Help me get the hell out of Dodge (or rather, Arizona) and on track to feeling good again!
June 26, 2008 11:10 AM   Subscribe

My life is stuck and it's making me feel incredibly depressed. Help me see the light and get on track for getting out of here.

This is long and a mess, and if you read it all the way through you're a champ because I feel like there's no simple catch-all answer to my problem. (I thank you in advance!)

I'm feeling this huge weight on myself that I just can't figure out how to shake. I'm relatively young (25 on Tuesday!) and a girl, and I moved cross country from CT to AZ two years ago to shorten up a long-distance relationship. Stupidly though, I really wanted to be carless, due to environmental and financial concerns. Since then I've spent most of my time being self-employed as an illustrator-- I love what I do, but so far I'm not being successful enough to stand on my own two feet. Jobs come sporadically, and checks come even more so. This is a huge point of stress for me, but I've always been told it takes a lot of time and effort to get off the ground, so I've been mostly okay with that. But the financial concerns are big. The mister has been really supportive and pays most of the expenses, but I'm still struggling over student loans and some small credit card debt. I bought myself a tricycle a year ago (didn't know how to ride a real bike, still don't yet) and it helped with my sanity level. I figured I could get around a little more and get a part time job to supplement things. But it got stolen a month and a half ago and I'm once again effectively a shut-in. Except for mister actionpact's friends, I really haven't met anyone here (despite some small efforts of trying), and certainly no one I feel close to, and no one I can be creative with. My close friends are scattered across the country now, and I miss them constantly.

Since I moved out here, I held two part time jobs-- each lasted slightly under a month and then I just quit, not showing up to work again. To be fair the reasons weren't totally offbase-- one I quit because my dad was in the hospital and I thought I'd need to go home, and the other I quit because it was too far for me to bike (nearly passed out in the process) in the dead of summer. But still, I'm embarrassed at the way I just ditched those jobs. Very unprofessional. I tried to apply to some more jobs around here since then but so far have found nothing. The jobs I've applied to never phone back. I figured that owning my own business and being self-employed would be a plus, but I'm afraid I'm unemployable. I can't seem to figure out what kind of useful skills I do have, so it makes the job hunt hard. I'm nice and friendly, though I'm not especially pretty, so I have been turned down from waitressing jobs, for example. I'm also afraid to look for a full time job because I know myself and I would probably slack on my creative efforts if I put my whole time into another job. Plus, I don't like it here, and I'm afraid to settle into a job and get stuck here. (Irrational? Sure!) I know I'm depressed about this all, and could use some therapy, but to make matters worse I'm uninsured, and the only therapist I could get to currently I can't really afford.

I know I'm young, and I know that things aren't entirely hopeless; fortunately I've been blessed with supportive family and my boyfriend, and I have an unsinkable optimism that things will eventually turn around. But I still feel pretty darn trapped right now. It's causing mild strain to my relationship which could further escalate, and I really don't want that. I started seriously exercising last week to help with the depression levels and feel more energetic. I just don't know what else I should do. A friend offered to teach me how to drive, and I believe we have a spare car I could use. But I've been so reluctant to do so. I don't know if it's the fact I'm already broke so the cost of gas seems impossible, or my own strong feelings on the subject of car use. Maybe there's something I could donate to in order to offset the emissions once I had more money. I've tried really hard to be carfree, but maybe I can't win this fight. This is a car place, so maybe I just have to live with the guilt for now.

Well, anyway I know this is long and I must apologize in advance (but it does feel good to vent). I know there are lots of people who have it much worse, so this kind of feeling mostly just makes me want to kick my own ass. But I know I'm not living up to my potential and it's making me sad, because I know there's a lot of good I could do if I were less afraid and more in control of my life. Mister actionpact and I both agree this is not the place for me; I hate it here really. I keep wanting to make a change (like move to someplace like Portland OR, or go to grad school at the School of Visual Arts in NYC) but I just don't know how to get there at this point. Any suggestions of what I should do? I know people say 'if you have an idea, make the leap! It can't hurt' or something like that--but it's really hard when I'm clouded by depression and loneliness and financial strains.

