My Brilliant Second Career: Snapshots of my life on the road

Once, I made a six-figure salary. But by taking photos of my travels, I found something better -- my creative soul

Topics: My Brilliant Second Career, Life stories, Travel, Photography,

My Brilliant Second Career: Snapshots of my life on the roadA photo of the author with her dog, Max. (Credit: Alison Turner)
This is a series about people who stared down the Great Recession -- and reinvented themselves along the way. Do you have a great Plan B success story? Post it on Open Salon, tag it "My Brilliant Second Career," and we might publish it on Salon -- and pay you for it.

You know all the pesky ads that pile up in your mailbox and eventually end up in your recycle bin? That was my job. I worked for years selling junk mail until I realized there wasn’t anything positive about it other than the pay and benefits. This was a six-figure job, after all.  I didn’t buy a new car or spend a small fortune on extravagant vacations or home remodels. Most evenings before I fell asleep, I would lie in bed, glued to my BlackBerry. I made sure my client’s coupons would be delivered in the mail on the exact day we discussed, though it was never as easy as it sounded. I put so much of myself into that job that I took even the details of junk mail personally. But one day I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d been saving for years, and the money couldn’t keep me trapped any longer. I quit my job to find my true calling, whatever that would be.

My employers assumed I was headed to work for a competitor. When I told them I had decided to wander the country and live in a trailer, the laughter ensued. Surely I couldn’t be serious. But I certainly was: I packed up my dog, some camping gear and my camera. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I only knew I wanted to find my creative soul, which I lost when I decided to play by the rules of the corporate world.

Each morning on the road, I woke up and decided where I wanted to go. I didn’t have a set agenda or plans on how long I would be gone or what I was planning to do. I have to admit it wasn’t the best idea to venture out this way, but I wanted that freedom. At the time, I didn’t have an iPhone with handy applications to find my way. Instead, I relied on a road atlas that didn’t always warn me how things were going to be at the little tent symbol.

I started writing a blog so loved ones — mainly my mother — would know where I was and how I was doing. But I didn’t stay in one place too long and by the time I settled in a campsite, I usually didn’t feel like writing. Rather, I felt like drinking to toast myself on a job well done. That year, I took photographs with my point-and-shoot camera and when I did write posts, I made sure everyone knew I was having the time of my life and that leaving my job was the best decision I ever made. But in quiet hours, as I settled into my campsite, the questions sneaked into my head. I obsessed about details; I wondered what I was doing. I drank cocktails to quiet my doubts. It was exhausting to keep up my online persona as the happy adventurous spirit while I secretly stressed about what I was doing and why I was doing it. I didn’t want to quit traveling — but I did decide to quit drinking.



For the next two years I wandered the country without the trailer, without the alcohol, and with lessons learned from my first year. This time, I decided to camp in a tent instead of a trailer. A car was easier to maneuver and the trailer brought unwanted attention. I posted more and more photographs, and comments began shifting from, “You quit your job to do what?” to “What a beautiful photograph!” I always shrugged off these compliments. I would say, “It’s just a point-and-shoot camera.” In my mind, I didn’t have the right equipment or background in photography for serious work. But now that I wasn’t spending my evenings sinking into an alcohol buzz, I had a lot of time to pick up a new hobby, and photography presented itself. I wasn’t taking pretty pictures of sunsets or ocean views. I took photos of bird feet, tumbleweeds, my dog, Max, and odd sights along the road. The compliments kept coming.

While traveling, I didn’t keep up with the news of the world, but I knew the recession made it an uneasy time financially for me as well as for the entire country. I’d had the foresight to save my money for years before I decided to quit, but as my safety net grew smaller, I knew my time wandering around with seemingly no purpose would have to come to an end. Lucky for me, I found an entirely new revenue stream — one I never saw coming.

A Facebook friend suggested I go camping with a group of women who gathered annually with their Airstreams calling themselves the “Silver Sisters.” I didn’t know anyone, but I connected with them right away. I ended up taking pictures all weekend long. I sent the photos to people at Airstream, who liked them so much they wanted to publish them in their magazine. At the same time, a photo I took on that trip was selected for a group show at MOPLA (Month of Photography, Los Angeles). This was a huge honor and it validated a little of what people were telling me. I began to wonder: Could I actually make a living doing this?

Airstream hired me to be the official photographer of an annual event in its factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. A year and a half after I stopped drinking, I sold my 188-bottle wine refrigerator and my entire wine collection to buy a new camera. It was the best trade I’ve ever made. I bought a Canon 5D Mark ii. Portraits I took of another women’s camping group, “Sisters on the Fly,” were published in Trailer Life magazine. Soon after, the photographs I took at the Silver Sisters rally were featured in Airstream Life magazine.  I continued to travel, and the people I met opened doors I did not know existed before. I met a wonderful couple who offered to let me stay at their home in Maine if I ventured up there. I took them up on their offer and met their neighbors, whom I adored. I wrote a blog about them, which caught the interest of Maine: The Magazine, where I continued to contribute. Every opportunity led to another.

In 2011, I got more serious about photography. I continued to learn how to use my camera and decided to document the many characters I met on the road in portraits. Eventually, my passion turned to environmental portraits. This year, I had photographs published in Dog Fancy, Trailer Life and Airstream Life, which included two magazine covers.  An image of mine was selected to be in the Art of Photography show in San Diego over the summer  (15,444 entries and 109 photographs selected) and other photographs were selected for two exhibits (“Dreams” show in December 2011 and “Portrait” show in February 2012) at the Center of Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colo. Earlier in the year, the Long Beach Arts Council selected a group of my images of Long Beach to be in a permanent outdoor installation at its newly renovated transit mall in the heart of the city. And lastly, another photograph was chosen by Photographer’s Forum to be in its hardcover book, “Best of 2011,” coming out in December.

I used to try to convince people that quitting my job was the right thing to do, but I don’t have to do that anymore. The fact is, I have learned to live with less, and while I know I won’t be making the same amount financially, that is fine with me. I know, in my heart, it was the right thing to do for me. It can be scary to be out here, particularly during a recession, but being my own boss has its rewards.  I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. I am not suggesting that you should quit your job to hit the road, like I did. For me, I made the decision only after careful consideration. But because of this experience, I’ve reconnected with my creative soul. I’ll never leave it again.

You can follow Alison Turner's adventures on her website, AlisonsLife.com, or see her photography at AlisonTurnerPhoto.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>