Well, among the times.
Early in the summer, I wrote that I was essentially going to try to quit writing. “I’m tired,” I said, in the face of the world’s gigantic, shoulder-shrugging, years’ long meh in response to my efforts to actually pay bills with my skills.
That was only the latest time I tried to quit writing, though. I’ve wanted to throw up my hands for a really long time. As just about any sentient being can tell you (because every sentient being has had this happen to him or her): It really sucks to be good at something and have it go unnoticed. Especially if you’ve been jumping up and down for fucking years, trying to have it noticed.
But the most-recent-time-I-tired-to-quit, I wound up getting a lot of really kind, supportive feedback from people who have enjoyed my work and actually asked me to continue. I heard from people I only know online, people I know from Real Life, big authors (well – one big author) and various and sundry complete strangers, and it really, really did my heart good. In fact, I can’t rightly explain how touched I was by it all. For someone for whom the whole point of writing has always been to reach other people’s hearts, the knowledge that I had done so was a real balm, and very humbling.
As is the way of things, it also turned out that I was almost immediately given a two-week guest spot at Feministe, and in the meantime, I’ve appeared on television a second time (talking about stuff that I mostly write about), and have placed pieces in The Hairpin, BlogHer, the Foreign Policy Association blog, The Public Intellectual, and, most notably, The Atlantic online (twice). And I have of course continued to crosspost at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, an outlet that has begun to make real waves in the progressive blogosphere.
But, while all that is really top-notch, and very meaningful to me, here’s the thing: I made not one red cent off of any of it.
No, wait. I made $50. I won’t tell you which outlet was able to scrape together $50 for me, but suffice it to say, $50 doesn’t pay a lot of bills. And while all of those outlets have made clear to me that they like my writing and would like to see more of it (and have, in some cases, apologized for their inability to pay), it will never mean money (presuming that my submissions are accepted. Even in the world of Write For Free, submissions can always be [and have been] rejected).
So recently I’ve been on a “give it all up” kick again, the biggest problem being that I don’t have any noticeable skills, and can’t even find sub-optimal work (when Starbucks and Trader Joes and that preschool that occasionally needs substitute teachers don’t call back, that’s bad, right?), and last weekend I told an artist friend that “I want to be a manager at Trader Joes and never have to think about any of this again.”
And she looked at me and said “You won’t be able to.”
Which is the damn truth. I cannot seem to stop writing, no matter how hard I try, no matter how painful it is, no matter how little it avails me of cash moneys. This is who I am, this is what I do. So, I suppose, I’ll keep doing it unless and until I really, objectively can’t anymore. And I don’t mean grant-writing, or PR materials, or executive bios, or any of the other things I’ve done or have been suggested to me that are, technically, “writing.” I mean this, whatever the hell this is. Essays and nonfiction narrative? Sure, why not.
Moreover and not incidentally, there’s a Big Project that the big author suggested I take on, a Big Project in which I believe and which could, theoretically at least, produce a check at the other end. The big author has offered more kinds of help than I had any right to hope for, and I would be a fool to let that kind of help slip by.
But here’s another damn truth: I have discovered that in my personal Room of One’s Own, at least one of the walls is constructed of keeping my adult responsibilities. I cannot sit down to the Big Project — can’t even really think about it, to be honest — while I continue to haunt job boards and fill out applications and knock on doors and get bupkes (“bupkes” being what I got at a meeting with the head of a publications office just this morning, in fact).
I have to know that at least one chunk of money will be coming in, no matter what. Whether it be communications consultant money (which is pretty decent) or bookstore employee money (which probably isn’t, but I don’t know — I just filled out those applications two days ago) doesn’t seem to matter to me as much as the fact that it be regular. I mean – it matters, as does the ego-boosting or -bruising involved in the source of the money, but its sheer existence is what matters the most.
Or would, if I could get it. So far, and despite a great deal of effort, it hasn’t happened. I continue to get contract writing work, but that is a very unreliable thing, and (for reasons that have nothing to do with me) recently became much more so. Unless something drastic happens between now and Monday, I will have made $500 in all of October. September was better – I made $1050. July and August were sucktastic, however: I averaged $300 a month. That’s not nearly enough for me to enter my metaphorical room and Be A Writer.
So. No real point here — other than, I suppose, that the economy is terrible, and it’s even worse for professional creatives than it is for a lot of the professional class. And I will apparently keep writing anyway.
And if you know of anyone who needs a writer, a shelf-stocker, a preschool assistant, an adjunct history/communications/journalism instructor, or someone who could probably work a cash register if taught – please do let me know (why look! Here’s my online portfolio!). One is growing weary.