Thursday, September 07, 2006

Will Work For Food & Benefits

Why must we work fulltime just to have medical benefits in America? I've never lived in Canada or Portugal, but I know that both countries have free medical care regardless. Why can't the same exist in the richest country (on paper) in the world? Capitalism.

I think as I get older, medical benefits have become more important. I didn't have many aches or pains in my twenties as I seem to have in my thirties. I'm not crying wolf or that the sky is falling, but there is a problem in America when senior citizens play Russian roulette with expensive prescriptions, or when they feel they have no choice but to eat pet food to afford their medications.

Is it idealistic to want a rewarding life in America? I think not. If this is the land of opportunity, why are there so many homeless people living under bridges, in abandoned buildings, and scrounging for food in dumpsters and along outdoor cafés?

Is the argument based soley on rich versus poor? I wasn't born rich, but wasn't dirt poor growing up. I wore clean clothes to school and church, and began working to buy my own clothing that my mother wouldn't. I'm not advocating handouts or rigged lottery tickets, but a redistribution of resources and power.

I know I'm blessed living in America, witnessed by any number of PBS documentaries and specials showing the hardships of Africa, Brazil, and Eastern Europe.

The American workforce can be a land of nepotism, favoritism, and personality contests. The most qualified applicant doesn't always get the job. The position might go to the first or next minority or disabled candidate.

What's the heart of my argument? I have often worked for sustenance and medical benefits, rather than personal interest and professional growth. I've worked in several industries because I happened upon a restaurant, classified ad, or terrified I'd have to call my family and return to my birthplace. I've worked as a software trainer, helpdesk agent, rollerskating host in an outdoor café, an office temp, and a retail salesperson, none of which caused me to spring out of bed and dash to work.

In recent years I've freelanced from home as an English as Second Language Tutor, Essay Writing Instructor, and Accent Reduction and Vocal Clarity Coach. I enjoy these hats, but wish I had a professional space to hold classes rather than at my kitchen table. The private workshops are exhausting, but I'm happy. It's not stable work because students filter in and out at will. I had to incorporate a contract to ensure a steady stream of income because people can be flaky.

Maybe I belong in a different country and era, a time and place where teachers and artists were valued. Where wealthy citizens and governments commissioned operas, novels, and plays.

It's not that I don't want to work, I, as many other writers, only wish it wasn't so difficult to sustain a living as an artist. Sometimes I feel otherworldly, like a character in The House of the Spirits or One Hundred Years of Solitude, two magical realism novels.

In deciding to work for food and benefits, I might be faced with a decision that might alter research, writing, and editing time. That shouldn't be an issue because as the previous post asks and answers, I know why I write. I must refine my process to yield better results. I must broaden my scope to include other forms of writing, not strictly fiction, screenplays, and personal essays.

The inherent fear in working for food and benefits, is that I could teeter of the precipice of losing myself to a job. I refuse to become a bitter or stalled artist, sulking in a corner office because I've a wife and family.

I know I've creative and editorial work to contribute to the world. I must place myself under a microscope and figure out what or who stands in my way of publishing success in this age of self-published novels being reprinted by reputable publishing houses.

Should I self-publish my short stories that I workshop in Morningside Fiction Group? Should I set up a table on West 125th in Harlem and hawk my book as many others before me have done? Should I ride the New York City subways to sell the aforementioned collection like the people who brandish alkaline batteries, giant Snickers and M&M's?

I know I will have to stop stressing about food and medical benefits and concentrate on researching, reading, and completing more creative works. Stress causes health problems, and without medical benefits as a freelancer, it's a double-whammy. One note on freelancing and medical benefits. I responded to an online ad for free medical benefits through the Family Health Plus Program sponsored by the current New York Governor. I was told that I had to be destitute or close to qualify and be ultimately approved. I think it was a waste of time because I've not heard a peep from the commissioned sales rep or the agency in three months.

I've applied for so many jobs in recent months just to have medical benefits. I can deal with a lower salary because I have a roommate and decent savings and investments. I've received few responses because I've been out of fulltime work for several years. My skill sets aren't what they used to be, and I know my tolerance for office politics has decreased.

Do I believe in energy and thought projection? Have I cast myself too high too soon, and haven't done the grunt work to get there? No bitterness or envy implied, but everyone can't be a wunderkind like Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem, or Dave Eggers for that matter. No need to be a wunderkind, I'll be myself, with minor and major tweaking where needed.

Will work for three square meals a day, full medical and dental benefits, and a corporate-sponsored gym membership (to look good for the book jacket photo). Is that too much to ask? I hope not.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Why Do I Write?

I have gone through several incarnations as a writer. I didn't set out to be a New York writer, but I am on my way to becoming just that once I replace bad habits with good habits. More on those later.

I can create people and places they didn't exist before I take pen to paper, smelling the blue ink as it flows in cursive letters into my notebook, or appear on the monitor as I type on the computer keyboard. Distraction can be an e-mail or website away, so it's best to close all other programs and web browsers.

I believe most creative people use our lives for the sake of art or commerce, and the sooner I accept that, the sooner I'll become a published fiction writer. I'm not a prude, but I think there's something tawdry or unsavory about prostituting my family and friends. My family is rich in conflict, strife, and scandal. Would it be so bad if I were to change the names of a few cousins, aunts, uncles, and write and publish short stories, novellas, and screenplays?

My mother has encouraged me to write a family saga. My aunt has threatened to write it if I don't get my act together and commit pen to paper, keystrokes to screen.

I originally began writing to create believable characters that I'd bring to life on the screen and stage, but along the way my focus wavered and I lost sight of my motivation. Typical actor's response: What's my motivation for this scene?

I wanted to travel along similar paths as Chazz Palminteri, Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, or John Singleton, but my personal tastes and sensibilities are more in step with the racial and social commentaries of Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, and Edward P. Jones.

I have written artist profiles, personal biographies, dance and film reviews, but they use a different muscle. I have several creative works in progress that I need to complete as I keep life's challenges under control. I envy Miss Oates who seems to crank out novels every few months while teaching at Princeton University.

I write to clear my head of the faces, voices, and experiences that have haunted and inspired me over the years. I write to record my thoughts and impressions of the world. I write to explore my boundaries.

I'm not the first, nor will I be the last artist who thinks the work isn't good enough for public viewing and consumption. I'm not an exhibitionist as an artist, so I write for different reasons. I'm not out to prove I'm the smartest, wisest, or funniest. I sometimes stop in my tracks because I don't want to embarrass myself or others.

Writing is opening a vein to the world and being judged. Writing is standing in the midst of rush hour traffic, nude, while onlookers point, giggle, and look at each other in disbelief.

I used to write a daily journal, part of a self-help course, the Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. The twelve-week course leaves no stone unturned, and forces the reader to face the person staring back in the mirror. I tried to get other people to work through the course with me, but no one else would. I did the homework alone, and was better for having done so.

I miss writing my daily journal, which is different from keeping a blog. Handwritten journals are more intimate than a blog or one recorded on a computer. I've allowed too many people and things to consume my time and energy. I remember being happier and emotionally healthier when I didn't let the junk to pile up inside, but poured it out on the page.

I still have those journal entries, markers of my chronological, emotional, and spiritual growth. I've thought about transcribing them onto the computer, but I don't know if I will. I keep the safe for now. Perhaps I'll revisit them soon. Is there a memoir or two contained in those pages written before I set foot on the floor in the mornings?

I write because I must. I'm not a businessman, a lawyer, or doctor. I am a writer and must commit words to the page daily. I write because I've stories to tell that I'm sure others would enjoy reading. I write to mark my time on earth.