Friday, November 19, 2010

Welcome to the Asylum

I have been unemployed since October 5 but have few regrets so far. I had basically exhausted any growth possibilities at the place I worked for the previous 4+ years. During those four years, Alma and I had, thanks to frugal living, repaired our balance sheet and paid off all our debts. In April of 2009, we took advantage of the housing collapse in Southern California to buy our first home, a condominium in Westchester whose extra bedroom became an art studio for Alma and a music studio for me.

Alma and I live frugally by Southern Californian standards. As I wrote earlier, I drive a 1993 Nissan. We have paid off all our credit card debt except for a few miscellaneous gas purchases. Furthermore, Alma and I had saved up some money prior to this unemployment beginning. I also am collecting unemployment compensation, so we are in no immediate fianncial danger. I have always landed on my feet in the past after periods of unemployment, some long and some short, and I have no doubt I will do in this case too, without any significant danger or damage to Alma's and my well-being.

Unemployment is very strange though. At the end of October, California's unemployment rate stood at 12.4%. Even by the strictest measure of how economists define 'unemployment,' roughly one out of 8 Californians who wanted work could not find it. (If one uses a more expansive standard of unemployment, to include those working part-time who wish full-time work and those who have given up looking entirely, the percentage may rise to Great Depression levels of 25%.) Add to this the fact that I am now 51. And the job boards are replete with horror stories of older workers who face lengthy stints of unemployment. So I look for a job that pays a regular salary or paycheck, but I also search for activities to fill my days.

Since becoming unemployed, I have finished two important tasks, while continuing to look for a new job. First of all, in early November, I started this blog so that, when this period of unemployment ends, I will have something of lasting value to show for the time I was without paid employment. I plan to have a book-length manuscript after a year of these daily blog posts. Only time will tell whether it becomes the next Walden.

Equally important, I have built a website to display and market Alma's art:

Right now, it's a pretty simple website, with only four inter-linked pages. But the site is scalable, so as Alma produces more work and organizes that work into shows, the site can grow to accomodate that growth.

The website allows Alma to evade the barriers to placing her work in brick-and-mortar galleries in Los Angeles. I shall write on that topic more at length in posts to come, but suffice it to say that gallery owners here look for artwork by a younger set that is hooked into some sort of bizarre hipster scene. Alma and I occasionally attend openings at one or more of these galleries and, frankly, the curating of exhibits is appalling to me. The works displayed for sale are ugly and leave me completely unmoved, except for remembering Flaubert's exhortation to epater la bourgeoisie (loosely translated: "shock the middle class"). Flaubert shocked the middle class but exhibited great artistry in doing so, whereas today's hipsters have the 'shock' part down minus the artistry.

We have put prices on a few of the pieces on display at the gallery; we have also offered Alma's work on a commission basis. So perhaps Alma's art will be discovered by one or more wealthy collectors. I shall use various strategems to place and keep Alma and her work in the public eye through this website.

Truth to tell, Alma and I have not decided whether the primary purpose of the Asylum is to display her art, to sell it or some combination thereof. As a putataive webmaster though, I can take some solace in the thought that I am not completely 'unemployed,' even if that employment has not produced any positive cash flow yet, nor may it ever. I take solace in remembering that Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. And now look at Van Gogh. Likewise, even if the Asylum produces no sales, it has secured a sort of immortality for Alma, just as this blog has produced its equivalent for me. Seen in that light, cash flow is really only the icing on the cake.

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