Artists: Please Stop Apologizing for Wanting to Make a Living.

In my other life I manage a ballet dancer. So I get a lot of ballet-related posts in my media stream. Today I started to read a story called Why All Those Rules? It was written by ballet teacher Amanda Trusty trying to explain to parents why ballet and ballet instruction can seem a bit rigid compared to, say, soccer practice. She wrote:

 A lot of parents see dance as an activity like soccer that should be free through the school or a club, however the school hasn’t provided us with any space, so we have to charge tuition in order to pay our rent and offer your child a safe space to come and dance. We had to pay for good dance floors – cement is not a healthy surface for dancers. We had to pay for mirrors – yes, glass is THAT expensive. We had to pay for barres, and marley, and rights to play music – all before even asking for tuition to pay the teachers.

Let me tell you from deep down in my heart, we aren’t trying to get rich – we’re just trying to do it right.

Did you catch that? The instinctive defensiveness about making money as if making a profit beyond subsistence is somehow tainted. “I do this for love,” she says. “Not for money.”

You will never hear an automotive executive apologize for making a profit and listing all of the costs that go into what he does to prove that his profits are not excessive.

In his world making a good living only proves that he is successful. If he has success, or even when he doesn’t, he insists upon being well-compensated for his work. He certainly does not apologize for being paid.

I won’t go into why we have this mythos– that the artist should work for love not money. I’ve explored it (and griped about it) in a number of articles in the past. (Notably this one on the “tainted altruism effect.”)

What I want to say here is simply that this is a cycle that must be broken. Artists and those in caring professions– social workers, teachers, caregivers– have to stop apologizing for wanting to be paid. It does not mean you care less. It does not mean your work is less legitimate. It does not make you a “sell-out.” We’ve internalized this notion for far too long.

Do We Live in an Anti-Enthusiasm Culture?

I hate the expression “you have too much time on your hands.”

People usually use it after someone has shared something they put a lot of work into for the pure joy of creation. For example, a friend spent months creating a replica Spanish sailing galleon out of toothpicks. It is incredibly detailed, the windows open, the planks raise and lower, the cannons fire. His friend takes one look at it, shakes his head and says, “You have too much time on your hands.”

With one quick phrase all of that work is rendered ridiculous. the enthusiasm is dismissed.

The idea behind the phrase, I suppose, is that your time would be better spent engaged in some income producing enterprise. Yet you don’t hear people say “you have too much time on your hands” when someone describes what she watched on TV. It is not used for ordinary time wasting endeavors. It is only used for tasks that obviously required a great deal of time and devotion to complete– memorizing all of your favorite sports star’s stats, rebuilding an old car, organizing a collection, doing macrame. It is used to dismiss things done out of pure joy and enthusiasm.

Why do some people feel instinctively compelled to wet blanket other’s enthusiasms? Do they perhaps sense that they have had just as much time and have not done anything remotely as ambitious? Do they simply become uncomfortable with tasks that don’t fit neatly into their boxes of work and play? I don’t know.

Yet it seems undeniable that there is a strong current of anti-enthusiasmism in our culture. One place where it makes itself apparent is in the world of fandom. Being a fan is considered to be immature and laughable. Certain ethusiasms– going to Star Trek conventions or Comicons– are more likely to earn you a “Get a life” than others, for example, knowing all of the classical dancers who have performed the role of Giselle and the nuances of their performances.

There are books, records and movies that we call “guilty pleasures.” That means we’re enthusiastic about them, but are afraid that this pleasure is somehow at odds with the self-image we would like to project. We are defined by what we love. Enthusiasm for the wrong thing is somehow threatening to our social identities.

We tend to think of liking things as highly personal. “I know what I like.” The fact is most people don’t know what they like until they look around and see what other people like and what it is acceptable to like. Liking is social.

Did you know that one of the biggest causes of death in a plane crash is that people forget to save themselves? We naturally look to others to get cues as to how to react. In an unfamiliar situation, like being in a plane crash, many people are entirely immobilized. Their brains have no stored data on what to do. They look around to see what other people are doing. If they don’t see other people racing to get out they will stay in their seats and burn to death.

I am a bit ashamed to recount an episode from early in my high school career. I was (and am) terribly shy. I never expected guys to like me. But there was one boy who sat beside me in science class and we started joking with one another. We clicked right away, were great friends, and in short order there was an element of flirtation between us. It came to a crashing halt when an acquaintance showed me a cartoon drawing. It was a stick figure with spiky hair and a thick unibrow. (My friend had thick eyebrows that nearly came together in the middle.) “You know who this is?” She said and laughed. I got the message that this guy was not cool to like. My enthusiasm for him vanished and I chose another seat in science class.

