The creative Lazarus

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

The thing most of us crave, (certainly living in the U.S. where falling into or staying in poverty is terrifying), is financial security. No one wants to not be able to make rent, buy groceries, buy a bus pass or gas the car, clothe their kids or pay off those miserable student loans.

So many of us will lunge toward the first job that offers us a steady income because….steady income.

 

It’s the fortunate few who have the time, energy and fiscal freedom to slow down and decide to focus on what they really hope to creatively accomplish. When you work for others, you de facto work to their needs, budget and deadline.

 

People have told me I’m an artist…I think I’m more of a tailor. You want your trousers hemmed two inches (intellectually speaking)? I can do that. You want a navy gabardine suit size 42R? No problem. I know how to work quickly and efficiently and give people what they ask me for.

I’m no Phoebe Philo nor the late Karl Lagerfeld nor my favorite fashion designer, Belgian Dries van Noten.  Occasionally, yes, I come up with a wholly creative idea and am able to sell it.

Jose recently had an idea that will literally make history. I am so proud of him! We can’t share what it is for a few months, but he realized that a specific annual event of great cultural importance had (?!) never before been documented visually. He knew its administrator and pitched the idea to her and he suggested a budget for it and she said yes.

 

 

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The New York Times newsroom

 

 

He spent 31 years as a photographer and photo editor at The New York Times, a place of prestige and power, and it gave him a source of challenge, steady income with a union-protected job and a pension. All good.

But.

Very little creative freedom.

Those outside journalism may fantasize about its creativity but the wage slaves within it know better; too often the thinking is stale and the formulation of coverage cliche. Those who keep coming up with new and interesting and untried ideas — as Jose did many times — can be ignored, dismissed and just give up.

When he took the buyout they offered in 2015, I was scared. How would a guy with a desk for 31 years thrive as a full-time freelancer?

 

 

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In an Irish cottage, taking the kind of break that fuels our creativity…

 

 

He has, because his creativity is finally being rewarded, both financially and professionally.

At an age when some people have retired and hung it up, he’s tootling along, impressing the hell out of new clients and, best of all, seeing the fruits of his labors.

18 thoughts on “The creative Lazarus

  1. Artist vs. tailor, eh? I submit to you that Vincent van Gogh could paint your living room, but Joe Blow’s housepainters couldn’t paint “Starry Night”. So hem those pants but don’t lose sight of what you truly are.

  2. My boss and I were talking about something like this earlier today. We were discussing how our jobs kept us secure and allowed others (or maybe just me) to pursue passions outside of work. I guess I’m one of those lucky few you mentioned above.

    1. It’s rare now, in some fields, to have any energy LEFT at day’s end. When Jose was at the NYT, he came home so tired and spent (it is not a nurturing place at ALL) that I am glad he is now freelance and so much happier.

  3. Ironic that we live in a society where marketers tell us that “we can have it all” and, even worse, that “you DESERVE it all.” and that the labour market is continuously pushing away from offering any kind of security, other than “you’re only as good as your last gig.” I’ve worked a few union jobs over the years and while ppl would piss and moan, ver, very few ever quit. While the non union jobs were often a revolving door of ppl “looking for a better deal.” As for freelancers, well, they are oftentimes utterly forgotten, or they lived the dream until it became a nightmare. From what I have seen, NO ONE ever regrets taking a buyout.

    1. Jose was very lucky to get a buyout and in that year they sweetened it with a 35 percent bonus. It has given us the emotional security of knowing we will be able to retire. That alone is a huge huge relief; we just have (UGH) pay $$$$$$$ for our health insurance til we can get on Medicare. As long as we are both healthy, work is not a huge issue — we keep finding decent work through referrals and our networks. I picked up a very good anchor client —- my first in many years — a month ago from Twitter.

      But yes, you’re right…freelance life is a non-stop scramble and it’s every one fighting for their corner.

    1. Thanks!

      I am so proud of his constant ability to see ahead and dream up interesting possibilities that others could (?!) have seen…but didn’t. Frankly, the fact we are really self-reliant helps to fuel this, plus my ability to help coach him in some of the key elements of freelancing, esp. negotiating on fees. Like many modest people, he tends to underprice himself.

      I am fortunate that our marriage really feels like a team. It didn’t when he had a Big Fancy Job that I also really envied.

  4. Oh, I love that he is finding a creative outlet–and one that pays! Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice in “Big Magic” is to fuel your creativity but keep your day job. Otherwise, you put too much pressure on your craft. Sad, but true, for most of us . . .

  5. Caitlin: Great post and comments, per usual. Photography and writing are hugely enriching pursuits. One does have to understand the needs of the market and balance one’s own creativity along with it. Anchor clients help, and they are out there. Would love to hear more about your negotiating skills. It’s really all about proving proof of value to your outlet or company.

    1. Thanks…

      Not sure I have any specific negotiating advice; our insane cost of health insurance — $1700/month — makes sure I won’t take lowball offers and I have sometimes used it as a negotiating point. There’s no denying that health insurance is extremely costly for anyone working independently; that it’s a necessity and that wages have been stagnant for decades.

      I am not someone who wants to eat ramen and also someone who’s seen the huge profits my labor and skills helped create. So I have no embarassment, at my skill level, asking for more. I know some hate to do that.

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