“Making A Living ” As A Writer & Artist ~ A New Twist…

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 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.

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Comments

  1. Absolutely, Maitri, I couldn’t agree more! I have been ‘making a living’ doing what makes me come alive now for nearly 2 decades. And no, I don’t earn any money from it (YET). Maybe I will some day, maybe I won’t. In any case I know that my creative work is what I’m meant to do, and what makes me come alive, and what is the greatest gift I can give to myself and to the world. What more could anyone wish for? xx

  2. Beautifully articulated, Maitri. During my consulting years, I incorporated two passions, storytelling and writing, into everything I did. I was doing that before economic necessity drove me to leave the arts world and find a way to refill the empty coffers. I have continued to do it since leaving the NGO world. For me they are ways of making a living, in the sense of having money for bills and in the sense you so clearly express. Before I began the community development consulting, I so often heard variations on the old theme of…why should we pay you for something you enjoy? A curious and harmful concept.

    • Thank you Cathryn and I hear you! And, well, they can pay people for doing work they don’t enjoy, and put pressure on them to keep working harder and harder, and end up losing precious souls like all of the people dropping dead in Japan. I STILL can’t get over that and it shocked me. After decades of studying Zen with Japanese teachers to find that this happens IN Japan just shook me to my core.

      And of course it’s not as simple as all of that. People do need to make an income and a very large percentage of people work at jobs they don’t like or aren’t thrilled about, but I want to shake people awake and say of COURSE you have to earn money, but please see the value of living your one wild and precious life in a way that enriches your days, and brings you joy, and value the things that might not make you money but feed your soul. If you don’t then in the end what are you really working for anyway? What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? as Mary Oliver asks. It is all so much more complex than what I had time to say here, and I know that. I guess I just wanted to ask people what they thought, and perhaps open their heart to what I was talking about.

      Thank you Cathryn, I love you. <3

  3. you can’t even imagine how much I agree with everything you’ve said here, Maitri-there is a quote I’ve seen that says something like, “never be so busy making a living that you forget to make a life”. It’s like when people meet someone the first thing they ask is, “what do you do?” Well, I can say I pack vegetables and clean houses, but does that really say anything about who I am? NO! What I do is create, design, make art with paper -spend time with people and pets that I love-decorate cakes-appreciate nature…etc-How I make money is not who I am and is not my life, and whether you receive money for your beautiful works or not does not in any way measure their worth, or yours, dear one! Thank you for sharing your thoughts; I wish more of the world thought this way 🙂

    • Thank you so much for responding Lynne. And I LOVE that quote, I have long loved it. And I know, right? When asked what I do I tell them I am a writer and an artist and an avid gardener and on and on. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I DO AND WHO I AM. And most people, I believe, are more fully defined by what they do that they love, that they are passionate about, that touches their heart, that they try to express lovingly in the world. And again if who someone is in these terms is also the way they make their living, BRAVO! But please see that most of us who are serious about living fully and BECOMING the soul expression of who we were meant to be cannot answer the question “What do you do?” in the way that most people mean. And if we did it would not give a real picture of the human being that we are, and what we are really here doing, and what is most important after all. To anyone who thinks I wear rose colored glasses and don’t really see the world in their terms which of course is the only way they think is the correct way I must answer kindly, Yes! I was born with rose colored glasses, and despite everything I have dealt with in my life, and in spite of it all, I never plan to take them off!

      Love to you honey. Be happy! Celebrate yourself and your life. Isn’t it grand? 😀

  4. Karen Surratt says:

    My Spirit SHOUTS AMEN-N-N!!! <3

  5. inspiring words come
    from the deepest heart of you
    we all listen well

    xo
    ka

  6. Such beautiful insight Maitri…it is so very true….making a living and making a life. For years I was one of the lucky ones….I could actually say I did both at the same time when I was a teacher. When I lost my living two years ago, I pretty well felt I had lost my life’s purpose as well. It is still very hard. Volunteering at the farm saved me. Even though I’m only there one day a week, I am in bliss teaching these beautiful little souls about farming, animals and love for our planet. Now if I could just get back to my artwork or something more productive than sleeping or watching tv the other days of the week, life would indeed be grand. As you can probably tell I am still battling with the evil twins, depression and anxiety…But you give me great hope. I love your writing and your beautiful soul! Much love to you always.

