An ongoing conversation about j-o-b-s New York, NY
Before I went away on the Thomas J. Watson fellowship (and before I'd worked an actual 9-to-5), I thought I had to work to feel settled in my life. These words from my student lips: "I can't live without working. I'd go crazy." Then I went away on the Watson (a 12-month international independent study grant). I proposed my own project (independent publishing in the international community), I set my own schedule (five months in London, three in Trinidad, four in Jamaica), I decided exactly what I wanted to do with each day of my life for 12 months. The point of the Watson is to wander. To that end, the fellowship gives you a stipend and extracts a promise from you that you will not return to the U.S. for 12 consecutive months, then sets you loose. There are no meetings to attend, no office to check in at, absolutely no monitoring structures whatsoever.
I didn't know true freedom until I took that year off to travel. Even as a young woman who had no mortgage, no car payments, no children and no boss, I didn't know freedom. As a student, there was always a class to consider; as a friend and girlfriend, there was always someone else to consider when planning my day; as a sister, there were four other siblings always around; in the summer, an internship or a job was needed. But here were twelve free months, free from the tyranny of anything. When I woke up in the morning, I decided exactly what I wanted to do that day. I took on a few internships, but I chose my hours and the companies were so grateful to me.
There's this expansion of mind that happens when you're traveling. When you have three months stretching in front of you, no one knows your habits or attitudes, your choices fell less consequential, your movements are all your own. You're a different person: lighter, less grave somehow. I remember some friends I made in Brazil visited New York, after they left, they discussed my state of mind. And they agreed that I seemed grave, unhappy, they were worried that I wasn't well, it was as if something had happened to me. They thought I was much happier in Brazil. When I told another Brazil friend the story, he said, Who isn't happier in Brazil?
However wonderful traveling is, it still gets tiresome. Toward the end of my 12-month fellowship, I just wanted to go home. But I went home altered. I had tasted liberation and no longer wanted to be a publisher, no longer wanted a job. What I did during my 12 months of travel was write. I wrote and wrote and wrote, mounds and mounds of material (the first draft of my first novel). That's when I knew, left to my own devices, I would write. It is what sustains and fulfills me. It is exactly how I want to spend my life.
And then I moved to New York and got a 9-to-5. I attended meetings where we squabbled and gossiped. I fell asleep at my desk. I took naps in the bathroom. I walked around the block a few times a day. And in between trying to keep myself entertained, I did some work. After a year of being a 9-to-5er, I was sullen and unhappy. I wanted to scream "FOUL", this whole job thing is a bad call. I think one of the saddest moments of life is that transition that so many of us make from college student to full-time employee. "Is this it?" we find ourselves asking. "Is this what everyone has been doing all this time while I've been growing up?" [Of course, there are those of us out there who love our jobs. And I say god bless you, each and everyone. May everyone be so lucky as to find a job that they love.]
It's not the work that's the problem. (Well, sometimes it is, but the tasks you commit to doing aren't necessarily the issue). It's the daily grind, it's the mind-numbing schedule, it's the lack of choice or variation. 9-to-5 kills. It kills creativity, curiosity, energy, drive, verve and daring. It keeps us too exhausted to take on change, it keeps some of us too exhausted to think outside the box.
I think 9-to-5 is one of the most totalitarian forms of thought control our world has, and there needs to be a revolution against it. There must be a better, more brain-friendly way, to extract work from personnel. It is a greedy machine that decides for you, exactly how you're going to live your life. It sets the parameters for your waking hours, and in dictating what you're going to do for 40 hours of your daylight time, it limits how you're going to spend your "free" time. You must go to bed at a certain time to maintain mental freshness for the workday ahead. You must run your errands on the weekend to keep yourself fed and clothed for the work week ahead. You must travel in spurts dictated by the number of vacation days you are allotted by your company. You must only get sick a particular number of days and only have as many personal emergencies as the number of personal days you have. It is ingenious really. In order to take care of our individual needs (food, clothes, shelter), we must turn over our freedom and promise do nothing but maintain the system.
