My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Working Artist and Exhaustion (Personal Update)

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Exhaustion hit today. Hard. For me, exhaustion is usually a little like being sick except that there's no symptom other than being so tired you can't think straight, and after a nap, it only takes about an hour or so before I'm that tired again.

I should say that that's what it looks like these days. Believe it or not, this is the "much better" version. I've been doing much better. No sleepwalking. No physical illness brought on by lowered immune system response due to stress. No falling asleep at tables in the middle of meals. No doctor putting their hand on my arm and saying, "I need you to hear this. You're killing yourself. You're just doing it slowly and pretending it's virtuous hard work. But this is a form of self-harm." If you've been following me a while, you know that I'm not always great about getting quite enough sleep, and that the cocktail of reasons includes some avoiding emotional pain from a bad break-up, some absurdly high-level work ethic instilled by a mom who sent me to school actually sick more than a couple of times, and the messages of a world that our value as humans has to do with how "productive" we are. I've been trying to be kinder, gentler with myself. I made some lifestyle changes. It's a process.

I'm not sure why I ended up with a sleep debt that prefers kicking open the door and smacking me on the head with a sledgehammer instead of just those rings people get under their eyes. Still if I stop paying attention to whether I'm getting eight hours a night like clockwork, a few minutes a day can add up fast.

The world we live in has some powerful cultural messages that are pretty rough on artists. And that's before you have to walk past six gagillion employers and government officials saying "I only really care about STEM" on your way to a humanities class. At every turn art and artists are devalued, or valued only for their ability to convert their work into monetary gain.

I could go on a tear about capitalism (trust me), but I'll tuck that into my pocket for another time. Suffice to say that without a universal basic income or at the very least a budget for art endowments that is bigger than forty cents a year per person (that's here in the US), most creative folks are not being creative. They're not out there making the world a more cultural and beautiful and entertaining place for you and me to live. They're not nourishing their souls. They are working a day job (or two) to meet their very basic needs.

The art they do make has its own messages of value (or lack thereof) if it does not have a monetary value easily expressed by how much someone would give them to own their creations. And the gulf between art that can't make money and that can is often a Grand Canyon expanse. Thousands of hours of effort that might not be "worth it" because of what that even means: to give up one's precious downtime from the toiling required to survive for years, perhaps decades, in the singular hope that one might build up a skill to the point where it is monetizable.

And if they are working artists, chances are if they are not trust-fund babies or independently wealthy, they are probably working hard.

I'm in that second category. I work 40 hours a week just writing, have two main side gigs (one sitting for pets and the other nannying for kids) and do tutoring, editing, and freelance writing any time they come up. I pull in enough to afford a discount room that I found through sheer luck with a person who could easily pay their rent without me, but happens to like horses and ends up needing an extra several hundred a month for their upkeep. The bills get paid, but after a perfect storm week, I'll have worked 70+ hours.

And you can love what you do to the fucking moon and back, but that's still an ass-kicking schedule.

And I STILL spend a lot of time worrying about how productive I am. Am I doing enough to gain Patrons and retain them? Am I entertaining people enough? Was that post too fluffy? When's the last time I did some good writing advice? A product review? Social Justice? Wait...am I doing TOO MUCH social justice? I know damned well that I wouldn't be making the money I do if I weren't weren't working so hard; thus, even after I agree to three posts a week, I almost always try to do four.  And yes, I know I write BETTER when I'm well-rested, but that feeling that you're not doing enough to do right by the people who are PAYING you (and for your worthless ART no less)....that's a tough cultural message to deprogram.

I wish I had some great way to turn this into writing advice. All I can say is two things. 1) The Internet has restored some ability for artists to make SOME money in that gulf between pure hobby and "I can quit my day job now." It's "non traditional" and it might feel less legitimate to those who want a book contract and a gatekeeper's nod, but it is there. You don't have to struggle penniless until you get "the call" anymore (and then still probably for years more until royalties start being more than advances). 2) One of your most important attributes is going to be tenacity. The world shits on art and artists, so the people at the finish line are going to be the ones who refused to stop. You have to just keep writing (or arting in whatever way you art) for YEARS without making money until there's a chance you do. It's a hazing process that has nothing to do with talent or creativity or sometimes even skill. Those things all matter, but not to whether you have the sheer dogged determination to slog through. And in the end your sheer ability to keep suiting up and showing up ends up being just as important.

Most months, my appeals posts go for the hard sell, but given how I started this post, I don't want it to come across like I'm holding a gun to my own health and demanding money. Let me just say that if you want to help this artist and entertainer breathe a little easier about working a little less frenetically in a world with a lot of messages that grind artists into powder, even the smallest ongoing donations over at Patreon (or one time donations to Paypal) make a big difference. Phasing out pet sitting, being able to take fewer hours of nannying, and even not having to jump on those tutor/freelance/editing opportunities will all help me have a more predictable schedule and thus an easier time with my sleeping schedule.

As always these posts tend to do poorly on their own merits so if you want to help but can't spare a dime, giving us some engagement on social media (likes, comments, shares) will help us be seen despite an algorithm that tries to hide original content so that artists and entertainers will pay to be seen.

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