I promised quite a long time ago that I would write about what came next after I quit my grad job, and I realised (after being prompted by James) that today marks a year from that fateful day. I realised it because James organised a little date - he's taking me to Cameron House in Loch Lomond for dinner, because, he says, he's very proud of me.
That is maybe the best thing you can hear from someone when they have allowed you the freedom to do something you really want to do. When I quit, we had a little bit of money saved so I knew we could survive for a finite amount of time, but certainly not indefinitely. There is a huge freedom to shutting the door on something that is making you very unhappy - the freedom is in the infinite possibilities that lie in front of you. There are many people who might see quitting as a form of failure - a refusal to do what is expected, or to conform to a life that society deems successful. But really, if I was failing, was it not because I was forcing myself down a path that I didn't believe in, that meant nothing to me, and that ultimately made me less myself?
As JK Rowling said, in her Harvard commencement speech, "failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."
JK Rowling was, as many people are no doubt aware, a jobless, divorced single mum when she wrote Harry Potter. Her parents, who had come from poverty, were aghast at this life that they had not wanted for her - in their world, she should have studied something that would have procured her a well-paid job, a shield against the world and the pain it can inflict upon those with less. I personally have a long-held belief that in fact, creativity is easier to find when there is a struggle, an internal conflict, and crucially, a lack of funds. If you look at most cities, for example, the west end (the prevailing wind blew the fumes from factories east, and so most rich people opted to live in the west) is in most cases the more developed and more homogenised part. This should hold no inspiration for the aspiring artist; rents become too expensive and creatives move to the east end, where old warehouses can be rented for pennies. I don't think I've ever visited a city where the more expensive area was the more creatively exciting area.
So I wasn't worried about not having any money. I figured that all the things that make me happy (reading, making things, baking, having coffee with friends) were not expensive and so I wasn't worried about matching my previous salary. The one thing that I had always wanted to buy was time, and having an endless expanse of it meant that I could allow myself to dream and in doing so, dream up a happier life for myself. That, for me, was much more valuable than money.
To add a frisson of fear (after all, what is life without fear?) we had just got a mortgage a matter of months before I quit. We (in hindsight, stupidly) had got a fifteen-year mortgage because we didn't mind having quite high monthly payments. Suddenly they became a lot less affordable but still, who cared? I was free.
The first whole year that James and I were together, I made us a year planner and we set ourselves goals and planned all of our holidays, and consequently had a fantastic year. We didn't have one in 2015 - wedding planning rather got in the way, and the second half of the year felt a bit flat. For 2016, we decided to get right back on it, and planned our time accordingly.
The first thing I set out to achieve was passing my driving test by the end of January. For me this has been a harrowing process - I wholeheartedly disagree with some of the rules, I think the test is ridiculous and designed to drain peoples' bank accounts and will to live, and frankly I felt it was impossible. I had a block of lessons in January with a test at the end, which I failed. I tried again in March and failed after I drifted too far forward at a filter light. After cancelling my third test because I wanted to go to Primavera (it was really my sixth test - I sat three in Essex, several years ago) I saw a cancellation was available in Arran. The dream! I could drive in Arran like I could drive in Dunlop - I could sit the test in my own car, and the whole thing seemed a lot less intimidating. James took the day off work, and that day I passed my test. It was a good lesson that doing things your own way can often work out for the best, and that things don't always happen to a set timeline.
But what of work, at this time? As I said, we got a new flat in November. While I was off sick I spent a sizeable amount of time sanding, painting, cleaning, planning and generally making the place a bit nicer to live in. We fought a bitter battle with mice (and seemed to have won) and painted the living room. I was still looking after my best friend's Glasgow flat (she rents it on Airbnb it while she lives in Kenya) and I thought we could do the same with ours. We put it online one Friday night in January as two listings - one for our spare room, and one for the whole flat. About ten minutes after our listing went live, we got a booking for the next night - before we knew it, all the weekends through to March were booked up. We knew how much we had to make a month to pay the mortgage, and usually we knew that we were able to with about a month to spare.
In that same month, I worked for a day on a building site and went for a college interview. The college interview was miserable; the course I applied to was Women in Construction, and I thought I would get a good grounding in a few trades from it. They don't, however, teach trades at that level in just one year - I would leave with a basic understanding of several, but no real qualification. The tutor tried his best to persuade me I was too intelligent for the course, I cried, and I felt like I was no further forward.
Finally, I decided to throw caution to the wind and apply to Art School. I didn't think they would accept me - after all, I had no portfolio, and my undergrad was in Literature. I found what I can only describe as the best course I'd ever seen - Design Innovation: Service Design. All those years spent wondering why systems and processes were designed to frustrate the living daylights out of people - as it turns out, most of them were not designed at all, or were designed by someone with no end-user experience. This was the course that I wish I'd been doing all through uni - and they let me in. Apparently my "real-world" experience, coupled with a look at my Airbnb listings and blog, and the blog that LoveMyDress did about our wedding, was sufficient. I even got a scholarship which meant I wouldn't have to pay fees for the year, which was absolutely amazing. There was then just the small matter of waiting until September to start.
What else? I bleached my hair and took an evening class in baking, just because I could. There's nothing at all like being kind to yourself to restore a sense of calm and self-worth. I did a face-swap with my brother and concluded that we're basically the same person. I rewatched all of Gilmore Girls, and I made a heap of instant friends through having some really amazing Airbnb guests. I sewed my first cushions and discovered Chalk Paint. I got to explore Scotland more, and read, even the new Harper Lee book when it first came out.
I travelled a lot this year, mostly because I could - I went to Copenhagen twice, London, Barcelona, Shetland and Kenya - and we're off to Shetland again at Christmas time. I also interned at Bluebellgray which was a colourful whirlwind of cushions and fabric and trying to learn a bit of Photoshop in the midst of a busy Airbnb summer. Then, in July, we got the keys to a city centre flat - we borrowed a lot of money from James' dad to buy a second flat on the corner of Sauchiehall Street, just down the hill from the Mackintosh building. It needed fully repainted, and a new kitchen, so we spend six weeks every day after work and on weekends sanding, painting, going on unlimited trips to Ikea and basically being the most antisocial and dirty people on the planet until it was finished.
We got to go to Kenya in the middle of it, where we stayed with dear friends, went on the most amazing safari where we saw lions eating a dead giraffe, and watched the sun set from a dhow just off Lamu island. Kenya was a really awe-inspiring place, and showed me that no matter how little you have, you can still lead a really full life. The hustle there is unreal - people pull off making a living with astonishing alacrity, and it's really rather impressive.
We finished the flat when we got back and have had a steady stream of interest in it ever since, even from the CCA across the road who want to book it for visiting artists.
If I had to go back and do this year all over again, I would do every single part exactly the same. There have been scary moments and frustrating moments, and when you're self-employed you never seem to have a day that is all-up or all-down - you don't have the everything-is-bleak-I-want-to-kill-myself days, but you don't seem to have days that go off without a hitch either. Everything is a happy balance somewhere in the middle, but because you know you can survive on your own and you're not really at anyone's mercy, you have a much better sense of inner peace about it all. I can't remember the last time I cried, and that's a definite improvement.
My advice is, if your life isn't what you want, and if you think this isn't what you are supposed to be, then change it. Like Polonius said to Hamlet, "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man".