Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Apparently I Have Debased Myself in Asking for Your Support



Dear All Six of You,
I woke up this morning to an unsolicited email which I will copy below, along with my response. I know there's really no use in responding to people with such opinions, but y'all know me-- I just can't resist the bait. Funny thing is, I probably thought about it for a year or more before posting a virtual tip jar here to see about shifting to a model in which I directly ask readers if they might like to kick in a few bucks. I felt a little reluctant to do so-- nobody is asking me to be a writer. But what the Internet has done to deplete opportunities for paying writing gigs has taken a toll on how I used to make a living. So it was an experiment. For those of you who kicked in, I thank you and I want you to know that I immediately put your donations toward my wedding business advertising so that I can turn that into a full time gig and stop fooling myself into thinking that I will ever again be able to fully support myself with my writing, something I have been able to do (if barely) for 20 years or so until recently. 


Now, onto the unsolicited commentary and my response. By all means, if you have an opinion on the topic please feel free to comment below. Let's talk about this-- writers: do they deserve to get paid or are they delusional idiots who need to get a grip and find another line of work? 


THE LETTER

Dear Spike,

First of all, this isn't about weddings--it was simply the only email address I could find for you (I apologize for this.) 
And I LOVE your writing (I, too, am a freelance writer.)

That said, your recent blog asking for sponsors compels me to respond.  I'm the first person to support the arts and
writers and I know markets are drying up out there. However, at some point we all have to take some responsibility for
our financial situations.  (Here I'm sharing the wisdom (!) of my 65-plus years, which have been both bad and good from
a money standpoint.)

Some years ago, you wrote a piece for the Chronicle called "Broke.com" in which you stated that your salary during a recent good year was about 60K.  So why didn't you save some of it?  Even 10K?  Duh!!!!!  I know, I know, nobody's perfect, but we can be creative types AND canny financial managers at the same time.  The two are not counterintuitive.

It may be romantic to be a starving artist, but survival instincts have to kick in some time and, yes, sometimes we have to compromise, take jobs we don't like, start saving, etc. etc.  I think you debase yourself, your craft and others in the arts by
asking for handouts.

Sincerely,
D________

MY RESPONSE

Honestly D________
I have to say that I find it really offensive that you would venture to lecture me. Why didn't I save any money? I don't have time for the extended list, but here are a few bullet points:

1. I raised a child on my own in a city where my rent started out at about $400 per month and eventually hit $1200 before I got a mortgage on a house in East Austin. I put my entire savings into buying this house so that I could leave my son something after I die. My mortgage is outrageous and the house I got sold for about $100,000 more than it would have just eight years prior to my buying it. In case you didn't notice, little hippie Austin is no longer an affordable place to live.

2. I am an uninsurable American. No, wait-- the recent government program that is part of the Obama overhaul means that at long last I can get insurance but until that happened (very recently) my many pre-existing conditions meant that any time I needed surgery I had to pay cash. For example, take my cataract surgery last December. $3000. I did have insurance in 2008 when I needed a hysterectomy- this coverage came from my partner's then-job (which he no longer has). However, at the time I was working for a company that suddenly folded-- at the time I was owed $5000 and I never saw a cent of it. I was laid up for six weeks, unable to work although I didn't let that stop me as I, to the best of my ability, pursued work from bed (no, not THAT kind of work) using the internet. 

3. Come to think of it, there was that one other time I had insurance-- which was good because I had to have a malignant ovarian tumor (and the ovary) removed. Back then I was mid-divorce (a short-lived foolish marriage). I was on my partner's insurance at the time as I hadn't yet found a new plan. Because of my surgery, I couldn't get a new plan. I had to pay for a COBRA plan. Do you know about COBRA? Paying for the outrageously expensive program cost me a lot-- a whole lot. In fact, I had to file a bankruptcy, which took me many, many years to recover from. Perhaps you saw my essay in the New York Times magazine on this topic?

