Thursday, December 11, 2008

This artist likes to eat

Sometimes I wonder if I'm too practical to be a writer.

Upon graduating from my MFA program, while some of my peers continued their part-time teaching jobs, or supplemented their income by working retail, I struggled to find a full-time position with benefits.

"I'll teach a few classes next semester and work at Kaplan [teaching SAT prep] at night," one of my friends told me when I asked him what he planned to do next. "That'll give me more time to write."

My first thought in response to this should have been, "Great! Keep the writing alive, man!" But instead I worried about his health insurance. How would he get it? How would he pay for it?

Even as a kid dreaming about literary greatness, I knew that this particular brand of greatness wouldn't pay. I've never expected to make a lot of money, nor do I need a lot to be happy. But I do need stability. Maybe it's my Midwestern upbringing; or my control freak tendencies; or my strong desire for children, whom I'd like to support. But I worry about things like insurance and savings and 401(k)s. I want to be one of those responsible people who has these things. At the same time, however, I want to be a writer.

It's a dichotomy I struggle with more and more. My current unemployed status merely adds fuel to the fire. On the one hand, I'm writing more than I have in a long time. Awesome! On the other, I've been living without my sinus medication for a month now, and cereal has become breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not so awesome.

Though I know it's not a black and white issue, I can't help but wonder if a writer has to be financially risky in order to succeed. Or, to phrase the question less practically, must artists really starve, at least for a little while, in order to make it?

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