Today I was talking with someone about traveling across the U.S. 35 years ago. “No credit cards, we had traveler’s checks.” (Remember those? Before they were a scam??) “No cell phones in case our car broke down.” (When I backed up our car into a deep hole in a campground, we had to hike out seven miles to get a tow truck.Fortunately, someone gave us a lift, and we got to ride back with the tow truck.) “No smart phones or Kayak.com to look for hotels for the night.” (Let alone hotels that allow dogs, like on our move out here two years ago.) I said I was anxious every time we traveled, because I was afraid we wouldn’t find a place to sleep at night, our car would break down, and we never knew where the next gas station was.
Ahhhhh, the privilege the internet, cell phones, and credit cards….. especially a card that gives us reward miles.
Yesterday, I finished binge-watching the Gilmore Girls reboot. My daughter and I checked in, and agreed Rory was not as mature as we’d expect by now. She (Rory) was having trouble finding a steady journalism job, as she flubs up and thrashes around in her adult life.
Ahhhhhh, the privilege of wealthy grandparents and an even-wealthier secret boyfriend who lives in London (who’s engaged to marry someone else.)
I’ve been thinking of my kids, who never tire of pointing at their childhood in Keene NH, which was (and I quote) a “white liberal bubble of privilege”. Which, to be fair, it was.
I could get resentful and say, “Were we supposed to deliberately be poor?? Aren’t you glad we lived in a place where you could play AirSoft in the woods and not be shot on sight by a police officer? Aren’t you glad we were able to help you with college, and housing, until you could make your own way in the world?”
But there’s no getting around it. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean wealth, or an easy life. It does, however, mean there are some things we didn’t have to worry about, and some dangers, aggressions, situations, hostilities, we didn’t have to face.
The thing with privilege is, you’re either born with it, or you’re not. You’re either born in a first-world country, or you’re not. You’re either born a person who’s not considered “of color”, or not. You’re either born with your “assigned” gender, or not. You either have the wiring for mental health, or you don’t. You are either born being able to take or leave alcohol, or not.
I can’t change how I was born. No one can.
But we can change what we do with our privilege.
In Rory’s case, I think back to a time where, if you were a writer, there was only one way to make a name for yourself writing. You wrote a book, which hopefully became somewhat successful. Or you got a job working as a journalist, or wrote for a magazine. Otherwise, you could write to your heart’s content, but not very many people would ever get to read what you write. When I think of how this has changed, with the internet, with self-publishing on Amazon and other sites, heck, with blogging, the mind boggles. I did write a book (a craft book which did not become a best seller, but hey, my dentist owns a copy, and she absolutely loves it.) I did write for a magazine, until they decided I wasn’t really relevant anymore. (ouch) I finally did write an article for our local newspaper. It was published two weeks before we moved to California.
But now I can write whenever I like. I may whine about deadlines, and how little money I make from writing now (my one paying gig pays me $30 a column). But the bottom line is, I can write and share my thoughts with the world. Saying I won’t write unless I’m paid to, just seems…..ungrateful. For the simple reason that I do have an audience, and sometimes they even let me know how much they enjoy my work.
I can’t change the fact that I grew up in a different world than millions of other people. I won’t apologize that I gave that same safe haven for my kids. But I can show my gratitude, that in certain ways, my life was/is easier than some people who have different experiences because of their gender, skin color, religion, nationality. I can be aware I have this privilege, and do engage with causes and actions that hopefully will make the world a better place for all of us.
And so, too, with my art. Here I am this afternoon, racking my brain on how to make more money from my art during the holidays. Until I catch myself….
Like every other artist I’ve ever met, I worry that “not making a lot of money” with my art means “I’m not a successful artist.” I’ve learned that money is not the only measure of my success (a big hat-tip to Alisha Vincent, who challenged me on that almost 15 years ago.) I’m fortunate to know from the start that the only thing keeping me from making, and sharing, my art with the world, is me.
Every day I wake up, I get to choose. I get to choose what I make, how much I make, how I make it. I get to decide how to share it with the world–by selling, teaching, donating, exhibiting, posting online. I have the time and a studio space, I have the materials and the knowledge I need, and I have the support and encouragement of my husband, my kids, my friends, and yes, even a few happy, loyal customers.
Making art is a gift. And a privilege.
Sometimes my buzzy brain goes a little crazy. Then I fret about money, about success, about fame, about exposure/sales/taxes/PayPal fees/my website/time/ideas/inspiration until I finally sit up and yell, “Stop!!!!!”
Because I am so grateful I have enough time, enough money, enough success, enough exposure, enough of a following, enough of everything. Heck, I’m delighted I have a website, a blog, PayPal, a Square, even! (If I think really, really hard, I’m sure I can get to the point where I’m grateful I have enough of an income to even pay taxes on.) (Still thinking.)
So just for a few minutes today, think long and deep about your privilege. Blessings aren’t a good thing unless you share them. Privilege is meant to be a springboard to raise others up, too. When you start to feel sad about your art, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.
Rejoice you have this time in your life to bring the world of your heart out into the world.
And then go do it.
If you have time (and I know the holidays are ramping up!) tell me something you’re doing this month to brighten the world. I’d love to hear it!