4. So, okay, there was some foolishness that hurt me financially. Silly me-- when my ex-husband decided to stalk me, and when I lost my job because of this, I had the audacity to take him to court. Because-- I know, I know what was I thinking-- I was of the mind that when a man violates a restraining order and jeopardizes the life of his ex-wife and her son (who, let me be clear, was not his son) that that woman should try to take his sorry ass off the streets. I spent every last dime I had trying to put that asshole in jail.

5. Now, let's talk about The Economy and The Internet and The Lack of Paying Work for Writers. In case you missed the memo, we are in a deep recession on par with the Great Depression. Bazillions of people are unemployed. In my particular field, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to find paying work because everybody and their mother has rushed forth to write free "content" in exchange for "exposure" so that big websites can make lots of money, which they do not share. Once upon a time I could eke by as a freelancer but no more. For many years now I have augmented my income as a wedding officiant. Please don't suggest that I'm not out there working-- what a bizarre accusation. Since I have been 14 years old rare have been the instances where I was not working at least two jobs, often three and sometimes four. 

6. Much of my money has gone to paying taxes, which support government programs like, say, Social Security, which you and your fellow baby boomers will have access to but which my generation likely will not. 

7. I debase myself, seriously? I am out there writing about things to do, places to go, plays to see, etc. Does it legitimize my work if I am published in the Statesman? Then is my work worthy of a cash exchange? But when I cut out the middleman and ask regular readers to make a modest contribution I am asking for handouts? No. Wrong. I merely asked if anyone wanted to contribute to defray my costs. I allow my readers to make the decision if they think my words are worth supporting. I suggested that if anyone did want to kick in that a $12 donation-- $1 per month-- would be awesome. And, not that I really owe you an accounting of what I do with this money, but so you know I immediately reinvested the contributions into my wedding business. And why did I do that? Because, Diane, people like you make it very clear that you are fine with accessing writing-- my craft-- without giving back. I no longer have an interest in pursuing bullshit assignments to write what amounts to marketing copy to help fat cats get fatter. I am hopping off the writing-for-a-living boat because that boat is more than halfway sunk, and it is sunk in part because people like you don't get it. 

8. In your note, you presuppose that I think that I think that taking work I don't like is beneath me. Before I tell you some of the jobs I've taken, let me presuppose something about you-- you say you're a writer, too. I did a google search which yielded very little information about your writing "career." Could it be that you have a husband that supports you? Or a trust fund? Or that you made the choice-- entirely yours to make-- to play it safe and work for corporate America to support your scribblings? That's fine-- your choice. But I get choices, too. Writing is what I do. Even if I don't pursue paid writing gigs anymore, I won't ever stop writing. It's a skill I have-- some say a gift (but that sounds rather lofty)-- and I have been able to use it not only to raise my son, but also to help others. I believe that taking the "unsafe" path of pursuing a poor-paying calling has been utterly worth it. I don't give a rat's ass about not having amassed a pile of gold in my bank account. I am just grateful to be alive, sans tumor and cataract. I am grateful that people read my blog, even if they can't or don't want to throw something into the tip jar. 

9. And now, finally, to let you know that I haven't been sitting on my lily white ass waiting for The New Yorker to call, here are but a few jobs I've had since I started working 33 years ago:
a. chicken fat remover (part of my job as cafeteria cook, which I took to pay for my college education)
b. phone solicitor
c. waitress
d. waitress
e. waitress
f. bartender 
g. pet sitter
h. calendar describer 
i. marketing copywriter
j. personal attendant for a disabled child 
k. tutor
l. camp director
m. personal attendant for a senior citizen
n. the list goes on. and on and on and on

Since you took it upon yourself to give me unsolicited advice, let me return the favor. In the future might I advise that you not presuppose that just because someone lives a different lifestyle than yours, or has had different turns of fortune (or lack of fortune) does not automatically mean that that person is sitting around living some romanticized version of the starving artist life. Congratulations on your frugal ways and amassed savings. I suppose it's ageist of me to say it, but you came up in a time when living in this city did not cost four arms and six legs. Their are 80 billion baby boomers now hitting retirement age and I assure you that my generation (and my son's generation) are working our asses off to help support you.

