Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Being Self-Employed During a Pandemic

Maybe now's a good time to take a walk.

Yesterday, the governor of New Mexico issued what is basically a “shelter-in-place” order.  (She didn't call it that, because the state doesn't use that term in its legislation, but the effect is the same.)  All non-essential businesses are shut down.  By the way, that includes plein air painting workshops like mine.

I saw the writing on the wall several days ago and cancelled all my spring workshops.  Because the deposits I've already received are important to me, rather than give refunds, I offered students the option of taking a future workshop or to put the credit toward books, videos, online courses or paintings.  All of them understood my situation and agreed.  I am very glad.  As a self-employed worker, I don't receive a guaranteed weekly paycheck or unemployment insurance.

Right now, I am l living off my past work.

This includes, of course, my painting sales.  Although many of us artists think that painting is as necessary to life as breathing, for non-artists, the purchase of a painting is purely discretionary.  With the future now more uncertain that ever, painting sales will drop.  Even if you're a collector who's  getting a regular paycheck, you might soon be out of work temporarily—with no idea of when you might go back to work.  You will be saving your dollars for essentials, not spending them on paintings.

I understand many other self-employed workers, not just artists, are in similar positions.  I won't go into a long harangue, but self-employed persons are often discriminated against for bank loans, insurance and other benefits of society that the “not-self-employed” sometimes take for granted.  Perhaps this will change, since the pandemic is reminding us that the number of self-employed workers is not insignificant.  Besides artists, the self-employed includes journalists and other writers, freelancers for the entertainment industry, tradesmen, real estate professionals, farmers and ranchers, massage therapists—well, it's a long list.

As you might recall, I also write.  On the bright side, perhaps with all the self-isolation, people might want to buy more magazines and books to fill the hours.  I've already received one writing assignment this week, which will help.

I'm sure you have your own tale to tell.  The pandemic is, of course, hardest on those who are sick and those who must tend the sick, but it's also hard on those who work in essential businesses that keep our society running:  the farmers and truck drivers who maintain the supply chain, the store clerks who keep the shelves filled, the worker at the cash register who bags your goods.  There are plenty of others.  Again, it's a long list.

During this time of isolation, I am painting.  I am writing.  I am reading and watching movies.  (Downton Abbey, yet again?)  I am taking long walks.  But I am also trying to reach out to family and friends, and also to students via e-mail, the telephone and online chats.  And I am planning projects for the future, as I firmly believe there will be a future.

How about you?


artistinthewild said...

Fantastic essay, captures what many of us are feeling right now. Especially wondering what the future will look like for travel and retirement now that trillions of dollars are not available for people to live on in their elder years.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

From the Mailbag:
"Self employed also, this enforced time home hasn’t changed our lifestyle too much since we live very remotely. It’s gardening time and I manage to sew and paint between plantings and housework…I hope you are doing fine and am looking forward to more writings. Take care."
"Yes , we are painting, did four Pastels since we got back from the Algarve , end of February , I run a gallery and in three other galleries , sales are slow , luckily ,in my former life , I put away some money in retirement savings , but with the downturn in the markets , I don’t know what will be left when this all ends , I’m 81 years old , so I don’t need much , but I feel for our kids and grandchildren .Always look forward to your Blogs , keep up the good work ,but I know you will ,without asking ,hi ,hi ,keep well ."
"I take little car rides looking for beautiful cherry trees to paint. Today is 55 degrees and the sun finally came out this afternoon after I am home in the studio. It's enticing me back out. I teach a few classes in a nearby city at an Art Guild so I'm out of work but my husband has his own company and continues to work. It's a lumber yard. So I hope you enjoyed your walk. Nothing better to heal the mind. Best Wishes."
"Good luck. Keep on painting and writing. The future will happen, one way or another! "

peter senesac said...

Man, no kidding another month of this. Trying to stay positive but I can't imagine the state of the economy after 4 more weeks of shut down. Supply chains will all be dead. Scarcity will be rampant. Money will run out. This could become a real nightmare. You are fortunate to have a second skill to fall back on. I'm not looking forward to April.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Hang in there, Peter! I'm looking forward to...2021.