And some of us do it so well. H.G. Wells wrote in The War of the Worlds (1897):
"They haven't any spirit in them—no proud dreams and no proud lusts; and a man who hasn't one or the other—Lord! what is he but funk and precautions? They just used to skedaddle off to work—I've seen hundreds of 'em, bit of breakfast in hand, running wild and shining to catch their little season-ticket train, for fear they'd get dismissed if they didn't; working at businesses they were afraid to take the trouble to understand; skedaddling back for fear they wouldn't be in time for dinner; keeping indoors after dinner for fear of the back streets, and sleeping with the wives they married, not because they wanted them, but because they had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little miserable skedaddle through the world. Lives insured and a bit invested for fear of accidents. And on Sundays—fear of the hereafter."
A bitter commentary on this institution of work. Some of us have been running through mazes since 1897! Yet few of us actually like their jobs. Sometimes I sit still, I sit really still and I visualize all the people who are working who hate their jobs. It's an accepted cultural fact. "Everybody hates their jobs," my friend told me just last night. Then why do we do it, I wonder? I know why I do it. But how could legions and legions of humans be duped into daily committing their lives to this thing that brings them no pleasure? The level of dissatisfaction is astounding. Sometimes I want to send out a company wide email saying: "Do we really all hate it here? If so, let's just stand up and leave right now."
This Western institution of work takes away the most basic creative choice we were all blessed with: the creation of our lives. And that's the quest, isn't it? To live a life free of the fetters of external obligations. [For the record, I don't think 9-to-5 is the only institution that causes people to struggle to define their own lives. I believe struggling against some external force to define your own life is the human birthright. 9-to-5 is just one of the more universal forces humans struggle against.]
But the tension of it is interesting. When you get home from work, you literally have time to work on your own thing, but often your mind will not participate. You want to unwind. You spend money to erase the tensions and irritations and indignities of the day. I find myself unable to work on a novel while working a 9-to-5. I can write essays and short stories. I can commit to and complete pieces that have limited page counts and scopes. But the parts of my mind that I need to write a novel aren't accessible to me while I work a 9-to-5. There is this mental commitment longer works demand (for me at least, so far at least). I need empty space stretching beyond the time I'm literally writing. I need brain space for my mind to work out plot points and character connections. Somehow, the 9-to-5 just squelches that. It takes up too much space in my head, and my characters curl up in a ball and refuse to come out and play.
But the tension... it's been five years now, and "I can't" gets very boring. "I can't write a novel while working a 9-to-5," gets too dull. I find myself more and more resolved to make it happen. Every day that I'm not making it happen, is a day I'm committing to spending the rest of my days toiling at a desk. I'm writing more now than I did my first three years of 9-to-5. I decided to write a draft of a novel. I haven't been trying to extract pleasure from the process (and it has been hard), I'm just doing it. When I go away, me and those characters are going to play hard and fast and we're going to burst into art in three months. The tension of 9-to-5 causes the breaks to be more valuable. I know exactly how much time I have to produce something. I know the precise cost of sitting on my ass and not moving forward. When I travel, I know exactly how (and how much) I paid for every minute I spend abroad and that causes me to act wisely.
During my first writing trip, I discovered my perfect schedule. I wake around 9:00 a.m. I write until noon or 1. I go out and have lunch with friends, take in a little sunshine. Then I return home to paint in the afternoons. At night I attend cultural events to feed my mind, spirit and heart. In the morning, I start all over again. The weekends are spent socializing and connecting with people. That's what I'm working towards. In the future, I may or may not spend my afternoons painting (painting has fallen by the wayside over the past two years). Perhaps I'll become a teacher. But the burning desire I have for my life, is to spend my first hours of the day—the hours when I am my most focused and lucid—writing, creating, building images, ideas and worlds for myself.
I've been lucky. After quitting my job to travel—the idea of my job stretching before me for an interminable number of weeks unnerves me—I returned to my company as a freelancer. After a year and a half as an employee, I've been blessed with a freelance position that allows me to save money, travel for a few months and return to work when I'm broke. Now, after three years of a freelance relationship, my company is moving to Long Island. I'm not going along with them. I and a ton of coworkers have to decide what we're going to do. Many of us are taking the opportunity to follow dreams. One friend is headed to culinary school to study baking, two others are going to groom animals, I think I am finally going to enter a M.F.A. program. My hunger for and commitment to my life as a writer is growing, and I am daily pushing myself to find ways to live in a world structured by my own blueprints.