I am pleased to say I do not do things quite like that any more. But I am not immune to wet blankets. When I share something with enthusiasm to be met with a blank stare and some verion of “you have too much time on your hands,” I start to wonder if I was wrong, if the thing I loved was unworthy and my joy in it somehow embarassing.

I remember that Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, wrote a lot about people who instinctively wet blanket your enthusiasm.

“Name your W.B.’s for what they are,” she wrote, “Wet Blankets. Wrap yourself in something else– dry ones. Fluffy heated towels. Do not indulge or tolerate anyone who throws cold water in your direction.”

Good advice, I imagine. But easier said than done.

The Curious Kick of Hearing an Actor Reading Your Writing

AngelLargeSquareI’m stealing this headline from an article in The Millions.  It is an article about the reactions a fellow Detroit author, Bill Morris author of Motor City Burning, on hearing his words read by an actor for the first time:

Writing is its own form of music. And though I had read my novel aloud to myself many times and had read passages of it aloud to dozens of audiences on my book tour, hearing another person — a trained actor — reading my writing was a curious kick, a revelation. The words I was hearing were deeply familiar yet somehow refreshingly new. The miles flew past. I actually forgot I was in Ohio.

I, too, have been fascinated by Shea Taylor’s narration of Angel. What has been most interesting is to hear the dialogue between the two main characters, Ian and Paul. It is a curious kick, a revelation.

The Only Way We Can Make Your Entry Correct Is To Give You a False Name

When I visited the Audible page for the new audiobook version of my novel Angel, I noticed that there were a couple of books that I did not write listed as “more from this author.”

I wrote to Audible and asked them if they would correct this error.

They replied: “The only way we can adjust this is by having you change the author name you are currently using…If this is something you’d be interested in please let us know and we’d be more than happy to adjust that for you so that no more titles show up under ‘More From the Same’.”

Yeah, sure. How about changing my author name to J.K. Rowling.

Is Your Online Self Different from your Offline Self? Which Offline Self?

An article by Lauren Gardner in yesterday’s Inflectionist reflects on the difference between how we present ourselves in the semi-anonymous world of the internet and how we present ourselves offline. Gardner argues that humanity would be well-served if we were able to better integrate these two versions of self. We need to let our “online and offline personas merge,” she says.

The erasure of personal boundaries that the online world offers can be greatly beneficial in our offline interactions; it opens us up, encourages us to mingle with all walks of life, and proves to be a great learning experience. If we felt as comfortable being honest with people offline as we do online, we would see a great shift in our personal connections. Sometimes boundaries get in the way of truly understanding, appreciating and empathizing with someone.

By the same token, the formality that the offline world offers can be greatly beneficial to our online interactions. If we communicated in the online world half as gracefully as we do in the offline world, we would see how effective eloquent communication is in getting our points across.

Before we can merge our online self with an offline self, though, we have a bit of merging to do to create a single offline persona. In the offline world your parent persona is much different than your hanging-out-with-friends persona. Your job interview persona is different from your evening-with-your-lover persona. Your interacting-with-a-shop-clerk persona is different from your coffee-hour-in-church persona.

Maybe there are times when it would make life better if we were as nurturing to our bosses as to our children, or as affectionate with our shop clerks as with our lovers or as formal with our families as with the high status we are work hard to impress. For the most part, presenting different personas for different people in different places is simply what we do.

Is one of these personas the real you? Are all of them aspects of you or are none of them really you?

Sometimes When You Dance Like an Idiot Amazing Things Happen

I have loved this Youtube video, Leadership From a Dancing Guy, since I first saw it when a friend of mine posted it on Facebook a while back. It shows how it is the first followers and not the leader who create a movement. “The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.”

I have seen the theory of this video demonstrated in the past week. I have been plugging my crowdfunding project to get my next novel Identity Theft into print.  I have to tell you that I have, much of the time, felt like an idiot. I was metaphorically dancing around, arms flailing, drawing attention to myself (and I’m not a drawing-attention-to-myself kind of gal). There were times when I felt like  combination beggar and clown.

One of my writer friends Ronald L. Herron, who maintains the blog Painting with Light, published some sobering and discouraging figures about the reach of social media.

When you consider maybe half the people in a social network will actually see a posting (assuming they aren’t following so much stuff they don’t have time to read any of it), and maybe one percent of those who see it will respond, and about five percent of the responders will buy, you’ll understand why marketing types today use this formula to evaluate social media:

(followers) x (50% see it) x (1% pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = sales.

