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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Truths being told, foreign homes and lonely bones.

I’m rounding the curb into my third week away from home. I’m finding it incredibly difficult to settle in. This is mainly due to the fact that I have been in perpetual motion since I arrived. NYC-NJ-Upstate NY-NJ-NYC-Amherst, MA-NJ-NYC-Upstate NY-Amerst,MA- and finally Upstate NY … again. I have had some AMAZING purpose confirming experiences along the way the most brilliant being the week I spent at the Summer Training Institute hosted by Ping Chong + Company.

The Institute is a week long writing intensive during which Ping Chong, Sara Zatz, Talvin Wilks, and Jesca Prudencio of Ping Chong + Company facilitate workshops, interview, and theatre exercises that instruct the technique used to developed their interview based theatre works Undesirable Elements. The intensive was so much more than I’d bargained for in that it wound up being an exploration into myself and into others in a way that I hadn’t conceived of before.  It deepened my appreciation for the value of a person’s story and challenged me to accept perspectives different than my own. I was allowed to sit into myself as a writer/theatre artist uninterrupted something I had not done in what felt like months. The potential for my work has been broadened as a result. Simply put, it was wonderful. But …

Now I am still. And it is quiet. And I live here …

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Schenectady’s answer to the Bates Motel.  Ok, so I’m exaggerating. I’m a writer goddamit, its what I do. It is different though, and feels more like a squatter’s colony than a place anyone should call home.  There is a weird hodgepodge of folks here. Some are professionals, like me. Some are professionals, like hookers.  There are displaced families, this makes me sad. Then there’s the park. The park with its rusty playground equipment long since abandoned by children. The park with it’s seedy goings on after sun down. The fucking park that is the view from my window hence I always have to keep the blinds drawn! Shitnhellfirefuck!

I know … I know what you’re thinking. “Well why didn’t you ask your company for better accommodations?” or “Why don’t you ask to be moved to a different room?” The answer to question one is: I’m on the bus.  This is the only “extended living” situation that’s on the bus line. Question two? It’s quite in this room. If I roll the dice to be moved elsewhere I may end up floor mates with the aforementioned “professional” and have to deal with all the undesirable elements that come with that situation … but damn wouldn’t that make for a good script! *digresses*

You wanna know the truth?  I miss home. There is still so much up in the air about school, and work, and finding an apartment.  This is scary. I don’t like it. There is not the comfort of my cats meeting me at the door when I get home. There is no Zion busting into my room demanding that I listen to the new rhyme he wrote. My mother is not speaking to me with the glare from her iPad on her face as she peruses weekly sales seculars online.

I’m incredibly lonely and afraid that at any minute this whole thing will come tumbling down on my head and I’ll disappear. Maybe in that fucking park even.  That’s it the park is gonna eat me alive! They’ll find my mangled flesh scattered between the rickety swings and the rotted through chain link fence outside my window.  Ok, I’m doing it again … the exaggeration thing. I’ll stop. Right now. The money will come or it won’t. School will work out or it won’t. Either way, life will go on and I will continue to do my part to follow the path I’ve been put on and keep the faith. More to come … if the park doesn’t swallow me whole ;).

Rosie.

Kiss my suppressed anger … please.

About ten years ago I was fired for the first, and prayerfully the last time.  It went a lil something like this:  I worked at No Name Hospital in No Name, South Carolina. It was set to be a busy shift and we were short, so good times were definitely not on the horizon. I’ll keep in mind that it’s been some years since this happened so the details are hazy, but the long and short of it is the therapist that was in charge that day opted to give herself a fairly cushy assignment while giving the other therapists bullshit.  Not uncommon in my line of work, but digressing … I made her aware of this.  We exchanged words, nothing too over the top, but we did.  I took my assignment and proceeded to take on the 12 hours of the shift.  She didn’t call me all day.  She didn’t come through my unit. I didn’t in fact see her until the end of the shift as another co-worker and I were walking out.  I’ll preface the following with the fact that we were black females. My fearless leader for the day was a white female.

Admittedly, me and other said black female threw heavy shade on the way out the door, but nothing that should have ended with me looking for employment.

One day later …

I come to work.  It’s an ordinary day.  Patients are on ventilators. I’m taking care of them.  I’m doing what I do.  The moment I signed my last vent check on my last patient at @4:30pm, (this I remember because I can remember looking at my watch and thinking what the fuck?), I am called to the office.

Mr. D. Whiteman, the manager of the cardiopulmonary department, a man who seemed like he could have been the defensive line for his college football team is sitting behind his desk. He is sweating and clearly nervous.  He asks me to have a seat.  I do.  He then begins to unfurl the most blatant bastardization of facts that I’d ever had pass through my ears up to that point in my life (my son would later best him in this capacity).

The above tale of shade throwing and home going was spun into the following fairytale:

Brunettey Locks & The Two Big BAAAD Coloreds 
by D. Fensless Whitewoman

Once upon a time while working her job to the best of her ability, the fair and innocent Brunettey Locks was headed home to feed woodland animals and contemplate world peace.  Suddenly there was a raucous noise behind her.  It was cackling laughter. “It’s them!,” she thought, “The Two Big BAAAD Coloreds!” she’d been hiding from them all day, but they’d finally caught up with her.