And maybe on a more specific note, could you answer this question? When I apply to jobs I don't know how to bring up the subject of those two jobs from the past. A friend of mine told me that these are crap jobs and you don't have to write these down, but more and more places have background checks so I don't know. Sometimes I don't write them down as part of my job history, sometimes I do. Either way I haven't gotten any work out of it-- not sure whether it's due to a lie of omission or the bad portrait it paints of me. I am a good worker, I just can't figure out how to show them this.

Thanks in advance. I've read a lot of helpful questions already but I still feel incredibly stuck, so I hope I can make 25 a better year than 23 and 24 have been!
posted by actionpact to Human Relations (30 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Life is an odd process, it throws the most random challenges in your way and sometimes it seems as though you will never emerge from the fog. Personally, I went out and found someone that I could spend the rest of my life with. Now that's not an easy task or a solution for all, but I will tell you when I know someone is thinking about me and loves me very much that it motivates me in all aspects of life. The self-confidence boost is incredible and should definitely be a priority. I know no matter how bad it gets, I still have her.

I don't think this the answer you're looking for, but maybe it will help...
posted by CWitt at 11:17 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

A couple things jump out to me while reading this over:

I bought myself a tricycle a year ago (didn't know how to ride a real bike, still don't yet)
A friend offered to teach me how to drive, ...[but I have] strong feelings on the subject of car use.

If you have a friend who can teach you to ride a bicycle, I think you should go for it. Biking is rewarding for both its health and environmental benefits, which it sounds like are part of the problem for you with driving a car. Plus, learning to ride a bike would give you something to focus on - since you're currently out of a job. If you really do live in a sprawling sort of suburban area where biking is largely impractical (and AZ in the summer is no treat, I realize), this could be something you learn, and practice during the summer, and then actually utelize when the fall temperatures start bringing relief. Then you could work on the car tutorial for those times when biking is absolutely not an option. If car use is a last-ditch option, perhaps you can feel a lot better about using one at all.

As for the job issue, I hope someone else can provide more definite information on whether or not to include your part-time, short-lived stints. If you do include them, though, I don't think you should beat yourself up about leaving them. You had solid, reasonable motives in both cases. So, when applying to new, part-time, sort of interesting (but not so draining as to leave you with no creative drive and inspiration) jobs, do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed with guilt about two incidents in the past that are not that big a deal. Because they aren't.

You have a supportive boyfriend and a family who cares. Those are HUGE things to lean on while you're working on picking yourself up. And, as a final point, your illustrations kick ass. I wish you the best!
posted by dorothy humbird at 11:28 AM on June 26, 2008

Is there any chance that you and S.O. will be moving to a different city sometime? That would matter, I think.
posted by amtho at 11:28 AM on June 26, 2008

I would just leave those 2 jobs off your resume. I'm fairly certain background checks are looking more into your credit and legal history, and employers listed on your resume are only contacted for references and to verify employment. At least that's how it works at my company.
posted by HauteMama at 11:33 AM on June 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments so far everyone, they're helping me stay a little saner right now :) dorothy humbird, you bring up a good strategy about the bike learning. I've no idea how viable a bike for me is vs. the trike-- I suspect I could go a lot faster and farther on a bike since there's less weight involved. But never having ridden one, it's hard to know. I think it's worth looking into though.

amtho, we'd like to. The S.O has lived here all his life with a circle of friends and is by default a little scared of a big move, but if it's the right place for him and he can find a job he likes he's all for it. Still he understands that if it's not the place for me, I should definitely go and live the rest of my 20s in a more satisfying place, and then we'll see how we can make things work in the future. He's fortunately very supportive over the whole situation...
posted by actionpact at 11:40 AM on June 26, 2008

