On the perils of making art, commercial content, and self imposed value assessments

by me, Gina Teichert, a terminal freelancer in as many creative fields as will have me

I am a carefully balanced assemblage of contradictions.  I crave stability, but will always put freedom first.  I feel my best when I’m working hard, but I don’t have the constitution for a 9-5 job.

I’m an artist and a writer, but sometimes I just want to get down in the dirt and break a good sweat.  I’m happiest when I’m outside or am being challenged – mentally or physically – and preferably both at once.

I guide tours to museums and national parks and kitschy recreated Western towns. While I enjoy connecting with interesting and diverse people, I lead tours as much to have an audience for my arsenal of trivia and accumulated dad jokes.

I’ve failed to get on Jeopardy six times and counting, but I am not dead yet.

I love working with kids, but having my own kind of terrifies me.  They’re profoundly intellectual and complex, and we connect in ways unfettered by the mechanisms of self conscious adults.  They are resilient and creative and don’t take any bullshit from me.

Years ago, I was trying to make excuses for a long unfinished art project, and the 7 year old I was babysitting asked me, “But don’t you like coloring anymore?” 

Touché, little one, touché.

Illustration of a goana by Gina Teichert

Artmaking is more fun when its called coloring and I don’t have to worry about creating a product, or a point, or a whole series of products and/or points that I have to ask someone permission to let me hang up and let other people look at for me.

I think consumerism is a plague on society, but make most of my money by selling things to other people.  I’ve used my face to sell cosmetics, and my body to sell jeans.  I’ve used my gas money and my pride to sell things at wholesale, and a whole lot more of it to sell over the phone.

The worst three months of my life were spent telemarketing for a tech startup, a fit that I knew was wrong from day one.  But, with the carrot of steady income and health insurance dangling in the distance, I ignored my instincts and went forth.  My benefits were set to kick in after 90 days. 

I got fired on day 83.

Cobbling together a creative income in San Francisco is not easy, and my pride was evicted long ago.  The thin times can be taxing, but I’ve somehow managed to make it through.  Modeling goes against a lot of the things that I stand for, but I always try to keep a foot in the door.  No one is going to come home to their babysitter and say, “Wow, Gina, you did such a good job picking the kids up today; here’s a thousand dollars.” 

Landing one modeling job can certainly help a girl get out of a pinch.

Gina Teichert

It’s not my life anymore, and for the sake of all those wide eyed farm girls out there, I hope they don’t let it become theirs.  I don’t think it’s evil or immoral, it’s just another job.  And if you can keep that in mind without getting swept up in the Sisyphean pursuit of youth and better abs, it’s not a bad gig. Some days you have to get up very early, work physically hard and you get to be outside, so it does tick a lot of boxes for me.  It also taught me a lot about ecommerce and about freelance etiquette. 

High Desert Dry Goods logo illustrated by Gina Teichert

When I first started selling clothes online I was the only talent I could afford, so me and my self timer made do.  I was mostly selling off my designer duds from a flashier era, and was doing it because I was broke. 

At the time I was also writing product descriptions for a surf brand and filling out these huge point of sale filter documents for Amazon.  I realized I was pretty good at multiple aspects of ecommerce, and so I decided to start my own store.

I honed my skills selling on Etsy and Ebay, and made tons of mistakes along the way.  It’s evolved over the years to become somewhat of an aspiration, as many lifestyle brands are. 

High Desert Dry Goods is nod to my childhood in the Great Basin, a romantic and elevated expression of Western style.  Truth be told, where I grew up is actually kind of trashy, something I, for years, tried to hide.

An abandoned service station on US highway 6 outside of Tonopah, Nevada, by Gina Teichert

I’m enjoying settling into myself in my thirties, and have a respectable crop of gray hairs coming in.  I’m a lot more comfortable with myself now than I was when I had a closet full of designer clothes, great abs and expensive salon blonde hair. 

I struggle with the culture of social media, and for a long time simply abstained.  I probably was missing out on some fun parties, but my real friends knew how to find me, and it was a good time to start thinning the 20-something herd.  Unfortunately for my freelance economy, staying off of those platforms made it hard for opportunities to find me, so I reluctantly joined in. 

Instagram photos of tour guide and travel writer Gina Teichert

My sister and I have had a lot of conversations about the pitfalls of the influencer phenomenon, and I do tend to tread carefully in that arena.  Social media is a tool, but you can also end up looking like one if every post is self indulgent, vain, falsely humble or hocking some item you’ll get a small commission on.  To each their own I guess, but I am cognizant of how the content I create makes others, but mostly me, feel.  Perhaps I’ve installed a little fomo in some desk jockey’s heart with my tales of free campsites and cheap beer, but may I remind you, dear desk jockey, that you could be as poor as me if you really put your mind to it. 

Next to my photos of desert highways and faded motel signs, I dutifully post a few of myself.   For a person who makes money by standing in front of a camera I am strangely averse to starring in my own show.  The youngsters tell me this is how you get people to pay you for the things you like to do, so I attempt to play along.  By no means does this imply that I’ve perfected the art of being authentic online while still looking hot.  It’s a schizophrenic toggle between my alternate personalities at best.

Tour guide and travel writer Gina Teichert in Yosemite National Park

Be real, but not too real.  Be hot, but not fake.  Be humble and grateful, but get accolades for it.    Quote sages and scripture in the captions of your bikini pics instead of what you really mean, which is “Love me.”

We are a strange bunch of creatures who have created an unattainable set of values for ourselves, and social media only magnifies that fact. 

Ouch.  I am not immune to my own criticism.

“Love me” is something we can request of ourselves and no one else.  It’s human to seek love, but corrosive to start asking for it.  This is something I- like many- have not mastered yet.  It’s simple, but complicated, and made harder by our online relationships.  We all want to be heard, and with every app a podium, it can feel like shouting into the void.

Tour guide and travel writer Gina Teichert in a Mojave Desert cave

Probably a more appropriate request for our digital friends is “Listen to me,” and to listen in return.  Whether you’re making art, writing copy, or trudging up a big pile of rocks for the hell of it, everyone has a story waiting to be told. 

Not every story needs to be a public proclamation, but I appreciate the online community for its ability to connect people with shared interests and facilitate conversation.

When I’m on a tour or meeting new people, I am a showboat with a nerdy, self satisfied laugh, and though I have so much fun spending time with people, most days I prefer to be alone. 

Using digital tools, I have made friends with outdoor folk and fellow state highpointers, writers, artists, musicians and Japanese dudes who love the Old West.  I have found work that fits my assorted array of competencies, and occasionally, sweet jobs that combine a few.

Without the internet and the gig economy, I wouldn’t be able to indulge as many of my creative whims or learn new skills on the job.  It’s a flawed beast, this digital world, but I guess we were made for each other.  I’m a living, breathing, walking contradiction, and through storytelling I hope to shine a little light on the humanity in us all.

I tell stories for clients.  And I tell stories for myself.  But if I’m doing my job well, I’m telling stories for you.