“Eek!”, she thought, “Maybe if I’m really quiet they won’t notice me.” Brunettey locks got reaaallly quiet and walked reaaallly slowly, but to no avail.

“There she is!”, croaked Big BAAAD Colored 1. “Let’s get her!”, the other Big BAAAD Colored groaned. “I’m gonna bust a cap in her ass!”, the perverted urban menace Big BAAD Colored 1 announced. They erupted in beastly laughter then proceeded to chase the chaste and ever fair Brunettey Locks to her vehicle! Guns blazing, big bubbly lips giggling, massive brown thighs rubbing together.

Brunettey locks, by the grace of Billy Ray Cirus Jesus, escaped the wretched beasts, but was shaken to her very core.

The End.

Now … am I being  just a smidge facetious?  Yes. Is the story she told nearly as ridiculous? Yes.  After being told that story I received, courtesy Mr. D. Whiteman’s trembling hand, a piece of paper  to sign.  I was being “suspended”.  In his anxiety about my menacing nature he accidentally pushed my co-worker’s suspension* form in front of me. Both of the Big BAAAD Coloreds were being removed.  Never to return to No Name Hospital in No Name, South Carolina again.

 
*Suspension is a fancy word for “fired”, gentles.  “Suspension”  prevents big baaad coloreds from showin’ out as security escorts them to their cars in utter humiliation in front of all their co-workers!
 

Two weeks ago:

I come down to the emergency room at Current Workplace Hospital after being called for a nebulizer treatment. My patient isn’t there, which I found slightly annoying, so I rolled my eyes and blew out air as annoyed people do.  The calling nurse (we shall call her Nursey Poo) , whom I did not ask for feed back, decides to announce that the patient was there when she called.  To which I reply, “I wasn’t able to get here the moment you called.” To which SHE replied “I didn’t SAY you had to be here right away.”

This is a trap.  She is begging for it.  She’s baiting me even.  I refuse, because thanks to my experience with Brunettey Locks, I am fully aware of what color I am and what a show down like one she’s bucking for would mean for me. I go to follow up with the manager on duty, and before I can do that my patients return.  I treat them, and return to my gripe session about Nursey Poo seeking out a manager to talk to when over storms Nursey Poo to the major desk area of the “busiest emergency department in Major City, NC”™, in a decided rage.

“Are you over here talking about me!?”

“Wah?!”, says Blackey Locks*, “No ma’am, I’m in the middle of patient care and we will not be doing this right now.”

*Blackey Locks = Stacey Rose RRT
 

I walk away, wanting ever so badly to buss her in her mouth so hard that the end result would be her portraying varying forms of The Predator for Halloween the remainder of her life.  I wish I could say it ended here. Nursey Poo follows me into a crowded supply room and proceeds engage me in a shouting match.  My memories of No Name Hospital in No Name, South Carolina in the forefront of my mind, I do not engage.

She rants loud, hard, and fast directly in my face in a manner that my own damn Momma rarely has.  There are references to my “attitude” and the fact that I had the audacity to roll my eyes when I came down stairs. This immediately signals my rage.  I am metaphorically biting my tongue.  I am goin IN, inside my head.  I have called her every form of  bitch conceivable. The only thing coming out of my mouth?

“Ma’am.”

In a manner that a McDonald’s drive thru attendant my try to quell a customer irate about the absence of pickles on their McPig Heart sandwich. I continued at varying octaves and inflections for what seemed like an hour as she let loose. It descended into insanity when she too got on the “Ma’am” train, drowning me out completely.  I then made her aware of the fact that her behavior was threatening.  To which she replied, “Good, you should feel threatened.”

Friends!  Let the record, my own damn record, show that if I had even danced around this kind of behavior there is a significant chance that I would have been looking for a job the next morning, or have spent the evening in the Major City, NC jail. (I’m mean I’ve spent time in there for even less). Nursey Poo was allowed to “cool down” and return to her work. My assignment was changed (to be transparent, I volunteered for this.) I have yet to hear what the repercussions of her action were and at this juncture, I don’t really care. And yes, whether or not anyone wants to admit it I wholeheartedly believe the bias lies in race.

Black women are simply not allowed their anger, not in its full capacity.  We’re always being asked to stifle or suppress it in some way, especially in the professional setting.  Professional black women are held to particularly high standard of decorum at the work place. No matter if any real level of wrong that might have been done to us, no matter if we, like any damn body else, are having a bad day.  We don’t want … no we can’t afford to be viewed as an angry black woman … God. Forbid.  Other women’s anger could get them called a bitch, odds are not to their face. It may even get them a stern talking to by the powers that be, but a black woman’s “attitude” signals inherent danger. A danger that, gone unchecked, could dissolve the universe creating a gaping black hole in the galaxy. (Well maybe this is slightly true … but that’s another post.)