A friend of mine told me that these are crap jobs and you don't have to write these down, but more and more places have background checks so I don't know

Unless I'm completely mistaken, a background check will not bring up your employment history. This is for criminal, credit, and other public records (mostly for criminal, but credit sometimes applies if you're going for a financial institution position). Lose the jobs if you don't think they'll make you employable. Keep 'em if they will (I wouldn't if you just stopped showing up, though)

Other than that. Living life on life's terms is the way to go. You're in no real danger of losing your domicile or going hungry, so live it up. Feeling stuck is one of the worst situations to be in, as it can lead to hopelessness, but realizing that those feelings really stem from your perception of your life, and NOT the nature of your life can help you get out of it. Making radical changes (geograhpic or otherwise) can sometimes temporarily fix the problem, but you have to remember, wherever you go, there YOU are.

Accept your situation for what it is. Realize that there are only so many things you as a person can control about your life. Make an inventory of what the negative things in your life are, and check them off as to whether you can actually do something about them without having consequences you aren't willing to deal with.

Just look at it like a messy room, and do one task at a time so you don't feel overwhelmed. If the primary issue is a getting your finances in order, micro-categorize this (i.e. find job, then balance checking, etc.) and keep at it in order until it's done. If your only focus in life is to gain employment, things will have a tendency (in my experience, anyway) not to seem too unmanageable.

Also, and lastly, don't take this the wrong way... you need to buck up and be accountable for your part in the state of your life where applicable... i.e. trying to offset emissions when needing a car for work, kinda sounds like an excuse to me, but I don't know you, so that's just my uninformed .02 on that.....
posted by Debaser626 at 11:42 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

You're definitely stuck if you're lacking money AND transportation. So I'd try to work on one of those things and see if your emotions rebound and make your prospects clearer.

Learn to ride a bike and then borrow one/get one on Craigslist or Freecycle -- it's not hard to get a bike for free, since many people have them and don't use them. If you hate it, no harm done.

Learn to drive. Whether or not you own a car, the ability to borrow one in order to go to the occasional event/interview/networking opportunity will widen your horizons. Also, if your SO currently gets around by car, maybe you can find work or internship opportunities that he can drop you off at on his way around? I'd especially look into internships that will give you contacts that would help with your illustration career (magazines? ad agencies? web design companies?), or jobs that offer perks/access related to your career (print shop? art supply store? art college?).

Overall, I think the mobility matters more than the money. Since you've got a support system, eventually you'll get caught up monetarily. But the opportunities you'll have access to when you can get around will get you where you want to be faster.

I'm speaking as a one-time frustrated artist -- despite my desire and technical proficiency, I was floundering for years without solid ideas. I wouldn't have been able to get into grad school because my work just wasn't there yet. I got a junker car to drive around when I was 30, and suddenly developed a landscape photography project. The car literally made all of the difference.
posted by xo at 11:48 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

(On your small point about offsetting the emissions from a car: you do realize, don't you, that according to offsetting sites like, the cost of offsetting, say, 20,000 miles driven is well under $200 in total, even if you do it in a Hummer H3? I realize carbon offsetting is controversial, but given your situation, if that gets you over the guilt, I'd say you're infinitely more justified than most people in getting and driving a car. You'll be more use in making the world a better place — whether through disseminating your illustrations or through fighting global warming — once you're out of this rut you're in.)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:00 PM on June 26, 2008

Is there any chance that you and S.O. will be moving to a different city sometime? That would matter, I think.

I have found that running away from my problems works wonders. Seriously. When you don't see a way out, it's because you are not looking for the big green sign that says EXIT.

