Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Run thru

Maybe there is hope of spring.

I wish they would sell short stories at iTunes for 99 cents a piece. Why don’t they? Why can’t fiction get the same consideration as music, or cinema, or television? I know--because no one reads anymore.

Today on the radio (something else no one listens to anymore) they announced that the price for episodes of new television shows was going to be reduced on iTunes from $1.99 to 99 cents. Which seems fine to me. It’s hard for me to imagine that the studio that makes Heroes really can’t make it on 99 cents from everyone that downloads their episodes. Then again, I don’t make a television show, or work on one, or write for one. Another recent piece on NPR said that payment for actors and production staff on television has gone down by at least half in the last ten years.

Which brings me to something that’s been bothering me for a long time: how does anyone make a living as an artist these days? It’s always been tough, but it seems tougher than ever in the internet age. If you get discovered as a musician, you don’t make any money from your records. No one buys albums anymore. Not even me. If you get a regular paying gig on television, you can’t make a living wage. If you find the budget to make an independent film, no one will release it.

Two paths of success used to be recommended for writers, the academy or the press. I’ve made attempts to be hired or a newspaper or be published by a magazine, with some success, but not a whole lot. It’s tough to feel heartened when every day I read about another newspaper or magazine biting the dust. As for academia, I was actually told by a writing professor that most MFA programs function as “cash cows” for their universities. Which makes sense, considering that the degree costs about $60,000 and prepares one for--what else?--an unguaranteed career in academia, where the average adjunct professor gets paid $2500 per class.

Most of the good writing these days is published on the internet. I speak not of myself (of course), but most of the writers I regularly follow are online. Bloggers are brilliantly blogging there guts out. But how can any of them make a living?

I do it by working part-time at a minimum wage job, by tutoring, by selling an article here or there. By eating beans and rice and wearing seven-year-old running shoes. I imagine most other writers out there are a lot like me. More and more, our society has become one that doesn’t reward creativity in any form. Despite all of the talk about the American dream, our culture doesn’t even reward ingenuity anymore. We reward homogeneity, consumerism, stasis. We don’t even believe that the starving artist, the struggling entrepreneur, the self-employed innovator deserves health care, let alone respect.

Sorry for the rant. I just get so frustrated watching day by day, hour by hour, my time bleed by in pursuit of an almighty paycheck. Does everyone feel the same way about their work? I feel so drained when I get home that it’s all I can do to flip on the television. Forget creating something beautiful, something that will sustain my spirit and the spirits of others. Forget being able to come to my desk, to face the blank page.

Hence no post yesterday. Hence a barely coherent one tonight. I want to spend my priceless time in the pursuit of beauty, of truth, of that pearl of great price. There have to be people who believe in the work they do, who love the work they do, who are rewarded financially for following their path. Right? It’s an old cliche: find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. What do you do, though, when no one will pay to do the work you love?

1 comment:

Ellen D. said...


I ask myself many of the questions you do every day I spend doing something I don't want to do, but do for money or duty. The blog in the link above has me thinking. The bottom line is ask yourself: What do I really want out of life? and, What can I offer to the world that no one else can? Basically an intersection between what do I want and what can I give. Most of the truly satisfied individuals in the world are more about what they give than what they get. It has me thinking. No answers, of course, which is what you'd like.

Also, the way I see it you earn your time to write by giving up benefits; others earn benefits by giving up their time to pursue their interests. A matter of economics. Finite money. Finite time. We are lucky in this country to have the choice. (I'd rather have time, but with a family, have to have the benefits.) I think the ideas in the paragraph above might have some merit...finding the _intersection_ of what you love to do and what you uniquely can provide to others (through this you find means to earn what others are willing to give up which in many cases is money.)