It’s hard to believe that your art is important when you’re hungry. There’s something to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If the very basics aren’t being met, you tend to forget that your story arch is lacking. This is a dilemma that is well known to artists around the world, American ones are especially attune to it, because our economy moves, almost exclusively, according to how much the middle class spends at Target or goes to the movies. And when you’re too artistically poor to go to the movies or buy new clothes, you start to worry that you’re part of the problem; that your art is part of the problem, because it’s pretentious and time-wasting.
This is a lie, however, and should be ignored at all costs. Poets save the world from itself and musicians provide sanity during the insanity of wartime, so don’t give up, Dear Artist, even as I complain in this post.
Recently, I’ve been waking well before the pink light of dawn to lay in the darkness and worry about whether my husband’s company will let him go, because the new CEO doesn’t have need for his position, even though our family’s need for said position is quite basic. While, I believe he will weather the changes just fine, and he’ll be employed there many more years (mind you, this is just a hunch and a dash of hopeful prayer, but I cling to it), I still worry. And my writing takes a toll when I have to push aside those stomach-gnawing realities that remind me of my true artistic value, or lack thereof:
You don’t make any money until you receive royalties, and you haven’t made any royalties yet.
You should be writing for clients. Marketing pays more.
You should be only buying rice and beans. Cream and sugar for coffee is wasteful.
You should be buying one Christmas present a week for the kids, because Christmas will come, and you will have nothing for them.
You should be teaching. Get a real job even if it’s just for Christmas…
Crap like that. It seeps into my unconscious and tells me that paying the mortgage is far more important that telling anyone what surviving the Fall of Berlin, 1945, was like for the many women and children who were forced to endure it. My unconscious tells me that revealing the plight of the distant Christian Syrian community through the virtually unknown huge presence of my own local Syrian community is unimportant when I have bills to pay – late bills.
But I know that while this is all true, it is also untrue, and that I must keep writing and that sooner, than later, my royalties will buy the rice and beans and will pay that overdue PayPal Credit bill.
I just to have try and keep myself from giving away all my precious family time to worry and part-time, low-paying jobs that will sap me of the energy I need for creating. It’s true – I still ask God out loud, “Where’s my Ezra Pound?” And He knows exactly what I’m talking about.
I have a Gertrude Stein (thank you, Lenya Papciakova), but I don’t have a rich old man who believes fully in my work and says, “Quit that bank teller position! The world needs Tiffani Burnett-Velez!” Because the world probably doesn’t really need me. There are others far more talented than I, so why do I deserve Ezra?
There’s something I’m trying to do with my work, and I didn’t even realize it until I listened to this brilliant NPR story about John Cage. I saw in his words about the artistic endeavor, my own efforts – this idea of simply “writing it down” and letting the reader/listener find the natural rise and fall of drama within your words. I figured it out. I know what my writing is doing. It’s not part of my nerdy make-up to simply write a good story. I have to write with a purpose in mind, so that keeps me from jumping off bridges (and by bridges and jumping, I mean getting a job on top of my jobs) and telling my editor that I forgot how to spell.
Keeping my head above the stench of bills defies the laws of physics, but I suppose that if I wanted to live outside the circus of the writing life I could have studied accounting.
“A slave is someone who waits for someone to come and free him.” Ezra Pound