Shake the dust of that town off your boots. Nothing like a new place to make a new start. Move someplace completely different - different climate, different geography, south to north, east to west, rural to urban, urban to rural, whatever. Move as far as you dare - and then a little bit more. Treat it as an adventure because it actually sort of is.
posted by three blind mice at 12:11 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Personally, as they were less than one month, I would leave the jobs off the resume, but that's just me. I had a job once for three weeks that was truly horrific and I called in one night to say I wouldn't be coming in anymore and felt terrible, horrible guilt for the longest time as I've never done that before and am normally very responsible about giving notice etc. Anyway, I didn't put it on my resume and had no problems.

I think that getting a job would go a long way towards helping you. The thing that stands out to me is you've applied for jobs and they haven't called you back. Have you tried calling them back? You need to be proactive in a job search and I guess I would be calling them to follow up until they told me I didn't get the job. Sometimes I think it can be a volume thing as well, you just have to apply to as many as you possbily can and eventually you'll find one that will interview you. If you don't know what your skills are, just pick up a few books about looking for jobs at the library or search for it on the internet. Be sure to read the parts about how to conduct an interview. This will kind of help you figure out what kind of answers you can give to some of the tougher questions. I think interviewing for a job takes a certain amount of practice. Now I am very confident on what I would say but when I first started, I didn't have the slightest clue. Just stop telling yourself you are unemployable. You ARE NOT unemployable.

Waitressing is a great job to have and one you can make pretty decent money in while still having a lot of free time and flexibility. You seem to think that the one place you went didn't hire you because of the way you look which seems a bit suspect to me. If anything, it may have been the way you carried yourself. If you've been depressed, perhaps they could see that and waitressing really requires a person to be at least somewhat energetic and upbeat. Consider how you're presenting yourself. Also, consider where you're applying. Fancypants Fine Dining Establishment isn't going to hire you if you have no experience. You'll have to start at a place like an Applebees or something and work your way up. I worked at a more casual place like that for years and I got good at it and ended up making pretty good money there. And I was the waitress who started out by completely forgetting to put people's orders in and then pouring iced tea down the back of their shirt.

The last point I want to make is about friends. I moved to a new city 4.5 years ago and I really struggled for a good two years or more with depression and not feeling like I had any friends. I think you may need to take your friend up on her offer to teach you to drive. The important thing is that you get out with as many people as possible as often as possible. A lot of these encounters will not develop into any kind of a real friendship, but again I think it's a volume thing - the more you get out there, the more of a chance you have of meeting new people and making good friends. If you really don't want to drive, take the suggestion that someone already put forward of asking this person to teach you how to ride a bike instead. The point is to get out and do something with another person. This can really go a long way towards helping out with your depression.

Anyway, I've rambled on a bit here, but good luck. I know how you feel and it isn't fun to be going through that sort of thing. I wish you all the best.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:12 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know that this won't change your life, but I just wanted to let you know that I really, really like your illustrations. They are awesome, and, in turn, you're awesome too.
posted by banannafish at 12:33 PM on June 26, 2008

First off, your work is really impressive! It's great that you have a website that showcases what you can do. First off, try to build a name for yourself in your community. Display your stuff in coffeeshops, contact alt-weeklies or indie businesses in the area and see if you can do some artwork for them. And definitely check out Etsy where you can set up a store and sell your art.

Have you thought of volunteering? If you like kids, you could teach an art class at a camp or school. This will look good on a resume and make you feel good. If you're looking for something full time, you could look up Americorps programs in your area (or somewhere else if you're planning to move soon). A lot of them involve the Arts and you'll meet cool people really easily.

Leave those two jobs off your resume. No use bringing them up. The next job you'll have will be a fresh start.

I can imagine your dismay with living in AZ without a car. I agree with dorothy humbird and xo in that you should set a goal and learn to ride a bike. It'll be beneficial to your mental health and useful to get around. And if you have to drive a car to get to a job or activity that makes you happy, you should do it. The fact that you're mindful of the emissions is noble, but if you're stuck in the house all day, it's not worth it.
posted by LiveToEat at 12:36 PM on June 26, 2008

I looked at your portfolio and it's clear that you have a lot of talent. I say this not only as someone who loves art and buys art, but also as someone who employs and manages artists. Don't give up on the idea of being an independent illustrator, especially if it is your dream job. It sounds like you might be having a little trouble finding your niche and making contacts. There are two things you can do to address these problems, the first is to find mentors and the second is to expand your repertoire until you find something that makes you steady money.