Immediately post face off, I wanted Nursey Poo’s job.  I wanted her first-born. I wanted her to experience levels of suffering that would make Jean Valjean shudder.  Then, like all feelings, my anger passed and I got to what the root of what I really wanted.  I wanted the ability to experience frustration and even full-out anger without fear of retribution.  Now should I have carte blanche to show my ass in the manner that Nursey Poo did? Hell no.  That type of behavior is inexcusable for anyone.

Alas, I’m not sure when or if ever we’ll get to an America where we can escape the stigma of our stereotypes.  Hell, maybe that kind of world wouldn’t be as interesting, but one where our feelings didn’t unnecessarily put us at risk at loosing our livelihood or worse.  That’d be a world I’d sign up for.

Rosie.

I’m not justifying this level of crazy, BUT when people don’t know how to STFU …

http://youtu.be/mZjgi-tQR9o

Unseen.

I wish there was a way to “unsee” everything that I’ve seen in my career as a therapist. Well maybe not everything, as there has been a large amount of good. It’s just that there’s so much that comes with knowing.  If the story of Eden is true, then this is how they must have felt. Overwhelmed with the beauty and ugliness of the world, with each bringing its own type of pain. Beauty, no matter how beautiful in the end we know is as finite as our lives. Ugliness, when in the midst of it, seems to have no end.  I’m sleepy, and perhaps in a state of exaggerated emotion after a long night, but no matter how long I’ve done this it still doesn’t seem fair that babies should die and old folks are kept alive to suffer because “we just aren’t ready to let them go.”

Rosie.

A Dog’s Day Afternoon…and Evening

We tend to think that getting mauled to death by pitbulls could never happen to us. It’s a story for the 11 o’clock news or one you mention in passing while picking up your buttered roll and coffee from your local bodega.

“Hey d’ja here about that kid that got mauled to death by pitbulls?!”

“Yeah, that’s a damn shame! Could’ja add two more sugars?”

Well gentles, I’m here to tell you that I stared a maulin’ in it’s eyes…excuse me, eye (more in a sec)…and lived to tell the tail. I mean tale. I was doing my usual deal, dropping by the homes of the sick and shut-in to spread joy and drop off respiratory equipment when I pull into the shared driveway of two houses that looked to have just smashed down from Kansas. I check my surroundings because if my pristine ghetto upbringing taught me nothing it was to know whats up when I arrive on any set.

Upon checking the set, I see to my right a porch that looked to belong to a family of garden gnomes. This was cool as this was the gnome…patient I’d come to see. In front of me, I spied a large German Sheperd with a gleam of curiosity in his eye, but a high rising gate to his front. This gave me a fleeting sense of security so I attempted to open the door and exit my vehicle. My automobile’s sticky electric locks are the only reason I sit here writing with all ten fingers in tact.

It could have been a scene from one of those really bad “gangsta” films. This would have been the part where the wicked street boss finally got what was comin’ to him. There was a slo-mo pan to my left that revealed: The Den of Death. Three 7’5″ 90lb pitbulls* with jowls that drug the ground leaving frothy spittle in their wake were looking at my plump brown toasted caramel physique with wanton longing. Their powder white bodies twitched with anticipation of pouncing on me (either that or they’d been denied food for so long they were having some sort of neuro-muscular tics). One, whom I’ll choose to call “Righty” because his absent left eye (I think he and the others shared it for lunch), never let his disabled glare leave me. He was the reaper, incarnate.

I thought screaming to be unwise at this point being the hell dogs were standing in a doorway obstructed only by an uninstalled child safety gate (dern thing must have come a loose with the house landed!) and I didn’t want to rile them any further. I pondered driving away and never coming back, but then realized that I’d quit my other job (shit!). “Okay.” I thought, “I’ll call work and then runaway!” Just as I was making my frantic phone calls: one to my patient to let him know he’d have to hold his breath one more day, and another to my office to let them know about my impending escape; A miracle occurred.

A man, let’s call him “Bo”, appeared and gazed outside of the gaping door of the makeshift shack. Two of the hounds of hell retired to the inside of the abode, leaving Righty still fixated on my now rolled up tinted window. Bo stood behind Righty, gave a loving tap to his back as a mother would an infant, and Righty the blue eyed cyclops turned and entered the home. The door was shut, and my living nightmare was over.

How I wish I could say my dogged dilemma ended here. Alas Non. There were more patients to be seen, more dogs to be encountered. I was challenged by Chocolate the dachshund with balls of cast iron steel, and Dixie the…well I don’t know what the hell kinda dog she was but she was huge, made a hell of a lot of noise, and sniffed my ass.

By day’s end I was emotionally spent. I was dog tired after having worked my fingers to the bone. Then, the the final blow: The passing of Nate Dog! I was howling at this point. How much could one endure in one day. At last, I arrived home, a wasted heap where I was greeted (not really) by my cats with lackadaisical side eyes, yawns, and soft silent farts. Cats, you see, are just the way I like my animals (and men unfortunately); quiet, distant, and emotionally unavailable.

Meow.

Rosie.

*I swear those dogs were that damn big I don’t care what you say!