This Writer is Sponsored by Herself
January 29, 2015 § 84 Comments
Kelly Sundberg, Brevity‘s managing editor, responds to recent posts here and on Salon:
For almost nine years, I was married to a man who was our family’s primary source of income. During this time, I finished my undergraduate degree, had a baby, completed an MFA, and wrote the first draft of my memoir. You could say—I guess—that my then-husband sponsored me during that time. Still, although he was the primary breadwinner, I didn’t spend my days lounging around sipping mimosas in puddles of sunshine while lazily scrawling my manuscript. Things were still tough, and the day that I walked out on my marriage, I said firmly and clearly to anyone who would listen: I will never be financially dependent on my partner again.
Judging by my Facebook feed, everyone has already read Ann Bauer’s Salon article “Sponsored By My Husband: Why It’s a Problem that Writers Never Talk About Where Their Money Comes From.” I appreciated this article. As a struggling, single mother, I appreciated Bauer’s acknowledgment of her own and other writers’ privilege. I also thought she addressed quite honestly how difficult it is to make a living as a writer in today’s economy, and that writing is real work, and real labor. I think having a partner who appreciates and supports that is invaluable.
In response to her article, a slew of women responded with their own stories of how they were sponsored by their partners (I didn’t see any similar responses from men, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there). Some of these responses then started to feel unfamiliar to me. It wasn’t Bauer’s article that I struggled with. It was some of the responses that seemed, however inadvertently, to suggest that a writer should actively seek out a partner who can support them while they write.
One 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, 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.”
That statement doesn’t resonate with me. I think it’s great if someone is in a loving, healthy relationship and their partner wants to support them while they write. I think it’s great if that is how the chips fall. And, obviously, everyone has the right to determine their own priorities when looking for a relationship, but we don’t necessarily have the ability to make that ideal relationship happen. One divorce later, my cynical side says that I’m better off focusing on prioritizing myself than screening my Match.com profile for men who make 100K plus.
That said, I’ll admit that, I too, have started screening my potential partners. A Tarot Card reader recently told me not to date anyone who didn’t have a job, a car, or a driver’s license. I thought to myself, “Hmm, I think I can do better than that.” So I now look for partners with a job, a car, a driver’s license, and a good sense of humor. My bar is pretty low (one friend recently told me that my bar is rolling on the floor). Who knows? Maybe my friend is right, but I don’t ask how much money potential partners make, and I don’t care. I don’t generally see relationships as transactions. I support myself.
Clearly, Bauer’s and William’s relationships are different than my marriage was. In situations like that, being sponsored by the partner seems like a healthy and rewarding situation, but I know there are a lot of women out there in relationships like mine was: relationships where sponsorship comes with strings, where sponsorship comes with control. In my case, sponsorship came with domestic abuse, and if I’m completely honest, I have to admit that I would have left sooner if I’d felt more financially capable.
Since leaving my marriage, I’ve had to hustle. I’m now a single mom, a PhD student, a teacher, the Managing Editor of Brevity, a resource editor for a website dedicated to single moms, I travel to speaking engagements where I talk about my experience with surviving domestic violence, and that’s just during the school year. In the summer, I live in the Idaho backcountry with no electricity where I work for the US Forest Service and give interpretive talks to wilderness river rafters. I’ve never seen a paycheck that I didn’t want to earn. I’ve got bills to pay and books to write. But I write. I still write. It’s not easy, but I do it, and in the midst of all of that, I’ve had an essay go viral, landed an agent, and watched my acceptance rate at Duotrope spike up to 100%. I don’t have sponsorships; I have jobs. The only person sponsoring me is me, and for now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except for patronage. Anyone interested in becoming my patron should contact Dinty, and he can forward you my information. (Serious inquiries only).