You will need more than one kind of mentor; you'll need someone willing to share their business smarts and you'll need to find an artist (or artists) who is willing to help you figure out the local community. If you go to church it's a good place to start meeting people who can help you. If not, try your local contacting alumni association, or attending entrepreneurship lunches, or your local chapter of the Church of Craft. You need people to help you figure out how to collect and pay sales tax, find cheap workspace and seek out potential customers. You'll be able to meet artists and artist supporters if you start attending gallery openings and talking to everyone. It's also possible that your city has an artist's cooperative program. Pittsburgh has a large studio devoted to print arts that is open to the public several days a week. It's a good place to use equipment for a discounted price and network with other artists.

You should also look to expand how you are selling your work. Are you just doing illustrations for print publications? Have you thought about selling prints, printing your own textiles or illustrating and self publishing a book? It's also possible to make money on the craft scene, both online and in real life, at least enough to supplement a part time job. Look into joining local craft shows or starting your own Etsy shop. Also, keep your ears out for any gallery open calls. They are a great way to get a foothold into the local arts community.

In fact, I would totally buy a print if you had any up for sale.
posted by Alison at 12:52 PM on June 26, 2008

One piece of advice:

Don't be stopped by fear.

If you think things through and one option rationally makes more sense than another, but the only thing stopping you is that your best option is a little scary, do it anyway.

You probably know this already; I'm just reinforcing it.
posted by amtho at 12:56 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

if you haven't already, please invest in getting your work up on the iSpot and Altpick. As others mentioned, there's no reason you why you shouldn't be getting a lot of steady work as an illustrator. I sometimes hired editorial illustrators for a major daily, and if I'd seen your work when I was browsing those sites daily I would have hired you!

Say yes to learning to ride a bike, yes to a part time job, and no to a full time job. You owe it to yourself to be able to devote your best energy to your own illustration business.

As far as finding waitressing jobs, places that don't want to hire you because you don't have a look that fits with the image they are trying to project are not places that are pleasant to work for anyway. Trust me on this, it's coming from someone who, years ago, worked for three excruciating months as a cocktail waitress at a bar that (until one fateful day) had only employed blond playboy bunny types. The owner was away when the (blond, busty, female) bartender hired me, and he was so upset when he returned and saw me that he yelled, "What the hell is this?!" and he refused to address me as anything but Morticia.

I stayed on out of passive aggressive spite and lack of money for as long as I could handle. Don't do this. It isn't worth it.

Do you have a funky cafe or coffee shop withing biking distance that appreciates progressive and quirky workers and clientèle? Those types of work places were always great fun and would be far more likely to welcome a fellow creative worker to the fold. I'd urge you to seek out anything in your area like this instead of standard, boring, mainstream environments. Your own personal work and mental health will thank you.
posted by stagewhisper at 1:14 PM on June 26, 2008

I was stuck in the low money rut for a long time till I discovered this secret about web and art work: People do not look for you or find you - you not only have to find them, but you have to convince them that they need you. Start off with a plan - figure out where potentials for your business are, and then think about what they need (and not just what you like doing), and then start sending people nice emails.

Your work is great very frankly, but I look at it, and I'm like - hmm, how would that help me? If you sold large prints or icons or something like that, I may be interested.

The key to getting out of depression is having small victories. And the key to having small victories is to make small plans and take as many actions as you possibly can. I call this process deconstruction - take everything you have and smash it. You are an artist, you have to understand that you need white paper to create something new. You cannot draw when your paper or your mind is already heavily slanted in a particular direction. You need to wipe the slate clean and *START*.
posted by ChabonJabon at 1:22 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you already selling on esty? I know I've seen your work before and liked it; it's very distinctive.