I've decided to work with short shorts for a while so I don't stress myself out. I want to produce new fiction, but it's so consuming. My solution has been to shoot for short lengths. And working with Tim Gaze's three words worked so well, I'm going to make that a ritual of mine. When an editor asks me for a story, I'll ask them for three words. It lends a little reciprocity to the whole process. The story isn't only written "for" the editor, but the content itself is inspired by the editor's words. Different words have different moods and tones. The last short short I wrote (the second one using the "give me three words" method) took me into a world I'm certain I would not have conceived without the editor's words: DUB, FERRET, RATTLING. She likes the story, and I think she's going to include it in her web publication, but until I have an actual acceptance, we stay at 4 even for acceptances and rejections.
Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary (which is the only dictionary I can get my hand on at the moment) defines "art" as: 1. Creative or imaginative activity, esp. the expressive arrangement of elements within a medium 2. Works, as paintings, that result from this creativity. Now it's intriguing to me that though "art" is a noun, the first and therefore primary definition of the word is about action: creative or imaginative activity. We as artists and we as audience often focus on art as the result, but the dictionary leaves the product (or "works) as the secondary definition.
Hmmm. Art is activity. Art is activity. Art is activity. Art is activity.
What has me thinking about art is a recent visit to the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Last Wednesday I went to the Bronx Museum to check out the One Planet Under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art exhibition. After walking through the exhibition, my mind was in a whirl. Being surrounded by art called up so many images and thoughts and references in my head. It caused me to think. Every time I go to an art exhibition it amazes me how much interaction viewing art calls forth. It seems to me that the act of viewing art is "creative activity" in and of itself. The act of appreciating (or critiquing) art, is a creative process. The viewer is required to create relevance, make connections and formulate meanings for the work. As you stand in front of the piece (or read a work or listen to some music), your brain accesses memories, facts, images, stories, and experiences that relate to the images you see. The artist is not there to offer you interpretations, so you start creating—you create interpretations and concepts and meanings.
When I stop to think about it, the whole concept of art is somewhat bewildering. The first piece I saw at the exhibition was an untitled Basquiat piece. It was classic Basquiat with the cartoonish drawings and handwriting and doodles scrawled across the canvas. In the center of the painting, Basquiat painted a man with his hands up. Our guide told us the painting referenced Michael Stewart, a young black graffiti artist, who was beaten by the police in the early 90s. Now I'm a painter, and when people look at my work, I can't stand for them to ask me what this means or that means, but whenever I go look at work, I always want to see the title. Often, I have a million questions I'd like to ask the artist and I love it when the tags have brief descriptions that explain what the art is about. That is profound to me. That this inanimate object can mean something different to me depending on what information I have. If I'm not into Basquiat aesthetically, then seeing a piece of his is only going to move me so far. But knowing what the piece is about gives me a place to enter, a means to connect with work that may seem foreign to me.
My father has a poem: words have meaning, but only in context. It's the same with art. In any art form, if you don't understand the context and the references of the work, you miss the entire experience. [Recently I went to an open studio of rock sculptor named Ken. He does these detailed carvings on rock surfaces, and most of them are carved with one continuous line. Beautiful work. The next day I was walking down Broadway in Soho. As I was stopped by a "Don't Walk" sign, I looked down at the ground. Drawn in the concrete, was a design constructed of squiggly lines I immediately recognized as the work of Ken, the rock sculptor. Sure enough, on the edge of the design Ken's name appeared. It was dated in the late 80s. I've been living in New York City for five years. I don't know how many times I've walked down that street. I may have seen those squiggly lines drawn in the concrete a million times, but it didn't mean anything to me. I couldn't understand it or relate to it, I never even recorded seeing it into my memory until I had a reference for it. That trips me out. Lines on the sidewalk which meant ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO ME FOR FIVE YEARS, all of a sudden had meaning after I spent one hour with the artists' work.]
