I have been working on this painting for weeks. It is a deep, life-saving piece for me…
Something just hit me, or, maybe not just, but it has been pinging me enough lately in social media and in ads down the sides of Facebook pages that it penetrated my bipolary skull and made me wake up to something. Made me question something that is pretty fundamental and commonplace in our society, and it is the notion that you “Make a living” by doing something to earn a paycheck. I understand, of course, what people mean when they say that, but as someone 60 years old who is disabled and does not, or has not yet, gotten paid for my art, it is curious to me that this thing that gets me up in the morning with the sure knowledge that I will be able to paint today, and that brings me so much pleasure and fulfillment and JOY, that is healing me and making my whole life feel as if I have something to live for, to get up another day for, and, as a writer, put words down, one after the other, or stroke the colors on with a deep sensual luscious zest for life, well, is this isn’t making a living, what is? And more to the point, it is making a life. I can’t imagine what is more important than that.
Earning a paycheck to take care of your life, and your family, to pay your bills, to eat, this is critical, it is vital, it is something that one way or another has to be done, and is of inestimable value, but when you call that “Making a living” you denigrate those for whom what they do, even if they are not getting a paycheck for it, is life giving, life saving, we are making a living, a life, by doing what perhaps keeps us alive.
This is stretching my brain around so much contemplating this I feel like I have reached in and grabbed my grey matter and am squishing it around like playdoh to try to make sense of the whole thing.
I hope this doesn’t seem defensive, because it doesn’t feel that way, and I don’t mean it to be. I think for me, as a writer, words, and the way they are used, carry great weight and meaning, and the phrase “making a living” is something I have heard and used all my life and not thought anything of it. Until this morning, when I did. And it was like a great big KAPOW, a Zen moment of awakening. Words don’t just show things, tell things, describe things, they also express states of being. If I say to you, “I make my living as a painter,” you would assume I am getting dollars and cents for my work. What if — and isn’t it marvelous to consider — I said the above, or “I make my living as a writer,” and you thought, “Man, far out, painting and writing make her ALIVE! I hope I can find a way to do that some day!”
Of course the people who are lucky enough to earn their paycheck while “Making a Living/Living Their Passion/Making & Earning being one and the same” have hit the jackpot, and it happens, and to that I say Amen and Hallelujah! But how many people are doing just that? When I saw a documentary about the extremely high number of deaths in Japan from overwork, unbelievably long hours, people just dropping dead in subways and on their way home or in the middle of a work day — they even have a word for it now, karoshi — and the title of this article says it all, “Japan’s Suicidal Salarymen Are Dying for Work,” (Click through and look at the pictures of this article. It will hit you in a place that may create a startling awakening for you too.) it just knocked the wind out of me. How do we get to this point? There but for the grace of God go a whole heck of a lot of people everywhere heading in that direction. It has to stop.
Can people make a living, meaning make a joyous, heartfelt, fulfilling life as their first goal, and do what they need to do to take care of the practical needs of the life by earning a paycheck another way? I’d certainly like to think so, and yes, I would love to begin to make money for my art and writing. It would be perfect bliss. But nothing will stop me from doing it, regardless, while I carve out ways to make an income from other venues.
I perhaps have left people shaking their head wondering what bee got in my bonnet this morning but I sat right down and wrote this and haven’t even made my coffee yet and if you know me you know that this is huge! I will just leave you with this, my version of a zen koan, and I would love for you to leave your thoughts in the comments below. I really want to know what you think.
If the thing that makes your heart beat faster, that gives you near orgasmic pleasure, that makes you feel alive, more, it makes you want to live! if this is not “making a living” will someone tell me what is?
Now I will make my coffee. This had to come first.