Now, if after reading my response you think that accessing my blog is worth $12 per year, I invite you to click on the donate button over on the right hand side of this page. Don't worry, I'm not holding my breath. 

Spike
p.s. you referred to an article I wrote in which I mentioned making $60k one year-- for the record, that was during the short-lived Internet boom. As a freelance writer, my average annual income most years was closer to $30K which, once you deduct for rent, utilities, food, and childcare left me with about $5 in savings.

14 comments:

SeanclaesDOTcom said...

Wow.. fantastic response to an uncalled for e-mail. It's sad you had to spend your energy responding... but hope "D" reads it and apologizes.

Oliver said...

Hey--think of it as public radio. I don't have any money right now (my quick disclaimer!) but if I did, I'd send you a buck or two to keep the spirit alive and to avoid finding ads pasted onto every surface of your blogs. As for D, their note was pissy and unsolicited and a little snarky but not exactly vitriolic. I wouldn't lose much sleep over it. In the meantime, do you need a free mobile site? (Actually, I can see that working for you)...

Oliver said...

BTW, love you Spike. Hope you're doing well otherwise. Forgot to add that part!

Vicki said...

Thank you, Spike. You speak the truth, so well. Most people just don't get it. They just don't. In the theater world, these people are known as "playwrotes" - as in "I wrote a play once." Which they then ask you to read and give feedback. For free. Sigh....

imjackhandy said...

I think you asking for money to keep writing on the internet is like doing a book tour to promote a book. Or somebody asking me to buy a ticket to see them sing. It's entertainment and advertisement. I'd much rather read about what you do now and like what you're doing than reading about your crappy job that you had to take because you decided to take the high moral ground. Yeah, I'll give you money but, like buying a book, you'll have to wait a week or so until I get paid and budget it but I'll click the button.

Michelle Margaret said...

More power to you!

clearspace said...

Spike as you said you can't help but write. This was an eloquent response to a naysayer. I feel it could have been cathartic to summarize your experience. If she has read your material she would know these facts about you. God knows you put it out there! Who knows how many people have been helped by your writing? I know I have been. While not always rewarded in $$ you have piled up a huge karmic treasure. May you reap what you have sown!

Fabulous Drinks Austin said...

Did I mention that I think you are Fabulous?

Garreth said...

Keep on trucking.

Just because there's a donate button doesn't mean people have to donate, and I don't think it hurts to ask.

I believe you probably work on the karma accounting system, helping others in many different ways. It's nice for others to have a simple way to do something nice for you. And if that means you don't have to write about home security systems or chicken nuggets, I think the world might possibly be a better place.

clearspace said...

When I tried to send you $ Paypal wanted some complex operation so will get it to you some other way. I also regard you as a public service.

Barbara Shallue said...

Great response! I've toyed with the idea of a tip jar, but frankly, I'm not nearly as gifted a writer as you are, and dread the rejection of an empty jar. It takes time to write these blog posts that others can view for free - why not put a tip jar on there, like musicians and waitresses? Sheesh, some people.

pamdbigd said...

I am too busy working on three different freelance copy editing gigs, making 2/3 of what I made six years ago for proofreading (which, not to criticize, but it is in fact, easier than editing) work, and packing up for the cheapest flights (8 hours worth) to Florida to audition for a bunch of professional theaters that barely pay mininum wage - to write a long comment. Am totally there with you Spike.

Kate said...

I think D tried to say what she was saying in as polite a way as possible, and for that I give her credit. I do disagree with her, though, and I think she's coming from a place of happy oblivion. Kind of like people who still believe tax cuts for the rich are a good idea because trickle down economics works. (Sorry if that's snarky.)
I'm going to try to donate, although I confess I'm having a hard time figuring PayPal out.

Mishie said...

She made an asshole comment. The "duh" made me feel especially irritated.