birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Liquor Store Sage

I spoke to a seedy-looking man over the weekend. It was Saturday morning, and my daughter and I had just finished wrapping and moving my paintings and materials from the back yard into the garage to make room for the tenant's backyard boogie (I've been given temporary access to my daughter's father's - yes, my ex - backyard to make my art) when, on our way home, we stopped by the liquor store around the corner from my outdoor studio to buy incense.

As we parked our car on the side of the bright yellow liquor store building, I noticed the seedy-man looking at us, watching us actually, and slide his way to the front of the building as we exited the car and headed towards the entrance. The seedy man's skin was the color of burnt copper, his face was somewhat gaunt and his Jheri Curl was evidence of his age. As we walk past him and his wheeled-chair accomplice, he compliments us and follows us into the store. As we are buying our incense, I hear the refrigerated glass doors that house the cold beverages open followed by his impersonation of Donald (or Daffy) Duck - I can never recognize the accents but I know it's a duck.

I mention to him that he should get into animation and he shares - without giving work history - that he's "been there and done that." My daughter and I leave the liquor store and as my daughter jogs to the car, he asks me what I "do". I tell him I'm an artist. He synchronizes his speech and movements as he tells me with coordinated improvisational dance how he imagines images and can "blow them up" (enlarge them) as he waves his arms slowly over the liquor store's brightly colored wall overlooking the parking lot. He asks me if I've ever drawn Martin Luther King. I smile, forcing myself not to laugh and reply, "No, I haven't."

"What is your goal?" he asks me.

I am surprised by this question and it gives me pause. My daughter is in the car yet I decide to linger and answer him. I look at him, directly in his eyes. I tell him I want to make money making art, that my life needs to be sustained by my art practice. I say all of this while suppressing my desperation and something deep inside me is bothered. I know I am focusing on money - because I am poor - and that my real goal isn't what I just said to him.

I blurt out, "My mission is to make honest, authentic work; to tell honest and authentic stories that are demonstrations of my truth and are evidence of my craftsmanship; to make work that engages the viewer inspiring him/her to self-reflect and consider aspects of the world from a new perspective." I feel relieved and disappointed, and I want to cry.

I am relieved because I said my mission out loud. It was something that I knew, but forgot because I need money so badly that my focus rested in the need to make more money and my pain was inflamed by my lack of it. I wanted to cry because the art world feels so fickle and subjective and political that the revelation that I might not make money doing what I love scared me.

I had to ask myself a question: Would I still fulfill my mission as an artist regardless of my job? My income? Whether or not I was acknowledged by others? My answer was yes, and I felt so free and understood I had to secure a job immediately.

I have been working part-time as an adjunct professor and a part-time archivist, two jobs that I enjoy, yet these combined incomes keep me in poverty and prevent me from being able to afford being an artist (this art life isn't cheap!). I understood right then, that my constant thinking about money was actually preventing me from moving forward. I was stuck in a place of desperation and thinking about recent thoughts and planning - I was not moving in the right direction. Being here, being poor is no one's fault. No one owes me anything, yet I owe myself everything. And, getting a job was a move in the right direction.

I have been struggling financially, emotionally and psychologically the past year and a half because I wanted to live the artist life. I didn't want to be tied down to a 9-5, yet I was suffering because I couldn't eat more than canned beans at time. The shit had gotten real.

His name is Calvin, the copper-colored Jheri Curled man who asked me this simple yet profound question.

I went home, and wrote about meeting him. I wrote a 14-point statement identifying my role as an artist, the work I make and my process. I also wrote my mission and my desires and their relationship to each other and their differences. It was important for me to get this out, to see it on paper and to claim it.

What I lovingly understand is that my working a 9-5 does not minimize nor invalidate my experiences or my contribution to the "art world" in any way.

And, what I confidently know is that I am an artist and a writer who has a God-given talent that must be shared with the world and my purpose is not changed based on my external circumstances.

If Only...

Alternate Realities