What do you buy when you buy an artist's work? Are you buying the visual object? Or are you paying for the memories and sensations it invokes in you? Sometimes, looking at a piece, you get an image of the artist creating the piece. In addition to the hip hop show, there was a smaller show up in a side room called Context: Recent Art from Cuba in the Permanent Collection. All the artists are Cuban born and currently live in Havana. There was a piece by Carlos Esteves entitled "The Dark World of Desire (El oscuro mundo del deseo)" that triggered a childlike fascination in me. It was a huge, beautifully rendered representation of a moth. It was in dark reds and brown and it was the size of a large mirror. I peered closely at it, trying to figure out how the artist had done it. The piece looked like a print, but the tag listed watercolor and pencil as the materials. As our guide started to describe the artist's process, I got a clear image of an artist leaning over a huge piece of paper, pressing layers of watercolor onto paper to result in this amazing print-like effect. For me, this becomes part of the piece. The beauty does not just lie in the result, but in my admiration of the artist himself. The work that went into the creation of the art brings value to the final product.
Sometimes it's just the work that went into a piece and not the product that moves me. One of the most memorable pieces of the hip hop show was called "Sometimes the Top 40 Makes Me Feel Like an Empty Maine Coastal Cottage in the Dead of Winter." It's by an artist named Dario Robleto. Robleto constructed a doll-sized cottage from melted vinyl records (from the Top 40 of the past 28 years). He dusted this cottage with fake snow and used dust from record grooves, lint, and debris collected from used record bins to fashion a cloud above the cabin. I definitely don't want a doll-sized replica of a cabin nowhere near my house, but I'll always remember that piece because of the artist's distinctive process and materials. I'm left thinking how did this guy come up with this? It delighted me, it made me laugh, it called up admiration, and made me start thinking about what type of artistic expression I could engage in that would be outside the box of convention.
A running commentary that accompanied our walk through the show was: "They tell me this is art." Art is such a slippery thing to define. Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary says "creative or imaginative activity". That's a pretty generous definition. And the artists in the One Planet Under a Groove exhibition took that wide definition to heart. There was a surgical gun-wound first-aid kit (gauze, saline, angiocatheter, epinephrine, instructional magazine) concealed within a Glock 9mm handgun (Mel Chin), a police baton/night stick with a microphone attached (also by Mel Chin), and a fake hip hop kit featuring silver fronts made from gum wrappers, a gold chain made from painted macaroni, and so on (Kori Newkirk). The exhibition was bursting with imagination. It felt like a high school science fair. I don't mean that as a commentary on the artists' work, I mean it as an example of the level of experimentation and fun present in the work. The artists seemed to be attempting to actualize their imaginings. Someone put speakers in a tree trunk, someone else made a go car with a huge sound system. And each piece seemed another answer to the question: How do I recreate what's happening in my mind in a 3-D setting? And seeing what the artists have given to the world through their imaginations gets my own gears turning. My imagination is stimulated and I start thinking about myself, about art, about what I can create, about innovative ways to express myself and my life.
One of my favorite pieces of the evening was in the Context: Recent Art from Cuba in the Permanent Collection exhibition. To create the piece, Fernando Rodríguez/Francisco de la Cal stacked a whole bunch of dolls on a wooden platform. There had to be over 100, maybe even 200 dolls in the pile. At first, I was skeptical. "This is this art?" I asked. "Why would anybody want to have a stack of dolls in a museum?" I stopped to take a good look at the piece. I noticed that each doll had a pleated shirt front and pants with seams stitched on. Someone had taken the time to hand stitch each doll. Then I saw that the dolls weren't just piled there in any fashion, they were all laying interlocked. Rather than simply stacking them on top of each other, the artist had almost woven them together. I was blown away by the dedication it must have taken to create and set up the piece.
