaking of having a plan and sticking to it, I launched a new sketchbook this morning, dedicated to Planning Paintings. In the past I have done some pre-planning in my head and some of the adjusting mid-watercolor. Now (and I smile admitting it) I am happily using a pencil in a sketchbook to work out design choices on paper, before I even think about filling my water pail and opening my watercolor palette. Every painting student is taught this their first semester of school, and in my case “sketch first, paint later” was taught as a mandatory step, of course. That black-and-white thinking went out the window decades ago, as soon as I was no longer answerable to a professor. Now it feels good to return to it, seeing it as just one approach among many.
Below is a photo I took at a pond in Northumberland, UK in 2012. Like most folks I instinctively do a bit of composing before clicking the shutter, so much of the work is done already. But looking at this photo, I thought, “There are even more design options I can consider here.” The one I tackled first was locating the horizon line in the frame of the painting.
Do I want the sky to take up the top 20%, 40%, or maybe none of the picture plane at all?
Do I want the small hut to be a dominant element (done so by making it either larger or by having it a pale color against a dark background) or do I want it to blend quietly into the scenery, letting the natural world be the theme and the human element a minor component?
These are choices that would have been subconscious at best had I not taken the time to pull out a sketchbook, and pencil, and ask myself, “What options am I overlooking?”
Overlooking options is something we all do, every day. It is a necessity up to a point, but a pause now and then can be enlightening. Choices about calories, and money, and artistic design are everywhere. Becoming aware of choices allows us to make better choices, or at least make our poor choices intentionally! (Yes, I do that too.) It feels good to own my life, every bit of it. I spent years trying to hold other people and circumstances responsible for my lot in life, and it just didn’t get me anywhere. Today I choose to take responsibility for my actions, thoughts, opinions, and choices. It is heady stuff, but has led me to feel quite rich in ways that have nothing to do with bank balances.