(This entry is a continuation of “Why Did I Leave Akron,” which you can read at: http://barefootjustine.com/2014/01/24/why-did-i-leave-akron/)
I am often asked, “Why did you come to Gainesville?” or “Why did you choose Gainesville?” Of course I did, in the end, choose Gainesville, but it was not a destination… I didn’t even know there was a Gainesville. As I elaborated on earlier, my ambition was not to get anywhere in particular (though I’d always dreamed of living in a place with palm trees), my ambition was to escape the gravity of Akron.
Up to March of 2012 I had been continuing to live in a foreclosed home… waiting. It was not a home worth fighting for, beautiful as it was, it was situated in a place that was getting more and more dangerously “GHETTO” with every passing year. Still, it had been a home for a very long time, so losing it hurt. I knew, though, that I needed out of Akron, and not simply because of what my doctor had told me, but because the city had become dangerous for anyone, especially for a woman like me.
I had been mugged at gunpoint a mere few blocks from my home, and slowly the predators were learning where I lived. One day, after going out to find two of them leering at me from the corner, waiting for me to walk their way, which I often did (and you can see more of this in my web-comic “Why Justine Is So Scared,” under web-comics). I turned around when I saw them, got in my car and never again walked anywhere in my neighborhood.
I had been working as a cleaning girl, and scraping by… so long as I didn’t have to pay mortgage or rent. I had quit my job at ACME after starting my cleaning service. I was gathering clients, but never enough to make a living of any sort. One of my clients, a couple, had mentioned that they were moving to Florida. Up to that point those two were my favorite clients. I asked them, jokingly, if they needed a live-in cleaning girl. They said, sure, I could go along. We all laughed and I went home.
The next week I asked if they were serious about my going with them. They, as it turned out, had very real need of a third person. You see, he was sick and needed to move to a warmer climate, and she had to stay back in the Akron area until their home sold, primarily to hold down a job. I, of course, was going to be responsible for getting her husband around on errands and doctor appointments, for being around in case of emergencies, cleaning and painting their entire house, and to help get their dogs back and forth to the vet and stuff, and in return for all this I was given an empty room with a deflating inflatable bed in it–you can see what’s coming… right? We came to an agreement, talked out the major potential complications, and I walked away ready to take that leap of faith.
First thing you have to know is that we were not headed to Gainesville, but to Ocala (for Christ’s sake!) I had no connections in FLorida, no work prospects, nothing. I didn’t even have any money to speak of. This was going to be a major leap of faith. In fact, my faith played an important part in all this. I had just converted to Hinduism, and was wholly in love with the religion, the Hindus, and the Temple. before going I expressed my misgivings to one of the most dedicated devotees, who simply said to me, “So long as you have your faith, you will be fine.” Leap of faith indeed. I had the Temple Priest perform a blessing before Ganesh. I had brought in my art, art that I needed to find a publisher for (I never did, but I found something wholly unexpected, as it turned out) and a beautiful ceremony was performed over my work. I had also recently had my murti of Lord Ganesh blessed as well, and it remains one of my most holy objects. I carried that Ganesh with me as a passenger the whole trip.I started selling guitars, or whatever I could do to get some money. In the end I budgeted out what little money I had into envelopes, enough envelopes to help me get by in a bare minimum sort of way for 3 months while I tried to find some way to make a living in Ocala. I sold my car before leaving Akron and packed that money into an envelope so that I could buy a car in Florida. That was it, I packed my stuff in poor old Joe Blue Sky’s house and a storage unit. It was a total do-over on my life, no home, no spouse, no strings, no responsibilities, no prospects, nothing but a no-net reckless free fall towards (fucking)Ocala, and off we went! Oh… yes, indeed, I had gone off barefoot, no shoes! That at least was a divine liberation.
We landed in Ocala, and though I tried to establish myself there over the first two months, nothing there was working. For a start things between me and the couple I had traveled with were uncomfortable. I won’t go into those details, but let’s just say that I began to feel a certain kinship with Cinderella as my inflatable bed began deflating and I realized that I was supposed to be their grateful barefoot maid of all work in exchange for this empty room and leaky inner-tube of a bed. I soon found myself down to one month’s worth of money and absolutely no prospects for work or clients or anything. It was a depserate time, as I also knew that come the end of our agreement in a few months… I was also going to have nowhere to live. Things were looking grim. But at least I wasn’t in Akron!
I was trying all manner of things to get word out and find work. I was trying to find a place to have classes, was trying to find clients for cleaning, was trying to find students for private lessons, was trying all I could think of. At one point I was passing around little portfolios at the local college in an attempt to get a show of my work, an opportunity to lecture or teach… anything. I walked into the gallery at the college and this lovely dark-haired girl jumped up with a huge livewire smile and said, “Where the hell did you come from? RUN!” Meaning, Ocala is not up to you, girl. I had come to realize this, but this girl, this signpost, this Avatar of God, was telling me something very real behind her hip and energetic hotness. I was going on to the copy shop in Ocala after my brief encounter with this tattooed savior. I didn’t know anyone in town, not a soul, but I had talked to this guy at the copy shop a couple of times as he was a fan of the sort of illustration that I do and did. I told him I was getting no play in Ocala, and he said that he loved Ocala, but it wasn’t going to work for me, that I needed to go to Orlando or Gainesville. Well, I knew I didn’t want to be a guppy in the Orlando land of sharks, so I asked him about Gainesville. Basically he told me it was known to be very hip and progressive and that I would do well to look to Gainesville as a better fit for me.