Once I saw all the work that was involved, I thought I should at least try to understand what the piece was about. I looked at the title: "Comfortable" from the series "From a Collective Experience" ("Cómodo" de la serie "De una experiencia colectiva"). My wheels started turning. "Comfortable." "A Collective Experience." As I turned these words over in my head and looked at the dolls, I thought, Wow, maybe it's about how we lean on each other to be comfortable. Maybe it's commenting on how the comforts of our lives are so dependent upon and intertwined with other people. When I took a few steps back, I noticed the larger shape the dolls made. They were laying in a bed formation. There were some dolls stacked higher than the rest, this appeared to be a mound of pillows. The rest of the dolls lied in a square mattress formation. Suddenly I imagined lying on that bed, how would it feel to lie on all those little dolls. The image I created from the artist's arrangement of a bunch of dolls shocked me. It was as if the artist had delivered a concept straight from his head to mine. I felt as if the piece was saying, to be comfortable, we humans would lie on all of these bodies. This idea made me think of the human experience. I thought about how we might degrade others or at least accept that some people will suffer so that we can be comfortable. I stood there considering my life and how I live and if it would be possible for me to be comfortable without laying on top of or "crushing" others. I guess that is art's power. To cause the viewer to wrestle with images, to create relevance, and ultimately, for the viewer to consider and examine their own lives.
That same evening, Carl Hancock Rux had a performance at the museum. He commented on the hip hop exhibition, noting that it felt good to see the culture being treated with reverence and contemplation, but at the same time, he said the exhibition felt strange. It was as if, he said, someone had taken his toothbrush from when he was in high school and the rag his mother used to tie her head with and put it under a glass and said here's art.
That night, he read a poem called "Won't Be No Black Male Show Today." (Or maybe that wasn't the title, maybe that was just the chorus of the poem.) The poem had been written in response to the Whitney having an exhibition on the black male as an icon. It's bizarre because art can do that too... yank away people's identities and put it under a box to be scrutinized and examined and ripped apart and misrepresented or at least taken out of context (Is the Whitney the context for any conversation about blackness?).
And I think about one of the Basquiat pieces which is a chunk of a wall set in a frame. Someone knew Basquiat would be famous, so they found a wall he had doodled on and ripped out a section of the wall. I didn't spend too much time looking at that piece because how it came to be exhibited is disquieting to me. There is something predatory about ripping out a wall someone doodled on. It feels like a violation of the artist's privacy. If Basquiat was creating a doodle to be framed and exhibited, maybe he would have put it on paper or canvas or even wood. One of the Keith Haring pieces exhibited came through a similar path. Apparently Keith Haring used to throw up his drawings on the blank spaces where subway ads should go. Someone took the whole frame from the wall in the subway and now this creation, this expression, belongs to them. And they can hang it in a gallery, or in their house, or do whatever they want with it.
On a tangental, but not completely unrelated topic... did you hear that a white couple, I think the woman's father was a bus driver, auctioned off the bus that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in? Turning an act of defiance into a pathway for commerce upsets me (I guess people do it with religious iconography all the time). This is somehow related to art. The space in which a woman took a stand for her human rights becomes a commodity. That bus is valuable because of the act performed in it. Now it is something to be sold and profited from. The people who auctioned the bus (the couple pocketed thousands of dollars from the sale) are the children of the people who enforced the oppressive laws which forced Rosa to have to take a stand in the first place. Those who create oppression, create a space for resistance, for creativity and for art. Those who benefit from oppression create commerce from acts of resistance. I think about Basquiat. And his anger and his forms of resistance and his value as a commodity. And the places where his work hangs. The people who live with his work around them. What do they make of his cryptic symbols and scratches and scrawls? Do they have any reference for understanding what he was up to when he was creating that work? On what levels does the work have resonance to them? What is lost in the translation?
I had a surprise acceptance about two weeks ago. The short short I mentioned in the "freewriting & asemic writing" report (using the words: ancient, magic, now, lamppost, migration, roaring) is going to be published in the Spring 2002 issue of African Voices. The acceptances and rejections are once again even.
Email Conversations with a Writer Friend New York, NY
I'd noticed one writer friend constantly complaining about money. On stage, in private, whenever conversations about her work came up, one of her responses would be "Yeah, well, I ain't got no money." Her disgruntledness made me uncomfortable. I'll have to excavate (as another friend says when she has an unwarranted reaction to something) why someone else's complaint about money would become a concern for me. Perhaps part of my excavation is having a discussion with her about it. We started a conversation about (not) making money from your art over email. It's kind of funny how strongly I feel about the issue because I'm NOT making a living from my work. I have enough experience to have an opinion, but not enough to say, "It worked for me!" I think I'll call my missives, "Preaching from the Middle."