    • Oh Donna, thank you so much honey, and I can only imagine what a loss teaching was for you, it truly is a soul profession, one that feeds and makes a life and a living and touches and changes the lives of others. My eldest daughter teaches first grade. I always think it is so sad that teachers aren’t paid really well because our future is in the hands of our teachers in the way the little ones are shaped and taught. It is an amazing and powerful thing.

      But I also know what an incredible gift you are bringing to those children at the farm. I was with you when you started there and I remember how you positively glowed, I could hear it in your voice. Bless you for this tremendous work. And honey, we will keep battling the evil twins, and we will win.

      I love you Donna… <3

  7. You are so lovely and talented, Maitri! I haven’t made any money from my own exquisite projects BUT without a project I feel adrift, my art is my lover, the longing is too hard to resist. I don’t mind working a part-time mindless job if I can come home to my lover. AND when people ask what I “do”, I say I’m an artist! Warms hugs to you.

    • Merri! Bravo! You are an artist! And what a fine lover to have as well! 🙂 And I don’t devalue the job that makes the income to pay the bills and put food on the table. Even if it isn’t the dream job it has incredible value in supporting you and taking care of the essential needs. But I think there are a lot of people who — and God bless them I’m not criticizing! It seems to be the way the world went, it slipped into a coma of sorts — do the job that supports them but never take time for the soul food taking time for their passion is, even if there isn’t time for a full blown meal, little sips and bites along the way can put fire in the belly.

      In any case I am sending you love and a warm hug. You are very kind to write. <3

  8. Making a life is more important that just making a living. I’ve had jobs I desperately needed but hated and it sucked the life out of me. I was so miserable. I’m a happier me and this is a happier home.

    • Paula I am so happy for you honey, and you are so gifted, and I can see your lovely work growing and growing. And the ferrets! Heaven bless you for all you do for and with them! What precious wee ones you share your life with.

      Sending you love and a sweet hug. I love you sister. <3

  9. This reminds me of Martha Beck. She says that her work is primary for making a life and not for making a living. It is true that it is a wonderful space, when making a life and making a living are coming together. I am not there yet, but I hope to find this place.

    I totally get you, when you say that art and writing makes you come alive and keep going. It is the same for me. I have my struggles with it, I learn a lot from it and I get a lot of relief and healing.
    Keep going and do your art and let it heal you, make your life and I wish for you that out of making a life will come that monetary making a living too. And if not, you still have your joy and healing.

  10. Oh Sweet Corinna, thank you so much, your comment meant the world to me.

    Someone wrote to me that I “Had too much time on my hands,” that I could just sit around painting all day. A lot more but I won’t say any more about that and the worst part is that it was someone I knew and loved and trusted. And the thing is, what I said is that if people think I am sitting around all day lollygagging around living the high life they are very wrong. Art is especially important for me because my bipolar days are very hard to navigate, living life moment by moment can be very painful and frightening, and that I CAN write or paint at all is a miracle and a gift and a blessing. I think some people took what I said here wrong, thought that I was somehow denigrating those who have a job that supports them but somehow wasn’t the passion that fuels them. Heavens! I don’t think that and I would never say that. All of the work that we DO is important, these are the moments of our LIVES. But all too often those of us who struggle to do what we love, what gives us the momentum to perhaps get through the day at all, that is more than a passion or a fire in the belly but is the work of the soul, our purpose for being here, this is spiritual work to me too. I live the life of an anchorite and I bless each moment of the day. I do not get paid for it, but I am “making my living,” creating a life, with each breath I take.

    I hold you in my heart and prayers dear sister. We will walk our parallel paths with love. You have really lifted me up this morning, and I can’t thank you enough. <3

  11. Good food for thought. (Finally read this today.) maybe because it’s Monday after a big event last night that has me feeling I am not making a living or a life. Working for money forced some structure. Now with “too much” free time I’m neglecting things that would be worth doing.

    Years ago when raising kids made housework difficult, I would take pride in a single corner cleaned up or the laundry. Maybe now I need to focus on micromovements instead of major efforts. Does that make sense?

    I think I’ll just start this day over. Noon works! Coffee, walk, shower, writing, etc, can just begin a little later today. Then at 6:30, a chorus rehearsal that always improves my spirits!

