A Word From My Sponsor
January 26, 2015 § 29 Comments
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.
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.