A Word From My Sponsor

January 26, 2015 § 29 Comments


The Arranged Marriage by V. V. Pukirev

The Arranged Marriage by V. V. Pukirev

About a year ago, I made a decision. The last relationship I had been in, with a partner who lived in a foreign country, had been very expensive. Flights, time away from work, opportunities chosen for nearness rather than maximum pay. Before that, I’d been the primary breadwinner in a long relationship, then dated an actor and a musician. This time, money was going to be an issue.

I set my online dating profile to the country I wanted to live in — a country with a high standard of living and lots of expats. When messages came in I checked the approximate income level of the job the message-writer claimed to have before responding.

Shallow? Sure. But I’m a white, cisgender woman with no kids. I got a lot of messages. Screening for income is no different than screening for age, height, looks, or doesn’t-post-racist-screeds-on-Facebook. Saying, “I’m not interested in dating anyone who can’t, if necessary, support me.” is no different than saying “no kids.” It’s a status they have some control over, based on choices they made. It’s as arbitrary as liking C-cup brunettes.

Reader, I found him. A kind, gentle man with a wicked sense of humor in a physical package I find attractive. With citizenship in a country I wouldn’t mind living in, residency in the country I want to live in now, and an income, ability, and desire to be the primary household support.

It’s weird.

Not paying my own rent is weird. Not having my own residence permit is weird. Letting him hand me money for groceries and taxis is weird.

But it’s better than not writing.

It’s better than squeezing writing in around paid hours of something else, or stressing about the rent, or worrying about what happens if I get sick. It’s better than thinking, “One day, when I have time…”

For a long time, money was the currency I brought to my relationships, and finding different ways to contribute is weird, too. I like cooking and laundry, I don’t like cleaning or being a leech. And sometimes yes, I feel like a “research” day or a “resting” day was a “wasting someone else’s money and support” day, and that makes anxiety.

It’s a job like any other, this writing-while-supported, and I’m learning how to do it well.

At Salon, Ann Bauer writes that it’s a problem when writers don’t talk about where the money’s coming from — it misleads younger writers into thinking they’re doing it wrong. At a reading she attended,

The author was very well-known, a magnificent nonfictionist who has, deservedly, won several big awards. He also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune. Mega-millions. In other words he’s a man who has never had to work one job, much less two. He has several children; I know, because they were at the reading with him, all lined up. I heard someone say they were all traveling with him, plus two nannies, on his worldwide tour.

None of this takes away from his brilliance. Yet, when an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask him how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece — What had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time? — he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by. I heard a titter pass through the half of the audience that knew the truth. But the author, impassive, moved on and left this woman thinking he’d supported his Manhattan life for a decade with a handful of pieces in the Nation and Salon.

When we walk away from a statement like that, or compare ourselves to authors with an independent income and a room of their own, it’s easy to think I’m not working hard enough. Easy to attribute a lack of bill-paying success to a dearth of talent or skill. But the support of a family fortune, terrific connections, or a willing spouse is a fellowship. A grant to take the time we need to write, to refine our work, to develop our voice without having to sell sell sell.

My instinct is to support myself, and I’ve taken on enough editing jobs to have to reconsider my ability to make money, and how it’s interfering with the time to write larger projects and submit work.

I’m lucky to have that choice.

Check out Ann Bauer’s essay at Salon — there are some interesting comments, too, both agreeing and opposed.

______________________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She lives in Dubai and recently became engaged.

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§ 29 Responses to A Word From My Sponsor

  • Jan Priddy says:

    I am the primary breadwinner in my family at the moment. When our children were small, I stayed home and my husband kept us afloat. I worked full time while earning my MFA. I think I might have been the only person in my program at the time doing that. I have been supported and I have supported another, as, it seems, have you.

