Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Money ain't got no soul, money ain't got no heart...."

This is the anthem of artists everywhere. We don't work for money. We work for enjoyment, for fulfillment, for the notion that we are contributing to the betterment of humanity through whichever medium we happen to work. And we do this not because of the money, but to spite it. We'd do it for nothing! We were those poor suckers in college who dreamed of an Utopian Bohemia, where everyone wears recycled clothing and lives on Top Ramen. Where everyone shares their art, their food, and their books, and commerce is too bourgeois and degrading to be concerned with. But instead of snapping out of it a year or two after graduation, like everyone else; after the real world has had some prime opportunities to slap some stupid sense into us - we are the ones who keep living the dream...on breadcrumbs, occasionally living back with our parents when we can't afford rent.

But we can't live on nothing; and our society knows that. They know it, and they exploit it. Society begrudgingly agrees that the arts are "important" - not in an immediate, foundational kind of way like garbage collection or sewer functionality, but in an abstract, "we-know-it's-good-for-our-kids-but-won't support-it-ourselves" kind of way. So they hire us to instill artistic appreciation and aesthetic into their children. Sometimes, depending on the funding, we get paid well for this. Sometimes, it's not enough to get by. But teaching is the artists' bread and butter. I suppose that's what GB Shaw was getting at when he wrote that loathed idiom, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

Yeah well, George Bernard, most of us do both.

I do both. And I'm actually getting paid rather well by my school - in theory. I say "in theory" because I haven't been paid yet. I've been working there since early January, though to be fair, my proposal wasn't approved by the school board until January 24th, which means I wasn't official until the 26th. HOWEVER. It is now March 23rd. MARCH! I submitted my invoice EARLY, though invoices are not allowed to go to the district until the last day of the pay period, in this case February 26th. What does a reasonable amount of processing time sound like to you? Two weeks, if we're giving the District leniency for dealing with dozens of schools and artists-in-residence?

Well, I was told three weeks. Three weeks was last Friday. I'm now on Week 4, with no guarantee it will get here by the end of this week, which would mean that I'll have gone 5 weeks. FIVE. WEEKS.

Now, I ask you: in what other work disciplines is this allowed to happen? Business? HELL no. Law? They'd sue you and resurrect debtors jail. Contracting/construction? They'll hand you over to the mob, who'll put your feet in cement blocks and throw you in the Hudson River (even if you live in California). And so I return to my original point, that artists are exploited (I would argue) the most. Clearly, we don't have real jobs, which means that we don't have real lives, which means that we don't pay bills or have cars or need to finish paying taxes, or, you know, EAT. No, no. We're make-believe people who are only needed to inspire children to learn and play in ways that might actually help their educations and futures - outside of that we turn back into faerie dust, and only need to be kept alive with claps and cheers, like in that one play written by that one English dude about boys who won't grow up, and their pixie friends who die when children say they don't believe in faeries. Yep. That's where artists live.

To illustrate how incredibly untrue this scenario is, I will now list the items that I have not been able to do IN A MONTH, because I have not been paid:

1. get my car lube, oiled, and filtered and rotate my tires
2. pay turbo tax to email my taxes (I am usually able to complete this by February)
3. pay my bills
4. buy myself actual groceries (I eat a lot of left-overs, and get creative with items long forgotten in pantries)
5. related to #3, because I cannot pay my bills, I can't apply for a school loan yet.
6. take a college student out to dinner, which I owe him for coming and performing slam poetry in my classes at school.
7. buy my plane tickets to Portland for Spring Break
8. take my golden retriever to the groomer (you'd think this was unnecessary, until you own a golden retriever)
9. buy myself some socks - like ones that don't have any holes in them
10. buy myself some shoes - again, ones without holes
11. buy tickets to the theatre to support my friends and their work
12. buy myself treats (I'm not talking big, I'm talking little things like chocolate covered graham crackers at Starbucks - things to brighten my day)
13. I have to decline invitations to go out with friends to dinner, drinks, movies, or any other social activity

I might sound as though I'm whining needlessly, and perhaps even greedily. But in my own defense, I don't spend a lot of money, even when I have it, and have made quite a science of being poor.

I've been watching Disney's Princess and the Frog a lot on cable tv, primarily because it's surprisingly good, but also because it's a sincere attempt at keeping my Bohemian perspective, and remind myself that even though I chose this life, I deserve to be treated as a valued member of society, like everyone else. Just because money is not the primary driving force of my life, it doesn't give any entity or body or bureaucracy the freedom to treat me any differently than they would any other working professional. I'm good at what I do, damnit. I am an asset, not an afterthought.


Lira said...

I so know how you feel. And it sucks. Hopefully, you will get paid very soon and the tax fairy will give you all your money back from the feds and state!

Phoenix said...

I know how frustrating this is, hon. Fingers crossed that you get paid super quickly because it sucks to know that one day there will be money in the bank...but in the meantime, it's just empty, and it blows, big time.