    • Aargh! The rehearsal was cancelled tonight! Why? There’s a winter advisory in Austin, which means that we might get a little bit of something on bridges and overpasses. Yes, I know we need to be careful, but 80% or probably more of us are not even driving from the Hill Country. My thought was, “Oh, for Pete’s sake!” (and some even snarkier thoughts that shall remain unposted)

    • Ah Kathleen, I think one of the hardest things in life is just about the time we get a schedule or routine or way of living or being together things shapeshift and we are off to the next phase and have to figure it all out again. Me bipolary bits are all a muddle and a fuddle trying to keep up with the changes, but such is life. And yes, micromovements are all there is if we are to stay sane and keep moving forward. And hey, I don’t even have to “start my day over” at noon, I’m just getting UP then. It was 5 a.m. before I could get to sleep, got up to take the dogs out at 10 and then went back to sleep until 12. We just make what we can of a day and let “time” happen on a sliding scale! 😀

      And honey, I’m going to say it anyway — BE CAREFUL!!!! 😀 (I just had to!) And Oh for Pete’s sake! (I’m commiserating.) And I love the snarky you! It’s your best “look!” He he he….. 😉

  12. My problems are all high class problems. I didn’t have to walk half a day for a supply of water, or anything!

    • Kathleen-
      I’m with you in thinking that all of my problems are really first-world problems. There are way too many places in the world that people (usually women) have to walk a long way for water. We saw that in person in Africa, as women showed up in an established “government” town, where there was a safe source of water from a “tap” – to fill their large containers with water to take to their villages, usually, as you write, at least a half-day away. Needless to say, this town wasn’t on the tourist trail — we’d just visited by accident, having “escaped” from our first-world camping safari handlers for a day.

      And having grown up in Austin, I understand nasty ice storms and blue northers, but also still living in the South, I understand how we all still scurry for cover in snow and ice!

    • I understand Kathleen, I truly do, and of course I think about that, that it is not like the women who have to carry water as both you and Lisa said, but while its true the thing is that we live here, now, and I can’t change the whole world but I have a responsibility to try to understand and make sense of my own life and live the best life that I can for myself and those I love. It’s like being told when we were little we should eat everything on our plate because there were starving children in China. (I don’t know if you heard that but a lot of people of my generation — I will be 61 in April — heard it!), or feeling that we weren’t worthy of what pleasures we could have because we didn’t suffer in Hurricane Katrina, or wars, or all the rest of the very hard things in the world. BUT, we do what we can, we send money if we can, we pray, but we still have to take care of our lives and we shouldn’t apologize for what we have or what our life is, we should do what we can to help those that we can. It’s like Mother Teresa saying that we can’t do great things but we can do small things with great love. If I focus on all of the heartbreaking and sad things of the world it would so freeze me, especially having 4 mental health challenges that I deal with everyday, it would so freeze me that I couldn’t get anything done. I take care of myself the best that I can, and I give as much as I can to others. I feel that some people jump to apologizing because they aren’t suffering many of the heartbreaking things of the world, like they don’t deserve what they have. I don’t believe — with all due respect and much love — that that is right thinking. We do what we can with what we have and are with the most love that we can muster. We celebrate all the good and beauty in our lives while trying to help others as much we can. At least that is my humble opinion…

  13. Maiti,
    This is such an interesting piece to contemplate.

    I’ve been able to follow my passion for plants, teaching, and connecting folks with nature in my work life for over 3 decades. So “making a living”” has definitely overlapped and melded with following my true path (as it has for my husband, too), but it hasn’t been without stress, overwork, and drama, too. We’ve been fortunate that it was work, especially in my husband’s case, as a college professor, that it paid well, too. For me, as a non-profit educator, not as well, but OK.

    Making a life is something different, I think, and we both, now in the next phase of our lives, can embrace expanding that, too.

    It’s totally interesting to think about. Thanks for the prompt!

    • Hello Lisa honey, I understand everything you are saying and I think if you read what I just wrote to Kathleen above you will understand how I feel about what you too were discussing, i.e. the women who carry water. What you and your husband have done is wonderful. You didn’t just do work and make an income you helped countless others in the world and that is a beautiful thing. And as you move forward in this next phase of your life I know you will expand in even more ways that you cannot yet imagine. You are such a beautiful and caring person and I feel so privileged to know you. Again, we do what we can with what we have and we take care of, what Mary Oliver said, our one wild and precious life. I think not to do that is to waste the most precious thing we have been given, our life. I think we are to live our way into our gifts and share them in the world. And the thing is that few of us, in the scheme of things, will be able to solve the world’s problems but we can do what we can from where we are.

      You are so welcome and thank you for taking the time to comment. It really means a lot.

      Blessing and love to you honey…. <3

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