    There is a huge disconnect in literature sometimes, between the people who have worked all their lives and those who had trust funds. A poet friend argued recently that writing is as hard work as any grueling occupation, which it is, but then again it isn’t. Worrying about paying bills and going to a job where you count down the hours till you can go home, coming home physically exhausted and maybe injured is a different sort of hard work from the concentration demanded by writing, which is a creative process and brings its own rewards.

    My introduction to Ray Carver was through Ray-Carver-wanna-bes, and these wanna-be writers emulated the grit and tension Carver had earned without really understanding where it came from. Sadly, by the time I actually got to Carver, I was a little spoiled for all his sorrows. Later, entire story collection I was directed to read in my program contained not one main character with a job.

    A writer interpreted a line about a group of people being the sort who ate lobster-salad sandwiches for lunch as having to do with not caring to watch their weight. No, my dears, that is about a demographic that can afford lobster in Florida.

    The problems of such people are not my problems.

    If this sounds like petulant whining, perhaps it is. It is also, increasingly, the American demographic; it is our shrinking readership. As the books published speak from and to a narrow audience, that audience becomes narrower and smaller. And perhaps that’s why the rest of the country is reading YA books and not growing up to read “good” literature, because those do not address their problems? I cannot say.

    And I would say, wanting a partner who can afford to support you while you write is far less arbitrary than “liking C-cup brunettes.” Just sayin.

  • Allison K Williams says:

    Thanks, Jan – this is fascinating and I think your take is right-on. Especially about how “literature” may be losing readers because it doesn’t seem as close to the readership that’s out there…I find myself left cold by a lot of short stories and literary novels for exactly that reason.

  • mariahmcmillian1980 says:

    Allison, I can really relate to this passage. My husband of 20 yrs has been the bread winner for our family of 5 and it causes me anxiety.

    You see, I am a highly independent woman and I like to feel like I’m earning my keep. And sure enough, I pick up the slack at home, but I struggle with also wanting to see my creative career take off. I have found that even basic house work and dealing with 3 young kids can detract from time and energy that could be used on creative endeavors. But I also know that it would be just as difficult, if not more difficult if I had to work outside the home while also helping tend to household duties.

    I’m glad I have this option but at the same time, I’m constantly plagued with guilt. I just keep pushing ahead a little at a time.

    My current project will allow me to combine all of my creative talents by crafting meaningful fine art books that combine illustration with creative nonfiction.

    Hopefully the topics that I touch on will draw in readers who appreciate deep, abstract topics and fine art. My even bigger hope is that I can find the patience, energy, and humility to see it through.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I’m so glad to hear you’re working on a project you love! And sorry that you feel it, but glad not to be the only one who feels guilty🙂

  • Next month I’ll be embarking on the wondrous journey of being wholly supported by my husband. Even though we’ve been planning this for years and I’ve been full timing my art for a while now, I feel a little bit guilty (and yes, a little scared) about the situation. We’ve never been well off, and money will be very tight, but I do have the privilege of being able to ask my parents for a bailout if necessary. This question of creative ability ≠ financial success is one that I’ve been examining on my blog for a while. I have to remind myself that it’s not a personal failing; it’s simply the art life.

  • Allison, I relate to your article in so many ways. I supported myself completely on my own for more than 50 years, and was enormously relieved when that burden was lifted from my shoulders. My imagination opened up when my financial worries disappeared. And now that I am “supported” in every way that counts, and am free to pursue my writing without financial restrictions, my productivity has increased enormously. When my husband of almost two years assured me he could take care of me, I had no idea what that really meant. Now I do, and I am exceedingly grateful every single day. Enjoy your new situation, and don’t feel the least bid guilty.

  • Maya says:

    Allison,

    You’ve simply and finally agreed to be in a mutually, loving relationship with the entirety of what that means over time. Just because what your partner derives from you being in his life is immeasurable and priceless doesn’t make it any less valuable than his ability to pay for the physical comforts of your life together, while you, fiercely, tip the scales of the spiritual and emotional his way. He is apparently smart enough to know what a catch you are and attuned enough to know that the best Allison comes with a full-time writing schedule!! Lucky guy.