A couple of things in no particular order:

1/ Leave the jobs off.

2/ Someone is offering to give you a skill you do not have. Learn to drive.

3/ If a car will give you more employment options and more money, drive it.

4/ Do you have an agent? If you don't, get one. A reputable one. You produce a professional calibre of work and should have professional representation.

You don't have no options. You just don't have options you like very much.

Regarding the car, I am sympathetic to your situation. We don't drive. We also live in a city. We can work, shop, get coffee, go to book stores and have a life without being held hostage by our high falutin' ethics. You, however, are stuck somewhere this is not the case. Get your license, get a job, and offset the $200 a year from the extra money that you need to earn.

If you have time but no illustration work, then perhaps see if you can branch out a little to raise your profile if nothing else. Etsy and Threadless are what spring to mind, but this isn't an area I know anything about. There must be resources that track things like the New Yorker cover contest that would have been a great venue for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:05 PM on June 26, 2008

I went through a sort of similar period when I graduated college - couldn't drive, so couldn't work, so couldn't meet anybody except SO, so sat around the house getting lonelier and more depressed and thinking of reasons why I couldn't take steps toward the obvious solution:
1. transportation
2. job

For me anyway, it was the loneliness and dependence that was the killer. It's hard enough to move to a new city when you can get around - but you can't get around, so how are you going to start making a grown-up life that you enjoy? You don't need to think of the job or the city as permanent or traps -- you could leave either one at any time you like. But not having a job is making you unhappy, and not being able to get around is making you unhappy -- so change these things.

Learn to drive. (Learn to ride a bike if that's going to be a realistic option for you -- but don't start here if your city is so car-dependent that biking is not realistic.) It will take you a month or so to start feeling sort of okay at driving, and it will take longer before you're really fully proficient. But driving is a good skill to have, even if you end up living in NYC you may want to rent a car for a trip someday or whatever. And if you're living in a car-dependent city for now, you are just keeping yourself trapped if you don't learn.

So: take a month and learn to drive. (Maybe during this time you can also get an agent to shop your art around.)

After this, you can look for jobs in a much wider area. A job doesn't have to be perfect, because you're partly doing it just to get yourself the hell out of the house and start being more self-reliant. You're also building an employment history that will help you when you guys eventually move to a city you like more. Think of a job as a place that you could reasonably work for a year or so, saving up some money that you can use as a deposit on your apartment in the next great city or whatever.

You're never going to be worse off for having learned to drive (even if you don't end up using this skill much over the course of your life).
You're never going to be worse off for having gotten some job that is more or less okay (even if it's not perfect).
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:10 PM on June 26, 2008

Response by poster: Mefites, you're like the cool older relative I always wanted that kicked my butt and gave me awesome advice. Some of it made me cry, it was that good.

I've got to admit a lot of my problem is misguided selfishness and stubbornness, and all that lack of compromise has led me to lose control on my life so far. I've been blinded by it, justifying things here and there, but I've become dependent and helpless and lost my grip on all that strength I developed in college. I miss that strength! To be honest for the past month or so I've felt as though I were mourning something, but what I wasn't sure-- but I think it might've been me.

Due to all your helpful comments, I've decided I will learn to drive. It scares me a little, but driving here is a billion times easier than in CT, I'll admit! And hopefully with that I can expand my job search and find something not totally soul-crushing. Or else I'll temp. I need to regain some control, though not go overboard, so I have to keep my illustration career always in mind. I do want to try and learn to ride a bike though, so I can lessen my use of the car. So those are two big goals this summer. The big thing is compromise. My demands were too impossible to meet here-- hopefully with wise use I can improve my lot and figure out where I need to be.

