So here’s the story of Milestone, what it is now and how it came to be, and why it is so necessary to us.
August to September 2018. Amanda and I start Milestone as a label to sell our visual art (painting from me, collages and mixed media from her). We sell a few things, attend a few art fairs, and things are going well. My lifelong dream, meanwhile, comes true as The Leper Dreams of Snow, my very first honest-to-god book, is published. To top things off, Amanda finds her dream home, and we finally become homeowners.
Life is pretty damn good. And then everything goes to shit.
October 2018. I’m hospitalized. Apparently a nagging months-long medical issue that was diagnosed as pneumonia is in fact congestive heart failure brought on by insane hypertension. Twenty pounds of fluid are drained from my belly and legs in four days. Amanda spends an uncomfortable night with me while our boys stay with their grandparents; over the five days I’m hospitalized, she shuttles the boys to and from the hospital to school and home by herself. She talks with my doctors, takes notes, and keeps family informed of my prognosis while Googling heart failure + life expectancy and exasperating the generalized anxiety disorder she’d been diagnosed with the year before.
I’m loaded up with medications and sent home on a low-sodium diet. The chaos and trauma of all this sparks my first diagnosed flare-up of fibromyalgia, a seventy-pound weight loss, extreme exhaustion, and just the biggest bunch of premature white beard hairs you ever did see. Don’t forget, too, that all this is happening to a man who already struggles with significant liver damage and bipolar disorder.
Because of my fatigue, breathlessness, weakness, and side effects from the panoply of meds in my pillbox, I cannot work for almost a year. And when I finally do find a job, it turns out that I’m still coming back too soon. A simple retail job is excruciating, and all of this has greatly intensified my bipolar, to the point that my nerves are shot, paranoia runs rampant, and I am unable to read emotions and interact the ways I need to for a normal hourly position.
Amanda is left carrying the entire burden. Her job is a really good one that she’s grateful to have. It makes a difference for marginalized populations and her co-workers have been amazingly supportive, not to mention that sweet, sweet PPO that meant we only owe thousands of dollars in copays instead of hundreds of thousands in medical bills. She’s doing literally everything she can to keep us afloat, but over the past year we’ve still had to max out credit cards, ask relatives for help, and sell some of our belongings (up to and including her blood), only to very nearly make ends meet.
I apply for disability and am denied. I continue to put in digital stacks of job applications. I paint some canvases, write over a hundred poems, and watch Wild Kratts with Miles. My cardiology team is still adjusting my meds and I’m counting down the days until we find out if my liver has gone from the functionality of an overweight 50-year-old to that of a livelong alcoholic.
We start looking at our friends, and people we admire, and groups and businesses related to our great love of writing and creative expression. We see crowdsourced campaigns on national and local levels, freelance direct art sales through Etsy and Amazon and art fairs and coffee shops. We see people hustling–sometimes with day jobs, sometimes juggling three or four things at once, sometimes with help from family and friends, but always working toward those dreams that have always driven people like us, the dream of making a life out of art and expression, the dream of using our universe-given talents to make connections with our fellow Earth-dwellers. We read about Amanda Palmer, and watch a few of her TED Talks on the “art of asking.” And while at times she glosses over some really good critical questions about her specific approach, her bottom line is still spot-on: there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help, especially as an artist.
That’s really what the Milestone Art Collective is at this point: Sean and Amanda asking for help.
We are both first generation college graduates who worked our way through (undergrad and two masters degrees in my case and GED to community college to undergrad to masters for Amanda; both of us with degrees in creative writing) and we made our family along the way. It was our love of writing that led us to each other. It’s what’s driven us and sustained our souls. We want to share that.
This isn’t empty help, or straight-up handouts. This is more of an investment, a level of intimate participation in the survival of a family looking to connect. Think of what we can accomplish through this collective. Think of workshops and presentations we can hold, spreading creative participation and artistic expression amongst new and veteran writers, young and old. Think of how we can spread the life-altering importance of meditation, or the joy of working with your hands. Think of the troubles that can be soothed through therapeutic art and writing sessions. Our goals are not selfish. We want to build and connect to communities, to create a safe space (physical or digital) for other artists. There is room in there to take care of our family, too.
For now, we have products for sale directly, with PayPal, as well as a world of options at Fine Art America, and a rotating selection of works at local venues like High on Art on Coffee. Very soon, we’ll have Etsy and Patreon pages, a Facebook artist page and Instagram feed. And we’ll always have each other, and all of you buddies, to keep these dreams alive.
Join us in the Milestone Art Collective. Be a part of something from the very beginning. Help us come back from this near death experience, and live a life that is sustainable, and worth sustaining.
—Sean L Corbin. 9.30.19