The Artist and The Living Wage … (yup we actually need money.)

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I’m about a year and a half into my grand decision to abandon my solid career for my dreams. Everyone loves a dreamer, right? And because of this I have the pleasure of reveling in and mentally supporting myself with, atta-girls, “likes”, favorites and retweets, and the affirmations of minor/major accomplishments. Since none of the aforementioned goods are legal tender in these United States, I’ve dived into the bottomless abyss of student loan debt. Now, the end is in sight. The end meaning my ability to live off college loans (which has been FAR from ideal) and be as ambitious as I wanna be in my artistic endeavors. In short. Shit is about to get real and I’m about to have to hustle in ways I hadn’t even began to imagine. I am fucking terrified.

I’d watched the artistic hustle of friends over the years as I nestled securely in the bosom of my bi-weekly paycheck and did theatre as my low/no paying side gig. I admired my friends who were full time artists greatly, supported them (with actual spendable money) when I could, and doubted my ability to support myself in the same way.  After all, how could one endure the constant disappointment and inconsistency that comes with being an artist trying to make a living wage? Even Oprah supposedly has a tough time paying artists :/. This could be because despite our undeniable contribution to the culture and day to day life in this country, artists in American society are greatly undervalued. Art programming is often the first to be cut when it’s time to tighten the old proverbial belt, ironic considering  the presence of thriving artists is a key indicator of a civilized society ( … wait, now it makes sense). Nonetheless, my admiration morphed into inspiration and I eventually moved forward into a life as a full time writer.

Though I leapt into the safety net of a grad program (an opportunity not afforded to or affordable for most artists … even me). I have made a few forays into marketing my art and myself for profit. The results have ranged from moderately successful to dismal failure. The plain truth is, I’m not good at it, at least I don’t think I am. It takes a great deal of tenacity (which I have) and the ability to endure humiliation (which I don’t have … yet). Case in point:

I was visiting my old job (a place I love/d) to visit and to rally the troops for what was at the time my second crowd funding campaign (*gag*). I felt safe enough in this environment to solicit because I knew these folks, while not rich they had fairly stable sustainable income, and I knew they believed in me. All was well and I was about the business of rounding up folks interested in donating when one person, who shall remain nameless but he knows who he is, chirped in the most insidiously shady of manners …

“Oh, you’re here collecting money again.”

I immediately felt like a cheap, worthless, moocher which I know on the conscious level of “his shit not mine” was a “choice”, but nonetheless it was incredibly hard to move on through the campaign after that. Every time I’d post or talk about it I heard him in the back of my mind.

“Oh, you’re here collecting money again.”

It was excruciating fucktard macabre dance in my mind to the tune of …

BUT

I got through it, and have since done yet another crowd funding campaign (*gag*). I’m learning the business of being an independent artist, which there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of forgiveness or support for in this crazy crazy world, but what’s my other choice? Quitting? Well fuck that. I was born to do this thing I do with words and it took me too long to figure out that it was my talent to hightail it away now. I’ll look for support where I can find it (while trying to keep a modicum of self respect). I’ll engage in employment that keeps me knee deep in what I love, and for what it’s worth I’m a pretty beastly grant writer. In short, to Mr. “Oh, you’re here collecting money again.”, your living and psychological manifestation, and any subsidiaries that may exist: Fuck you. I’m a writer. I deserve to be one, and I deserve a living wage because what I do matters. Try watching tv, movies, the news and any of the mundane activities of your everyday life in a world without us.

Ok, that was harsh. But seriously, if you don’t “get” artists being paid, it’s fine. You have a right to not care/contribute to their success, but at the very least, don’t shit on them with words or deeds. If you love artists and want to see them succeed SUPPORT them … with money. If my broke ass can do it, there’s a good chance you can too. It’s pretty easy set aside a tolerable amount of cash you can live without each week (it can seriously just be $5) take that money and donate it to a crowd funding campaign or buy an artist you know a meal or help pay for printing for a writer, buy a gift card to an art store for a painter. Little things mean ALOT and really fuel the fire when doubt enters to drain the creative process.