Those of you commenting about a shop or my site or my work, I thank you and you're totally right. That site's been limiting me a bit, so I've been in the midst of redesigning it this month and I hope to get it fixed up by early-mid next month. I do have an Etsy shop but I really do need to create more work for it. One of my bad habits, admittedly. The depression has been hindering my progress-- part of the problem when you stay in all day and lose track of time. Still, it's on the list of things to GET DONE.

stagewhisper, thanks. I do want to get an account with one of those two places eventually... Although with my low amount of money right now it's been hard to funnel money into that and not food. Unfortunately the cafes that would be cool to work with want prior experience or are too far, but I'm sure once I have some form of transportation I'll be able to find something.

I'd love to respond to all of you actually but it would totally turn into me blathering for ten pages, but you all provided complex and thoughtful answers that really help. Sure it doesn't make everything all nice and neat yet, but that will take work-- but I feel a little better. Thank you!!
posted by actionpact at 3:12 PM on June 26, 2008

Like the art. Maybe the style could for work children's books - ? Find a writer, or write some yourself, or retell old tales with your style.

Maybe ... learn to ride a bike, and create an illustrated story about that, about a girl learning to ride a bicycle?

(Phoenix. That is a tough place to be car-less.)
posted by coffeefilter at 3:15 PM on June 26, 2008

BTW....fantastic prints! Waving nor drowning is gorgeous. Get some more of those on Etsy!
posted by triggerfinger at 4:19 PM on June 26, 2008

I know I'm depressed about this all, and could use some therapy, but to make matters worse I'm uninsured, and the only therapist I could get to currently I can't really afford.

If there is a Unitarian church in your area, you might want to give them a visit. The Unitarians in my neighborhood offer support groups for free. Not professional, not weird, just friendly people willing to listen and offer advice. (Like AskMe, but in person.)
posted by SPrintF at 4:41 PM on June 26, 2008

Do you have insurance? Can you see a psychiatrist or therapist? If not, are there any low-cost alternatives in your area? It's not a panacea, but it can help.

It's really important to be honest with yourself about what you need to live and work. For example, I live downtown. I could live in a cheaper, quieter, and nicer place if I lived more on the edges of town, or in a subdivision, but it just wouldn't be healthy for me. I know I would isolate myself too much ('turtling', I call it), and I wouldn't get work done (I'm preparing for my doctoral exams). I tend towards depression and isolating myself, so I made sure that my choice of apartment counteracted that tendency: I live within a mile of a grocery store, several coffee shops, and school. Where do you like to work and hang out? At home? In a coffee shop? In a studio? Do you have easy access to those spaces? I made a trade-off between having a bit more spending money and rent, but the increased rent is most certainly worth my contentment and productivity.

I got myself good and stuck last year (it's a long story, too), and I'm just now pulling out of my rut of paralyzing fear and denial. It's not that you're suddenly going to find The Answer, but if you can take steps that will get you closer to that good place, well, I think that's the ticket.

And bike-riding is so awesome. When I started riding, I was so pathetically bad; I was weak and my asthma kicked my butt any time I hit a hill. But I kept going, keeping track of my laughably short rides on, and I began to improve. Now I am averaging 15 mph on my way to work (and I am so proud of myself, let me tell you), and a ride in the cool evening is often the best part of my day. Once I was able to admit that I was still learning, still inexperienced, I was able to counterract all the negative thoughts and neuroses (and this applies to all sorts of things, not just bike-riding).
posted by queseyo at 6:20 PM on June 26, 2008

When I looked at your portfolio (which I did before reading the entirety of your post), the first thing I thought was, "Damn, too bad she's not in Portland." Well, actually, the first thing I thought was, "I want a print of that one. . . and that one. . . and also those three right there," but after that, I thought about Portland.

Then I saw that you were thinking of moving to . . . Portland! My advice? Think harder. Think lots harder.

