By Rose Beerhorst
To kick off 2017, I took some time to reflect on my past, taking stock of where I’ve been and where I’m going. This intentional check-in felt harder than in years past. It’s not that I feel stagnant, but things I once took for granted now don’t seem so certain.
This didn't happen all at once, but in the past two years. 2015 began with my dad’s first manic episode — which lasted three months. The effects of his diagnosis rippled through our family structure in many ways. For me, it marked the first time I saw my dad not only as human but also deeply flawed.
For most, seeing your parents as people is a rite of passage and a necessary step towards adulthood. In my experience, it was particularly scary because they had taken extreme risks with my education. I grew up the oldest of six kids. Our parents unschooled all of us. In other words, we neither attended a traditional school, nor worked within a structured homeschool curriculum.
“It marked the first time I saw my dad not only as human but also deeply flawed.”
Since both of my parents worked from home as artists, our family cultivated a “lifestyle brand” that constantly invited observers. We opened our Grand Rapids, Michigan, home tri-annually for “Beerhorst Family Art Shows.” Our parents encouraged every member of the family to create work and participate. Attendees ranged from young parents curious about unschooling to serious art collectors, family friends and brave strangers who saw the “Art Sale” sign and pulled over.
I was a poster child of an intentional, creative, free upbringing, and accordingly received regular interviews by local media and, at one point, Etsy. I sometimes was even paid to speak! I profited from the family business, and I knew the idealistic lifestyle I was selling. Of course, I wanted (and needed) to believe the hype.
At 17, I was interviewed by the local paper. The saccharinely written article, "Young friends follow artistic path in life," is a perfect snapshot of the extent of my indoctrination on the verge of adulthood. Reading the feature eight years later, during my New Year’s check-in, elicited a range of emotions — from laughter to sadness — and a lot of eye rolls.
At 17, I was sure I would make my living through my art just like my parents because that was all I knew. Attending college didn’t seem like an option due to my fear of submitting to standardized testing and lack of financial resources.
“I profited from the family business, and I knew the idealistic lifestyle I was selling.”
I’m now 25. I live in Philadelphia. I’m no longer the “special unschooled artists’ kid,” but just another “creative” 20-something trying to exist on $9 an hour. Last year, when I moved to Philadelphia, I didn’t have a very clear idea of why I wanted to leave my childhood hometown, Grand Rapids, but I knew I needed a change. Making this move definitely wasn’t easier than carrying on with life in Grand Rapids, but now that I’m here, I see that I have gained independence — though this independence has come with a jarring loss of identity.
I am proud of the prolific textile work I do and have loved doing since I was young. This last year in Philly, I have struggled to make it my sole source of income. I have dipped in and out of extreme poverty. I have worked a handful of entry-level food service jobs, which have been a huge learning experience full of amazing people. It is also hard, physically taxing work without much opportunity for upward mobility.
So after a year of working in the food service industry, I am reevaluating. I am pursuing adult education to get my GED. I just passed my first GED test in Social Science and have three more to go. I would like to go to college, but I am unsure if I could afford it. My goal right now is to move towards a more financially stable future.
I want a career that permits me to continue making art — and a life that doesn’t depend on its marketability.