Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Appearances can be deceiving.

I'm not trying to sound paranoid (although often I am anxious, & care too much about what others may think about me).

Before all of this, a long time ago, I wanted to be an artist. I'm actually really good at drawing. I could once draw anything I wanted to. I probably could do this again, too, if I wanted too.

I went to art school, for four years in Minnesota. I studied printmaking. I know how to make fine art etchings, lithographs, screenprints , woodcuts. I know how to set type, and work various presses, I know how to bind books. I have also welded, used power tools, table saws. Developed my own film, printed my own photos in a darkroom, made Super-8 films and even acted a little. I painted. I made charcoal drawings of models in the nude.

Then I stopped all of this and went back to school to become a nurse. I was tired of working soul-crushing, non- art related jobs. I usually made less than $20,000 a year. I have lived with very little in the past, and did not have health insurance for a number of years. I was unemployed at times. Not a good situation.

I attended an intensive 12 month Bachelor's degree nursing program. In nursing school, I saw people with various illnesses on the verge of either recovery or death. I will never forget the woman with emphysema, gasping for breath, terrified. Her relatives tried to comfort her. She knew she was dying. I made my husband quit smoking because of this.

I saw a baby being born. I saw laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery, I saw a craniectomy done on a little boy, who had been suffering from terrible seizures. I gave injections, put catheters in people, cleaned up a lot of bodily fluids, cleaned wounds, gave meds-sometimes crushed through a stomach tube if the person could no longer eat by mouth. I put my first IV in a junkies arm. I went into group homes in Watts, to screen men for TB. I sang karaoke (Cash) with a WWII vet at the VA hospital.

I became an RN. I went into psych. I went straight to work at a mental hospital. I met men who thought they were God or Satan. I saw patients have ECT. I met a young boy who believed he was a cyborg from the future, who showed me the plans for his time machine. I again cleaned up a lot of bodily fluids. Tried to keep patients from walking around naked, having sex with each other, or trying to kill each other, kept them from trying to kill the doctors or other RN's. Once someone said to me: "You aren't a real psych nurse until you get hit."

I was never hit.

I loved co-leading the AA and CA groups.

I hated it every time we had a code green and had to place patients into restraints. I usually had to call the MD, get orders, draw up the meds, and inject the patient in the buttocks.
I left that place for a clinic job. I felt safer, but unsatisfied. Sitting at a desk, on the phone for 8 hrs a day talking to patients who were suffering. Sometimes they would yell at you. Some were drug seeking & entitled. I dreaded the suicidal calls.
It was making me depressed. So I quit.

So here I am. Trying to figure it out. Am I an artist? A designer? Can I do this? Is it enough? Too much? I need to has been two months since I quit my job.


Jocy said...

Jennifer, you are all of them, or whatever you feel like picking up right now, today. Bravo for knowing where your limits are and quiting and for taking the next step. It takes courage, seriously. You need to try. I get it. Absolutely.

Mae said...

It's a big step to drop your job and go into self-employment, but I know you can do it. You live in LA and certainly have the resources there that you need. You've already made some great fabric. I can easily see you continuing on that path. Whatever you choose to do, you can make real. You've also got a wonderful husband and a great network of friends that can see you through it. It really doesn't matter what you label yourself, at the end of the day you are Jennifer Parry Dodge, and I do believe are blessed. xo

Jennifer said...

Jocy and Mae, thank you so much for your thoughtful words. They helped :)

Jennifer said...

Jen, I don't think there's anything wrong with wondering what others think of you, though it can be hard to move past that and be just who you want to be. As a fellow art school graduate (I even avoided post grad life a bit longer by going on for an MFA) I totally understand being tired of the underpaying, unsatisfying jobs of someone just out of college with an arts degree. Even now, at 41, I keep debating what I should do with my life, should I go back to school (graphic design, jeweler, art education), do I have the guts to make such a major change in my life in hopes of pursuing a dream job? I'm sure it's really tough adjusting to life post-full time job, even if the decision was yours. Isn't there a saying, nothing worth doing is ever easy? Give yourself time, explore, experiment, discover... it's all part of your life, whatever the future holds for you.

Jennifer said...

I also really enjoyed learning a bit more about your background, both artistic and nursing.

It can be hard to not define yourself by what others see of you, in person and in blogland. I wish I could tell everyone I meet all the skills and talents I have acquired so far, so they will see me as more than I think they do (yes, I am very insecure). Thank you for sharing more about yourself, though I had a high regard for you already! (I hope that comes out as the compliment I meant it to :)

Janis said...

I really believe what Mae said so I won't repeat it... just give yourself a break Jennifer, be kind to yourself, you will do it - it has only been two months (though I know it feels like a life time). You are a very talented woman with resources - I believe you have what it takes. No need to define it yet...let your curiosity take you, play a little, and keep moving forward ... xoxo

Katie said...

You are also a writer! I love this post -- not the fact that you're feeling insecure and unsure but the way you've explained your path to this point.

I know what you mean about caring too much about what others may think. It's a trap that many people (myself included) fall into. And the worst part is that we're making this stuff up -- I doubt anyone is actually thinking these things. We can be so self-critical that it only paralyzes us. All I can say about this is, "Ughh."

Anyway, all of this is to say that I think you're on the right track. Perhaps all of your previous artmaking is just leading you towards the perfect sum of all of your talents. Like Janis said, you're only two months in!

P.S. You and your blog inspire me daily.

ilana kohn said...

Jennifer, wow - this really touched a nerve for me!

I went to art school as well and since graduating more than 6 years ago I worked full time as a freelance illustrator which ultimately made doing something creative feel like a burden - all the measuring up and "making it" and trying to feel accepted - and then I decided to return to grad school for something "practical" (running away!). I'm one semester in and already having doubts about this path....Major major crossroad here.....

I'm trying to learn to accept that a creative lifestyle is always going to be a gamble and we're never going to feel "sure" about ourselves. We see all the amazing achievements and creations of our peers and so easily lose sight of our own!

Your textiles and work are beautiful! Self doubt will be your own worst enemy and do nothing but make it difficult to create. Just create for the love of creating and tune everything else out - future and peers be damned! That's what I keep telling myself!

Your work is such an inspiration to me and to think you're only two months into doing this full time again. I'm sitting here with bated breath waiting for everything to come. :)


Jennifer said...

Ilana, Katie, Janis, and Jen-
Thank-you for sharing your comments, words of wisdom and stories with me. I truly value each and every one!

It really helped me yesterday to read them.

When I don't get sleep, I am a mess.

I did want to add, that I don't regret becoming a nurse at all. I do feel I was able to help some people, and I met some amazing people in the process. I'm not certain how things will all work out, but then no one ever knows!

Sweet said...

I've been reading your blog for some time - I find it interesting and inspiring, so thank you!

I am in a similar boat. I have a graduate degree in social work, and have worked in the field for 15 years. Your description of the mental hospital resonated with me - I worked in an intensive care unit for newborns, providing support and resources for the families. My husband used to say that I would come home looking so traumatized.

Now I'm taking a step back, focusing on my photography. Because I know I'll always be a social worker, it's what I am.

Be open to the opportunities headed your way! What an exciting time!