On the Money Conversation
I've been all over the place on the money conversation. I've been a whiner: "Why can't I make money from my work?" I've been a bitter complainer: "My work is good. She got her first book at 23, why doesn't anybody want to take my book." I've been jealous of others. But one day I stopped and realized: I don't have a book. My writing might be "better," my ideas might be "stronger," but do I have a finished product? Do I have a strong product? Do I have a pathway for money to flow in?
We all know the saying: "Do what you love and the money will come." I believe in that saying, but not blindly. Do what you love in your basement and the money will come? No. [Actually there is probably at least one artist who was "discovered" in her basement, but hey that's not me.] Do anything you love, anything at all, and the money will show up, magically in your bank account without any participation from you? No. [Again, I bet there's at least one artist somewhere, who was minding his business, when someone said, I heard from a friend of a friend that you have an amazing novel and I want to buy it and give you an advance on your next three books, but...] I believe in order to make money I have to have a pathway for the money to come in.
What is a pathway for income?
Any way that people can get to your product AND the money can get to you.
For example, I have a 400-page novel on my harddrive. That is NOT a pathway to income, because no one can get to it.
I have sent out this novel to a number of editors and agents, and they all say the structure doesn't work for them and they tell me in detail why. I do NOT have a pathway to income.
My agent-person at the time told me I probably could get the book published at a small academic press because the writing is strong, but it wouldn't serve my career. What would serve my career is to fix the structure and get it published by someone with a proven pathway to income.
What if I didn't want to go the mainstream publisher route? Quite a few writers whose craft you may or may not respect, published their own work, but just having the books printed wasn't enough. They put the books in the car and found their readers. They went out and searched for direct connections between themselves and people's wallets.
I think one of the biggest realizations I had when I went to the Clarion West Writers Workshop is the distinction of developing readership. So you write an amazing book. So it's on the shelves with a million other books. Who is going to buy it? Why are they going to buy it? How are you going to turn that product into a pathway for income? These practical, pointed questions can get you thinking clearly about how the money is going to get to you. I don't doubt that the money is out there. I fully believe that we can all live off our art, but I believe it is up to us to find out how the money is going to get to us.
And it may be a lot of trail and error. I read somewhere that most millionaires have approximately three failed businesses in their past, many of them have filed for bankruptcy at least once. Do you know what that means? Earning money, like anything else is a process. Discovering how the funds are going to flow into your life is a process. It's a process that everyone—artist or not—has to discover for themselves.
People who work a nine to five are trading their time for money. Some of us are blessed enough to love their work, so that earning a living becomes secondary. They are seriously committed to the tasks their jobs require them to do. But for most of us, we spend the majority of our waking hours doing something we don't love to make money. In this society, we need the money to eat and drink and live.
Artists who refuse to work a conventional job are saying: "I am unwilling to trade my time for money. I want to make art. And I want to make a living from my art." Cool. Sometimes it works quickly, very few times does it work without focused and protracted struggle. As a 9-5er, you know exactly what kind of salary you need to maintain your work. As an artist, if you are interested in actually making a living off of your work, you should know exactly how many articles you need to write, paintings you need to sell, poetry performances you need to do per month to make a living off of your work. You need to have a quantifiable goal for self support. Every human being does. I just got an email from a fellow writer he said: "Well, I've just decided I'm going to be living off my writing by the time I'm 40. I put together a schedule and worked backwards from there. That means I need to have a novel by August. Yikes." Knowing this writer, I'm sure he factored in the possibility of sluggish response to his work, and factored in a slow-to-moderate build to prominence and more money for himself over time. He took his desire to make a living from his writing and made clear steps for himself so that he could make the commitments and work he needs to make sure that his goal can be met.
When we artists complain about not making money from our art, I think we are getting two things twisted.
1. Making money. 2. Making art.
Ideally, we as artists would like those two things to go together. And because we'd LIKE those two things to go together SO BADLY, we start confusing the two. We think the quality of our work should correspond with the quantity of our income. "My work is good, I should be getting paid," I've thought bitterly. But skimming the bestseller lists will tell you immediately that making amazing art and making money do not necessarily go together. Money does not validate art. [In the mainstream mind it does, but really, there are many unpaid geniuses and many overpaid amateurs.] You have to decide for yourself what you're about. Are you interested in using your craft to make money? Or art? Or both?