    Congratulations on finding unconditional love, Allison!!!

  • Katie Riegel says:

    Reblogged this on The Gloria Sirens and commented:
    This goes all the way back to Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” Money is linked to both physical and mental space, and those are definitely connected to the ability to be creative. Be sure to read the article from Salon that’s linked to in this post as well. What do you think, readers?

  • Dina Honour says:

    Sometimes A Room of Your Own is not enough. Sometimes the rent needs to be paid on said room. I’m an expat wife. While I could work, the red tape hoops required for me to work, not to mention the very high tax rate make it a non-starter….but, oh bliss! It has allowed me the indulgence of my writing. Would I one day like to buy my husband a beach house in Maine off of proceeds from book-to-movie rights? Hell yes. Am I incredibly thankful for this indulgence and opportunity? Hell-er yes😉. Enjoy.

  • undulthood says:

    This is brilliant. I wish dating sites would have been more common before I met my dude in college so I could have selected a partner in the country I wanted to reside in. Ah, well, there is always husband number two. It’s time I trade in for a new model anyway. And someone who can completely support my writing career sounds like a solid choice.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Hey, if you’ve got a choice, pick what you want🙂 In all seriousness, I hope your writing–and your relationship–are everything you deserve!

      • undulthood says:

        Sadly, I like the one I got. Maybe I can just ship him off for a year to declare citizenship elsewhere and then we cant act out the whole scene as if we met online?🙂

  • […] such response was by Allison Williams on the Brevity blog in her blog post, “A Word From My Sponsor” where she wrote, “Screening for income is no different than screening for age, height, looks, […]

  • […] first, “A Word from My Sponsor” by Allison Williams (Brevity‘s social media editor) describes the author’s […]

  • […] first, “A Word from My Sponsor” by Allison Williams (Brevity‘s social media editor) describes the author’s […]

  • […] like Allison K. Williams, have taken a similar path to Bauer’s: from struggling writer producing little writing […]

  • […] reading, in tandem with recent essays from Ann Bauer, in Salon, Brevity‘s Social Media Editor Allison Williams, and Brevity‘s Managing Editor Kelly […]

  • I have some mixed feelings here about this essay and the comments on it. I think it’s great that you have found a way to fund your writing and creative work because I think we need to support our artists, but…..

    You talk about the ‘stress’ of having to support yourself – several of your commenters do as well – but supporting yourself is part of life. You have to know how to support yourself. I’m making more now, but even when I was on a super strict budget, working 50+ hours per week and going to school, I didn’t think about it as the stress of supporting myself because….I had to support myself. I don’t know, but the whole phrasing of that gives me pause. Supporting yourself is part of being an adult. It’s like doing your laundry. Sure, nobody loves doing laundry, but we have to do it. I don’t think about the ‘stress’ of doing my laundry every week.

    Also, what happens in the event that something happens to your partner? I’m not talking just about a break-up/divorce, but an accident that prevents them from working or an accident that could kill your partner. Would you have savings, a life insurance policy, work experience that will let you get a job to support yourself again? Life insurance policies are rarely enough to support someone for the rest of their life. Also, are you saving something for retirement? You can’t rely on your partner’s retirement alone, especially if it is only in his name. If your partner decides to leave you later in life, you could find yourself on the cusp of retirement without any retirement savings.

    I’m sorry if this comes across as attacking because it is not intended to. I’m trying to express why this blog post makes me so…..uneasy.

    As a sidenote, I would also like to note one thing. Be very careful about rushing in too quickly to a relationship where you are totally financially dependent on a partner. The first thing many abusive partners do is make the other person totally dependent on them and isolate them from family and friends. As a survivor of such a relationship, I’m worried a young writer could read this blog post and jump into a relationship where the partner supports them without fully understanding what that could mean.