Using this as gospel, you can figure out what the outcome will be for any given social networking post. For the sake of example, I’ve chosen an audience following of 100,000 (I should be so lucky). It works out something like this:

100,000 x 50% x 1% x 5% = 25

You read that right. Assuming you have something to sell, a posting to 100,000 followers on your social media site (your blog, the Twitter, the Book of Face, or whatever else you use) could possibly translate into 25 sales. Maybe.

Twenty-five. That’s it.

Considering all the time I spend on those sites, those numbers made me feel sick, too.

I have almost 2000 follows here. Another 1650 on The Twitter. Only about 53 on the Book of Face (I’m not real active there). I’m not at all sure about Pinterest or Tumblr or LinkedIn or any of the others I’m on and vaguely familiar with, so I won’t count them.

So let’s say it’s about 4000.

Let’s see … 4000 followers x 50% x 1% x 5% = 1.

Eek!

I read a lot of advice on how to have an effective crowdfunding campaign and it always said you have to keep plugging away. Don’t lose enthusiasm.

That is hard for a number of reasons. You’re afraid of driving away the friends and followers you do have with spam. You (ok, I) hate drawing attention to yourself and again, there is the person begging in a clown suit aspect. When the results fail to come quickly you’re inclined to hide in shame, remove your campaign post and say, “Sorry, I was only joking.”

But if you believe in your project and want to see it happen, you soldier on. You double down and dance even more wildly.  (“All arms and legs and no control” as the world famous ballet dancer David Hallberg once uncharitably said of his student self.)

Then one day something amazing happens.

You can’t control it. You can’t make it happen. It just does. When you’ve nearly given up.

A couple of days ago Identity Theft suddenly jumped from 27% funded to 44% funded in a single day.

I didn’t know why until someone I know from church forwarded me an e-mail message that had been going around. Two friends were spreading the word about the project and personally inviting their contacts to support it.

When they talk about crowdfunding on marketing sites and they use words like “activate your network” it doesn’t begin to describe what that means. I was deeply touched by my friends’ support. That simple act transformed my campaign from one that was floundering to one that has momentum and looks likely to reach its minimum goal (it is only $90 away) and maybe even to reach its upper goal. We are nearly half way there. (Pubslush is fairly unique among crowdfunding sites in that it allows authors to chose both a minimum and an upper funding goal. That way you can seek the bare minimum to do the project and not lose that backing, and you can also propose a figure to do the project as you would like and not cut so many corners.)

Sometimes when you dance like an idiot amazing things happen.

What is a “Muslim” and Who Gets to Decide?

Excellent article in The Weekly Sift about how many non-Muslims speak about Islam. (This title is a nod to my earlier post on “What is a Christian?“)  Doug Muder records his reactions after seeing an episode of The Bill Maher in which Maher and panelist Sam Harris argue that liberals “have a blind spot” on Islam and that they abandon their principles when it comes to discussing Islam. As Maher said in his intro to the segment “these principles that liberals applaud for, but then when you say ‘In the Muslim world, this is what’s lacking’ — then they get upset.”

The problem with this argument, Muder says, is that there is no one thing called “Islam” and no single quality that defines a Muslim. The main thing that holds diverse groups of Muslims together is that they debate amongst themselves as to what it means to be a real Muslim. (Just as Christians are united by the agreement to keep discussing what Christianity means and Jews are united by the question of what is a Jew.)

The problem here is the one that Edward Said wrote the entire book Orientalism about: The privileged outsider encloses some large group of diverse “others” inside a conceptual fence, gives the enclosure a name like “the Orient” or “the Muslim world”, and then takes it on himself to pronounce what the defining essence of that fenced-off region is.

Remember when Cliven Bundy said, “I want to tell you one thing I know about the Negro”? It doesn’t really matter where Bundy goes from there. The racism is already built into the idea that there is such a being as “the Negro”, and that a white man like Bundy is qualified to make pronouncements about the defining characteristics of “the Negro”.

Now look at what Harris snuck into the Islamophobia quote above: “the doctrine of Islam”. To Harris, Islam is not a cacophony of people who have been arguing with each other since the 7th century. It’s one thing. It has a unified body of doctrine, and Harris can tell you what that doctrine is. And if there are people who consider themselves Muslims but disagree with whatever Harris defines from the outside as the essence of Islam, well, too bad for them.

…The reason to pause before you criticize Islam or religion isn’t that these topics are or should be surrounded by some special aura of protection. It’s that there’s really no such thing as Islam or religion, at least not in the sense that most critics would like to assume.

Of course the Maher/Harris argument is wrapped up neatly in another identity package. It is “liberals” who have a blind spot about Muslims. Liberals. Who are they?