itsbrittanywilmes asked: I always appreciate your pragmatic and straightforward opinion on working and creating. I'm a creative nonfiction writer by night and an uninspired nonprofit marketer by day. What's your advice for someone like me who needs to pay the bills but just wants to be immersed in creating and building community around that? I'm in near-constant purgatory at work, and I hate it. Should I just shut my mouth and keep at it? Is this forever?
I kept a day job until I made more money off art than I did at my day job. And even then, it was scary for me to leave it. Everybody always tosses out that tired “do what you love, and the rest will follow” shit, and I don’t buy it. (I usually say, “Do what you love and the debt will follow.”)
You have to pay the bills and feed the mouths, and you do it however you can. I got married when I was 23—I’ve had a family to support for a while now. I guess in my attitude, I’m a lot like Philip Larkin:
I was brought up to think you had to have a job, and write in your spare time, like Trollope. Then, when you started earning enough money by writing, you phase the job out. But in fact I was over fifty before I could have “lived by my writing”—and then only because I had edited a big anthology—and by that time you think, Well, I might as well get my pension, since I’ve gone so far….All I can say is, having a job hasn’t been a hard price to pay for economic security.
And my experience has been that economic security has always helped my art along more than any kind of “spiritual” freedom or whatever.
“The trick is,” film executive Tom Rothman says, “from the business side, to try to be fiscally responsible so you can be creatively reckless.”
One thing I would recommend to you is to see the day job as a positive, not a negative:
A day job gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine. Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art. As photographer Bill Cunningham says, “If you don’t take money, they cant tell you what to do.”
Because the real truth is, once you start making money doing what you love, it BECOMES A JOB. And with it comes all the hassle of a job. Here’s Larkin again:You can live by “being a writer,” or “being a poet,” if you’re prepared to join the cultural entertainment industry, and take handouts from the Arts Council (not that there are as many of them as there used to be) and be a “poet in residence” and all that. I suppose I could have said—it’s a bit late now—I could have had an agent, and said, Look, I will do anything for six months of the year as long as I can be free to write for the other six months. Some people do this, and I suppose it works for them.
In other words: you always have a day job. (My friend Hugh calls this “The Sex & Cash Theory.”) Right now my day job is going around giving talks and writing and selling books. It’s a good day job, but “doing what I love” would actually mean sitting around all day reading and drawing and making these goofy poems. Guess how much that pays? Not much. And guess how much time I actually get to do that stuff? Not much.
Anyways, this is supposed to encourage you. Every artist without a sugar mama or a trust fund or extreme luck has had to deal with this.
Just hang in there.
This is what I recommend: get up early. Get up early and work for two hours on the thing you really care about. Then, when you’re done, go to your job. When you get there, your boss can’t take the thing you really care about away from you, because you already did it. And you know you’ll get to do it tomorrow morning, as long as you make it through today.
The “meaning” in your job is: it pays the bills. Get as good at it as you can, because it’ll make the job more interesting to you, and it will provide you exits to another one. Then find the rest of your meaning elsewhere.
For more inspiration from people better and smarter than me, click this tag: “Keep your day job.”
Nineteen years after the beginning of multiracial democracy in South Africa, the Born Frees—the first generation of the so-called rainbow nation—have come of age. During the past two years, the photographer Krisanne Johnson travelled across South Africa documenting the Born Frees. A look at her photographs: http://nyr.kr/IvZ7Lk
n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.
“Who goes to carnivals in this age of television and miniskirts and psychedelic happenings?” asked Richard F. Shepard in the newspaper of Sept. 15, 1967. “To urban bumpkins intent on psychedelic cinema and electronic musicales,” he went on, “carnivals may seem to have gone the way of Congress boots and the hand-pump. Not so.” As the carnival founder’s 37-year-old son, E. James Strates, concurred, “This is no Mickey Mouse business.” Photo: Robert Walker/The New York Times
Every single day that she was in my life, I felt like the luckiest person alive. I trembled as I held this photo because I would give my whole world to be able to just walk right up and kiss that smiling face. I never took for granted the wonderful privilege of being the one who got to do so, nor wavered in the tingling of happiness it gave me. Without her, I will never be the same again.
Our first release in Europe with the legendary Suol label. Feel so lucky, and would feel even more blessed if you take the time to listen.