To those who actively support independent artist or the arts in general. THANK YOU. You make grace, beauty, and the artistic process possible.

Welp, I’m done. I hope you’ve been afforded a little understanding of what it’s really like to be on my side of the creative world and if you’re here with me: Rock On!!!

Below is a film that is essentially this post acted out in the world. It was directed by classmate and sisterfriend Carol Garlick. She’s an amazing screenwriter and human being. You will know her name. Oh yes, you will know her name 🙂

Rosie.

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It’s Oscar season.

9/18/2013 I am not sure if I have ever been this moved to anger by anything.  I didn’t just see Oscar Grant on that screen.  I saw my brother, my nephews, [my ex-boyfriend], every black man that I have loved or thought to love.  My heart is broken into a million pieces about the cheapness of a black life.  It isn’t right.  It’s far from just and it was never meant for us … this American life.  It has served us in no tangible way.  We remain entangled, snared in our own weaknesses and short comings.  Constantly kicked in the stomach, but told to get up.  I am [resentful] at and for black men everywhere and I am choking on the words.  My fingers can’t write them and my mouth can’t speak them.  I am burning with anger.  God please help me find a way to express this to the goal of healing rather than self destruction.

I wrote that on the subway ride home the night after I’d seen Fruitvale Station.  I have not ever in my life reacted so strongly to a film.  From the opening scene, footage of the actual murder of Oscar Grant, to the last moments of the dramatic re-enactment on film I was destroyed.  I sobbed openly and out loud as if I’d seen my own son murdered. I exited the theatre and walked Third Avenue mad enough to strangle someone.  Not a White person, not the Police … anyone. Even the next morning, when I looked back on it, I still harbored residual anger.  How could any human life be so worthless? Why are incidents like this treated so nonchalantly?

These questions danced around in my head for the proceeding days. People were talking about this film everywhere.  I didn’t run across one person who’d seen it and not walked away feeling gut punched.  This is what I want my work as an artist to do, I thought, rattle the consciousness of people, and maybe … just maybe … affect change.  Surely, most people speculated, This film will do well in award season.  Even I, knowing better, allowed myself to dwell in the illusion that the power of this film and the issues it raises would have to be acknowledge by the artistic higher ups.

As we know, and should not be too shocked by, Fruitvale was summarily snubbed by the more illustrious award granting bodies (Oscars/Globes).  I could spend the remainder of this post bitching about that, citing my issues with films of inferior quality/content that were nominated, but I would be missing the point.  The lesson or I should say the reminder, at least for me,  is this: Film is film, a  subjective art form made by an endless variety of creators for an endless variety of reasons.  There are a million and two reasons why certain films, actors, and directors are (or are not) chosen for esteemed awards.  I’d lay the cost of my Tisch tuition on some of the reasons having little to do with the quality of the work. That’s neither here nor there.  What I need to remember is that if I choose to participate in this industry (and it is a choice) I must lay to the side any expectation of glory and tell stories because I want to or because on some cellular level I  need to.

Most of the time I try to tell stories that set me on fire. After all, I am a Black female writer and mother of a Black Son.  I am creating during Oscar season, and I speak not of the award, but a time when it appears to be open season on young Black Men like Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis … etc. etc. It is imperative that these stories are told and retold as America has a nasty tendency to forget what she looks like and needs to be reminded every now and again, by bold artist unthreatened by the withholding of “head-pats” and “atta-boys”. (See: Spike Lee)

Now, I know, every film can’t be Fruitvale or Milk or a political diatribe meant to raise awareness about x to y so that z can be forced to change its evil imperialist ways, nor should it be.  I mean where the fuck would I be without Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or Dumb and Dumber ( especially the scene where Jim Carey slaps dude in the legs with the cane)  to rescue me from the madhouse between my ears and the debacle of George Zimmerman’s budding art career.  What I do want us to remember as we huddle around the television and pick apart red carpet fashion do’s and don’t this evening is that film has greater power than any one evening of pomp and circumstance can contain.  It sent me out of a theatre a screaming crying mess ready to write all that was wrong with the world.    That’s great shit.

Rosie.