Sunday, July 15, 2012

Empowerment Past Poverty

I watched a really powerful documentary on HBO about the affect this recession has had on the state of mind of the masses of unemployed in this country. I could relate with much of this, though my entrance into poverty was brought about by other circumstances.

Through the years I have learned so much about empowerment. And it occured to me that maybe sharing some of these things and sending them out into the the world wide web would be helpful. For the purpose of context I am going to tell you something about where I've been and how I got to the life I am living now.

I always worked hard. I started working when I was 14. I worked as a counter waitress and cook at the local Woolworths. I worked in a fabric store. And I worked in a record store. Then I started working for a temp agency and answered phones and filed and eventually found my niche. I was good at figuring out how to do research. I loved it. It was like a mystery beginning with an answer. I coupled this with waitressing and went to college. During the two long breaks in the summer and winter I traveled. I stayed with friends, paid my way and got temp jobs so I earned money while I was getting to know different parts of the country and interesting people along the way. I was never a freeloader and though I didn't have a new car or anything fancy, I had a life that was at the very least, interesting to me.

When my husband and I married and had children we had discussed the kind of home we wanted to bring children into and that included a fulltime at-home mom. I loved my husband and my children very much. And I was grateful for everyday I could spend with them. I cooked from scratch and made healthy food for my family. I made baby food from our food. And I learned how to sew and made quilts and shorts and sun dresses and stuffed animals and dolls. I learned how to paint. In the beginning I did crafts and painted things like a checkerboard and decorated antique desks for my children. Later I studied art from some of my favorite books until one day people starting calling me an artist.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, when the kids were all in school, my marriage ended. I no longer had health insurance and it was then that I got my first taste of being devalued and isolated. I worked fulltime in an office and in about a year I got a job I was ridiculously underskilled for but my people skills were good and I was driven and with support from people who knew the various computer programs I would be using, I learned and was a productive part of a corporation and a worthy part of society again.

Finding someone who could watch my children from the time school let out until the time I got home proved to be a real challenge. One person was on the phone all day and even locked the kids out of the house so she could talk without interruptions. Another woman seemed fine. But when I came home at lunch time I found out that she brought her boyfriend with her. I couldn't find someone who was interested in being engaged with my children. Who would give them a healthy snacl when they came home and who would focus on them instead of their boyfriend or the phone. My family suggested I come back to the midwest. We could live in our grandparent's old home. And so we moved and again. And I was in poverty again and without insurance again.

I worked really hard to get a job and finally found one that was almost fulltime. I could be home when the kids got home and I was off during the summer. My ex-husband was good about sending child support so while the summers meant living even more frugally, we were together and we did just fine.

Then I got a fulltime job at a junior college and I loved it. A few years later and a few changes later I was in a serious car accident. I was the passenger in a van when a car came speeding into our lane and hit us headon. I had a Traumatic Brain Injury, among other things, and through the next several years I began relearning how to approach life, differently. I did not get a huge settlement. But that is another story. It was enough to support my children and get them through high school. I wasn't sure I'd live that long but I was grateful that I did.

We had a small farm and we lived frugally. I had a nice big organic garden and my neighbor hunted for the winter and always gave me some venison or fish when he went fishing. We had a good life. I did go to the grocery store but we also lived off of the land. Twice a year I bought my children what they needed for school in stores they liked. And whatever else they needed money for they earned from working and saving.

I grew as an artist and found that painting and writing gave me a sense of purpose. Working helped me to feel my life had meaning. Whether my work was of any value to anyone else wasn't important to me. This was not my focus though after years of hard work it was my hope from time to time. I wanted to put my children through college, or at least help them and this was motivating me to work as hard as I could to write the best book I could and to paint the best paintings I could. But I always came back to this, setting a good example for my children was the most important thing. Working hard from a place of gratitude for what I could do and living within or below my means, honorably and honestly, this was what I wanted to show my children. Because these values were the ones that stayed with us and helped us regardless of what life's changes would bring our way. These were the tools of survival and living purposefully.

I didn't use charge cards. If I couldn't pay for it, we did without it. Some times I'd sell some drawings and that would pay for the heat or for some presents for the kids during the holidays. But even that ran out. Once the kids were all grown and living on their own I sold the farm and came out even. I had enough to buy a small used camper truck and was going to buy that and live out of it. But my children and my sister and the rest of my family encouraged me to stay put, close by. My sister sold the land our grandparent's old house was on and she got a little place for me close to her. This way we could be there for each other and our kids would be close and we would all get to see each other. Settled. And it was a great decision.

Now I found myself living on disability which put me in extreme poverty. I was grateful but it was really rough. I decided to go back to college to see if I could hone my skills so I could make prints of my artwork or self-publish or make a website. At this point I was encouraged that I had created beautiful work and that I had something of value to offer. And I did learn how to create posters and I worked on my art and writing and learned how to create and maintain a website. But still, no money was coming in.

I self-published Down the Road with Amazon and thought, surely this will help. I had the right idea because I could only have a mental focus for a couple of hours a day. And even then there were days when I couldn't do anything. But I had years of work. And so I thought, maybe I can make a living and help my children by selling prints of my artwork and books I had written. But I didn't know how to make people aware of who I was or of my work. When you are poor you can't afford to go places and meet people or entertain or go to art exhibits or do readings of your work. So again, I was isolated. I had to find my sources of inspiration from books and the internet.

I suppose I could have quit and felt sorry for myself and there were some times when I was so exasperated that I wanted to. But I didn't. My family and those amazing grown children of mine encouraged me and reminded me that I had value to them. That they loved me and wanted me to hang around awhile longer. So I kept on painting and I kept on writing. I'm formatting two books now and I just finished an oil. I'm going to finish another one I've been working on and then I'm going to do mostly watercolor/gouache and inks the rest of this year. I'm getting tired. And I still have books to finish and online prints of my artwork to format. And just maybe I'll be able to do some new things along the way.

So that's my story. I will be posting specifics about things I taught my children and ways I learned how to live on next to nothing. And then I'm going to share some ideas about how to discover your own inspiration and empowerment.

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