Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Red Herring

I've been writing more regularly on my side-project blog, Swim/Run/Bike Mama (yup, it's on the triathlon project), and less regularly, perhaps, here. Since finishing the 365-project (apparently, I thrive on projects), I've hardly picked up the camera. I am giving myself a full week of breathing before even thinking about what to do next, photography-wise; but one interesting discovery is that out of 365 photos, there are about thirty that stand out, and among those, a few that might just come together to tell an interesting story quite apart from the project and apparent subject matter: ie. I can make something else out of them. Maybe that's reason enough to continue taking a photo every day. Because at any moment, something lovely is waiting to come into existence (surrounded by a lot of other moments and attempts).

I'm linking to a piece in the National Post by my former boss, Noah Richler: he argues that funding the arts provides a public service quite beyond what can be valued monetarily. The salient point is: some things aren't done for profit--how do we measure their value? And what does what we value and support say about our country?

And, you know, on a very personal level my thinking has been heading this way, too: questioning my compulsion to evaluate what I do in a very black and white, cost-versus-profit manner. I wrote a few posts back about wanting to be independent, financially. That's not a superficial desire. On the other hand, it doesn't take into account--or value--all the ways that I do support my family and contribute, ways that aren't and probably can't be compensated in a "fair" way. In our marriage, we try not to do too much horse-trading, ie. I did the dishes so you have to put the kids to bed. Because that just creates a feeling of unfairness: maybe the dishes are worth only two kids being put to bed; or maybe on that particular evening, the kids need a bath, which is more time-consuming, so it should be worth an extra round of dish-washing; or ... well, you see where I'm going with this. In the same way, there is no way of measuring the effort that goes into, say, writing a book, and compensating it "fairly."

Do I need to be financially independent? That's a really personal question, I guess. I haven't got an answer yet. But I'm interested in all the reasons that maybe, maybe that question throws me off track. Maybe it's a red herring. Maybe the question is: can I accept that the work I've chosen to do may never be compensated at a rate that would allow me to be financially independent? What matters? Is it money?

5 comments:

  1. I think that my contributions to our household (which is good food, clean floors, time and space for everyone to enjoy themselves at home, taking care of our child) is as valuable as my husband's financial contributions. I also add the cost of daycare (which is pitifully low) to my mental tally of annual income. From a feminist point of view, financial idependence is important, but this undermines the fact that family (and marriage) isn't about independence anyway. Or at least not the financial kind, but then I'm not that into money anyway...

    I do think that perhaps theoretical independence is important, so that if disaster struck and you were called on, you could get it together and support your family. But I think you have that already. And that basing one's whole life around the prospect of impending doom is kind of misguided anyway.

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  2. Yes, you're right, Kerry. In practical terms, I have the skills to support my family should disaster strike. What I've been wanting is to have my cake and eat it, too.

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  3. I don't know that it's having your cake and eating it too to want to contribute financially to your family; or to feel that your work should have some kind of financial reward. I agree that anyone's household work has real financial value; that's who I am myself at the moment. But I also understand the desire to feel that you participate in a wider economy, somehow; that you have a place in another kind of working world, and a different set of relations with people. It's a different part of your self, your brain, your heart even, that you feel needs some exercise, perhaps?

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  4. I had a couple of thoughts, which I don't know if they are helpful, but thought I would offer them. Unfortunately they can't address the heart of your frustrations you express at the end of your post, but perhaps can chew at the edges of it.
    One is from watching my two aunts, a generation ahead, pursuing their arts-oriented callings/careers and how they have succeeded financially. Both of them are brilliant in their chosen areas (music, publishing, visual arts), but both have only just stayed ahead of their financial commitments (both are divorced so don't have someone's income to fall back on). Their financial success has come by pursuing multiple avenues in their chosen arts, so that when one leg of their work isn't pulling in solid money another might be. Sometimes it is the more commercial legs, sometimes the more artistic - perhaps a sacrifice to their art, but practical and necessary (for them).
    The other is to not undervalue your hidden financial contributions to your family (beyond the dishes and meals) - a couple of years ago (when I was in deep angst/anger over my/my husband's roles) I read a fascinating article in a NY Times magazine looking at a range of family solutions to parenting children without daycare (i.e. stay-at-home mom, two part-time working parents at various ratios, stay-at-home dad). In the surveyed families, the average total income of the families was near constant regardless of who played what role. The implication that where one partner brings in the lion's share of the income (and associated career success) to a family that they couldn't do it without all of the other things their partner brought to the partnership. That the success of the one partner is the success of both. In the having your cake and eating it too world - it both irritates and satisfies me that my husband's financial successes are due to my support - that I am a successful prop. More generously - the total success of my family is from all of our contributions whether they be seen in the tally book or not.
    If your writing doesn't currently bring in as much financial value to your partnership it certainly must have other (albeit less tangible) equally valuable contributions it provides to your family and yourself. And, it may just be a matter of timing - I hope that perhaps this time next year (or the year after etc), with a fabulous new book published your financial success might look a little different!

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  5. Thanks for your thoughtful comments on this subject--it sounds like we're all coming at it from similar places, as stay-at-home parents).

    Heather, there really is something in what you say--wanting to participate in a wider economy, even just wanting to engage with other people (ie. not family members) in more challenging ways. Remind me--what does it feel like to have a boss say, "Great work!" or a client say, "Thank you." I haven't had a regular job for a decade. I fantasize about receiving such feedback. I liked working with other adults, too. I miss that. So it's not just the financial rewards that I'm hankering after.

    And, Leah, thanks for your insights. I have yet to figure out a way to make my writing profitable enough to support more than just me (I think I could live off what I earn, living very frugally; but I couldn't support my kids). But I've also spent little time pursuing paid writing gigs this past decade, focusing my limited time on fiction. Beyond the practicalities of finding paid work, I see some larger problems, too, such as the feast-or-famine cycle known to any freelancer. The tax system doesn't much care if one year is a boom year following five years of bust--it's going to tax me on the boom, regardless. But I do hope that I'll continue to earn with my pen, and I'm certainly not too proud to take less-glamourous gigs, like my mommy-blogger stuff last year (which I considered my own version of a "writing grant.")

    Writing tends to be lonely. Maybe what I'm missing isn't the money, it's that wider world stuff, the connections, the interactions, all of which is pretty damned interesting.

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