    Perhaps a broader solution to all this is that we just need to pay our writers more.

    • Jan Priddy says:

      I don’t feel attacked, but then perhaps I’m not the one you are talking to? I do think you have not met many people so far who have trust funds or other lifelong, unearned privilege. Perhaps that is who I, at least, am talking back to in my comment. I have supported myself throughout my writing life with other work. I like my work, I save for retirement, I consider what will happen when, eventually, one or the other of my husband or I dies first. None of that has much to do with my writing except that I am aware of earning my way.

      And none of it has much to do with women or men who find themselves, for a time, in a position to write full time because of a working spouse willing to support them. True, it may not last, but certainly a few years of writing shouldn’t make anyone less capable of taking care of themselves than they were before.

      The Salon article was a warning to young writers to take the cavalier attitude of some established writers toward their financial support with a grain of salt. It’s easy to toss off the struggle to live while writing when someone is born with wealth and connections. It’s unfair to pretend success was achieved without that help. I have been fortunate that two early mentors were very candid about how their husband’s supported their writing. Otherwise, getting up at five to write before going to my job might feel like I was doing something wrong—why is it so hard for me. It’s hard for everyone. (Not, I would argue as hard as lumbering or other dangerous and grueling occupations I can think of, but hard.)

      The writing matters and so we find a way, despite the challenges to our time and attention and creative energy. We write obsessively and whenever we can. Most of us find the time while also earning a living.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I don’t feel attacked at all, and I’m glad you weighed in!

      In writing a blog post, I always end up leaving out a lot – and I’ll admit it, it’s sometimes to make the drama more sharply drawn and create more opportunity for discussion.

      – I spent 20 years running several successful performing arts businesses. At my peak I worked 80 hour weeks, because that’s the kind of work hours you get in performing arts if you are making money at it. Since I had up to 15 subcontractors at any given time, I also felt emotional responsibility for their financial well-being, too. I spent 300 days a year on the road. Supporting myself was joyful. It was also stressful as fuck. The last six years, I paid the mortgage alone while my separated-and-then-ex husband lived rent free and then left for graduate school. I’m pretty good at the supporting myself.

      – Before I met my now-partner, I had already decided to take a year or more off from my jobs, and had saved all my money (15 years’ worth) from a particular long-running job. I calculated I could spend 3 years living very frugally, two years at the scale I was currently living. I’ve got my “run like hell from a bad situation” money. I also still own a house in my home country and have a living parent. I’m not shy on places to shelter.

      – I won’t be retiring. I’ll work til I drop, because I like it. God forbid I get sick, but I’m a dual citizen with Canada and if I get cancer I’ll move there.

      (And yes, I remember being in college and buying exactly 20 dollars worth of groceries every week, too!)

      So those are the back-ups and the hedging and the not-as-germane-to-my-point aspects. Because even with those things, I was tired of paying the mortgage alone, and I was tired of being in relationships with people who were not financially stable. Financially stable is something I bring to the table, and I decided it would be smart to make that a criteria for a partner. I feel incredibly lucky that in a very short time I found someone I adore who fits my criteria, adores me, and feels like the man should pay for more. I’ve picked guys based on heartfelt connection, great sex, strong intellectual attraction, and good friendship. Now I picked for money, and hit the jackpot by getting all the other characteristics as well, in large part because I’m no longer a terrible person to be in a relationship with🙂

  • Young-ish writer says:

    So … what online dating site did you use? Details, we need details.

  • […] to Bauer’s piece have been varied and at times even heated. Brevity’s social media editor, Allison K. Williams, shared that she tailored her online dating preferences hoping to find a mate who could take care […]

  • […] the recent posts here and elsewhere by Michael Nye, Ann Bauer, Brevity‘s Social Media Editor Allison Williams, and Brevity‘s Managing Editor Kelly Sundberg on how writers are supported/support […]

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