Portland seems to be becoming a place where young people can go to make their illustration-and-comic book dreams come true. Both Dark Horse Comics and Oni Comics are based there. The Stumptown Comics Fest is thriving, lovely, and getting bigger every year. Couple those factors with a strong, friendly, and nurturing comics scene and you've got something that could prove to be a perfectly awesome fit for you.

Want more advice? If you think you might fancy a (probably unpaid) internship in Portland, apply here. The Periscope Studios folks are an awfully, awfully good bunch.

And more advice still-- think about writing up a post about your work for Mefi Projects. It's criminal that the only people on this whole sprawling site who are getting to look at your work are the ones who read the Human Relations questions on AskMe.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:53 PM on June 26, 2008

Your illustrations are great. Get the hell out of Phoenix. But if you must stay, I would make some contacts at Phoenix New Times and the Tucson Weekly; your work seems right up their alley.

P.S. Leave the jobs off.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:23 PM on June 26, 2008

actionpact, I think you have a great plan in place. I'm excited for you, actually, you've got an exciting career ahead of you and you've already done extremely well as a freelance illustrator so far, even if you feel like you don't have a lot to show for it money-wise. You are being far too hard on yourself!
posted by stagewhisper at 9:00 PM on June 26, 2008

Learn to drive. Look at it this way -- you don´t have to drive, just because you know how. One day it might come in handy, maybe you will need to drive someone to the hospital or something. Go ahead and learn while you have the chance, and decide later how often you will drive.

Learn to ride a bicycle too.
posted by yohko at 9:33 PM on June 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks again everybody for your comments, thoughts, ideas, etc. I went to bed pondering it all and woke up much more determined and positive about my situation.

queseyo, I unfortunately am not insured, so it makes things a little difficult. I think I could really use some therapy, but for now it's not super-feasible. Perhaps if I find a job and have some money tucked away... as for location, I know I'm happier in places that aren't suburbs. At this point I have to work towards that goal though. Hopefully I can work very hard and get to a place I need to be!

palmcorder_yajna (I knew I'd like you as soon as I saw that name!) I agree, Portland seems to be the promised land for creatives lately! Everyone I know keeps moving there. I hope to get there too-- so hopefully if I can get some money together I can actually make that plan a reality. And I'd never considered putting my stuff up on MeFi Projects-- but once I get my website redesigned I'll definitely do so.

stagewhisper, thank you so much. Having other people excited for me makes me feel like I should be excited too. Just need to work hard!

Thanks again everybody. You've done a world of good for me.
posted by actionpact at 10:18 AM on June 27, 2008

One of my (now formerly) car-free friends recently got a car because she needed it for work. To assuage the guilt, she tries to take along another passenger whenever she can.

I'm also car-free and reconsidering it after an injury. I think bikes are great and you should learn to ride one, but there are some places and situations that require a car for backup. Not being able to get groceries because there have been thunderstorms 24/7 for three days sucks. You need some good friends to be successfully car-free, as I found when I became unable to ride, but even that sucks because who wants to be dependent?

Right now I'm learning how to drive and I hate it, but it's a good thing to know.
posted by melissam at 10:50 AM on June 27, 2008

I'm also someone with car issues, that is I did not want to drive one for ethical/environmental/society issues because I think our devotion to car culture really hurts us on so many levels. I let my license expire and I didn't drive for several years. That was all fine, as long I was living in Toronto where it's very easy to get around without a car. However we moved to Syracuse last year and even though we got a rental where we can take the bus and walk to downtown, not being able to drive was really a disadvantage. I got my license and started driving again and it's been really helpful to not have to rely on other people.

I don't drive that often and I don't drive for fun, I still try and walk or take the bus where I can and I try to drive slowly to save gas and since we have a very fuel efficient car I think that I'm probably not making much more of an impact on the environment than I was before.

So basically I would say learn to drive and don't feel bad about it.
posted by Melsky at 8:13 AM on June 30, 2008

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