I had nothing else to go by, so I took the copy guy’s advice (I don’t recall his name, but he was wearing a blue vest and an orange name tag, so I figured he was qualified to give far-reaching advice in regards to my future), and I planned a trip to Gainesville.
And that was exactly when the uncomfortable crap between me and the couple I had travelled with started to turn way weird. Things had been deteriorating, but soon they were working together via the phone, creating this paranoiac cabal, planning the strangest passive-aggresive attacks I’ve ever endured. Again, I won’t go into details, but I will tell one classic story. SHE Who Must Be Obeyed had come down from on high (Akron) for a visit and invited me to have dinner with them. I agreed, eating only veggie kabobs, as I was vegetarian at the time. Me, thinking this was some sort of reconciliation or peace treaty, thought nothing of it. The next day around the pool they asked when I was going to pay for the share of vegetable I had eaten during dinner! I think with that little story told, there is no need to go into further details. This was a pettiness of titanic proportions… which ironically matched the titanic proportions of her fat ass. Oh my… I think I just got a tad catty!
I went to Gainesville for the Spring Arts Festival, took one look around and thought, “I could live here!” Of course I had no idea how to make that happen. I had tried to work my way into a similar community in New Hope Pennsylvania, but that had not worked at all. I was wondering how I could possibly find a way to get by in Gainesville before I ran out of the 4 to 6 weeks worth of money I had left before I quite literally was hopelessly penniless. I had researched Gainesville a little and had discovered SAW (The Sequential Artists Workshop) and thought that a place that taught comics might be a good fit for me, the problem was, the comics biz never thought I was much of a fit for them, so my hopes were rather timid. I walked into SAW unannounced off the streets that very day, doing all I could to hold down the stink of desperation that must have been oozing from every pore. Tom Hart (SAW founder and fearless leader) was a bit taken aback at what he later described as “this crazy barefoot woman coming into my school looking for work,” and began working up the right words to tell me that he was running a small school and didn’t really need me. Fortunately, Tom is an insightful guy, and when he looked at my (frankly stunning if not staggering) portfolio–the same portfolio blessed by Lord Ganesh–he saw something in it that most other people have routinely failed to see. Tom saw that I had not only talent, but a very disciplined and professional variety of talent–something rather rare these days in the anything-goes world of contemporary comics. His eye saw not merely an artist, but a professional who could actually function in a classroom setting. Add to this that I had quite a teaching pedigree as well.
Tom said to me, “Let’s get you a class and get some money back in your envelopes.” Which, of course he did. Tom may remember it differently, but he took my class, and after the first session sent me an email that literally said “I am begging you to commit to teaching our first one-year drawing program.” Poor Tom, I don’t think he realized what he was getting himself into. Handful that I may be, at least I deliver!
From that point I began to sleep and see my obligations through in Ocala, but lived for Gainesville. This was when things in Ocala began to get weirder and weirder by extremes.For some strange reason I felt the need to see this agreement I had made with this strange couple through to the end, I think my anger at being in this abusive situation was being overwhelmed by my sense of decency in regards to the responsibility I felt towards this sickly pathetic man and the dogs (who I loved dearly). I also knew that there was nothing in this situation for me. They tried to change their game plan and their passive aggressive bullshit became less harsh, as they realized that at this point they needed me more than I needed them.
I wanted out of their house and into a place in Gainesville, so I began hunting around for a cheap place to live until I could get on my feet. Over the next month or two I was shuttling back and forth between Gainesville and Ocala. Things between the man in Ocala and I were getting very hot and contentious, we were fighting like a couple on the verge of a messy divorce. We were having the kinds of marital battles that I remember seeing on seventies cop shows, problem was… we weren’t married. Unmarried or not, I wanted a fucking divorce! I had just gone through the end of a marriage to someone I loved, so this just plain sucked… sucked like a Yoko Ono record.
By this time I had met Joe Courter through Tom and worked out a deal where I could rent a room in his house super cheap (thank God for Joe!), the problem was, I was still obligated to this Ocala situation for seemingly ever. They had not yet even come close to selling their home, and the deal was that I was to stay with them and care for him until they sold their home.
During one of our laundry outing I had gone to a little spiritual shop outside of Ocala and bought a lovely statue of Ganesh–remover of obstacles, as I had obstacles that needed removed. By now I had scored my room in Gainesville at Joe’s and had started to stay there a couple nights a week, but I was itching to get loose from this Ocala situation, problem was, they had to sell their damn house. The day after I bought that Ganesh I started to notice that the murti was chipped and broken, and intended to take it back the next day. This Ganesh was of profound importance to me, considering what I was up against, and I did not want a chipped and broken Ganesh. This Ganesh had work to do. I had a major obstacle in my life, and it was this awful situation in Ocala, this long and interminable wait for them to sell that damn house in Ohio. How terribly profound and auspicious that on that same day I was to return that Ganesh, I was pulled aside and told that they had sold the house! I was free to go!
And that, is how I cam to be in Gainesville. And by the way, that chipped and broken Ganesh I placed high and in a place of prominence in my room. He stands back there like a sentinel watching all who pass through my door, standing watch over my life, my room, and my dreams.
Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha!
(And remember to read the first half of this saga at: “Why Did I Leave Akron,” which you can read at: http://barefootjustine.com/2014/01/24/why-did-i-leave-akron/)