If you are a writer and you're really committed to making money through writing, you'll write what makes money. Thrillers dominate the bestseller lists, and romances are quiet income earners. Also nonfiction books can be a surer shot than fiction or poetry. There are many books that will tell you exactly what to write to make money, but every time I sit down to try and make myself write a "quick romance," I stop. I can't do it. I'd rather spend my time working on my own stuff, than writing romance novels. And I have to be honest with myself. I want to make money from my work, but not at any cost. I am not interested in USING my talents as a writer to make money. I am interested in making art, then I am interested in making money from that art.
I think a lot of artists who complain about making money, aren't simply interested in making money, they're interested in making art that makes money. So admit that. Understand that is your own criteria, accept that as your path, take responsibility for that choice. If you are an artist and you are about making art, you will be making art regardless of your income level. That's exactly what I told my friend:
Whether or not you're making money, THE ART HAS TO BE MADE. If you're an artist THE ART HAS TO BE MADE. So it's no use pouting about money every time you have a conversation about art. Because if you are about the art, that's going to take precedence over the money. And if you're about the money, that's going to take precedence over the art. And no one way is RIGHT or BETTER or TRUER. But you need to know yourself. Know what you're committed to. Know what you're working towards. Make sure your actions are in line with your goals. Make sure the steps you are taking are conscious steps that will lead you to your desired outcome. When you sit down in front of that computer or canvas or piano, what are you committed to creating: money or art? Don't get it twisted. Can art make money? Of course, all the time. Are you focused on making money? If you are, your actions and your creative process should be attuned to that. Are you focused on making art? If you are, your actions and your creative process should be attuned to that.
I've never tried to live off of my art full-time. Every day it gets harder and harder for me to commit to a 9-to-5. I had a period of time when I called myself "freelancing". Most of the time, I was hanging out in my apartment, working on my own writing and visiting editors who didn't have any work for me. In those few months I spent most of my savings. The income I earned from the few freelance jobs I did get was eaten up quickly because I wasn't getting enough work. That was my first foray in supporting myself with my art. I now have a better idea of what it would take for me to hustle up enough writing assignments for me to support myself. If I tried to work as a full-time freelance writer again, I think I'd be a bit more successful, but I have no assurances that I could actually cover my expenses. Each time I engage in the hustle, I believe I'll be sharper, meaner, more aggressive.
Trying to make a living from your work is like having your own small business. It's HARD, but the rewards are infinite. What's the word on small business? That most of them fail. That it is normal for them to take FIVE YEARS to start to turn a significant profit. You are a small business. You might have to take out loans. You might have to work consistently at building an audience for five years. You might have to try more than one pathway for income. You might have to fail a few times. You might have to face bankruptcy. You might have to be hungry. Is it worth it to you? My father would say: how bad you want it? How bad to you want to buck the system? The system defines the norms for gaining income. When we decide to swim against the stream, we have to develop muscles for a counter-mainstream lifestyle. I ask myself all the time: how bad do you want it?
KIINI IBURA SALAAM is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her book--"Ancient, Ancient," a collection of speculative tales that revolve around the dark, the sensual, and the magical--was named one of the Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Collections of 2012 by editor Jeff VanderMeer. http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Fiction-Kiini-Ibura-Salaam/dp/1933500964
Kiini's work is rooted in in eroticism, speculative events, and women's perspectives. Her fiction has been anthologized in such collections as Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Dark Eros. Her nonfiction has been published in Ms. magazine, Essence magazine, and Utne Reader. Her KIS.list e-report chronicles the ups and downs of the writing life and is currently being serialized in the e-book format. The first volume is titled On the Psychology of Writing: Notes from the Trenches. http://www.amazon.com/Psychology-Writing-Notes-Trenches-ebook/dp/B009NNHTOU/ref=la_B007YU4GWC_1_16?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1355940255&sr=1-16
Stay in touch with her activities by clicking "Like" on her Facebook author page at www.facebook.com/kiiniibura