As I’ve chronicled in earlier posts, I make my living as a bartender. This career has it’s own sets of pitfalls and frustrations (the next time I see a doctor they’ll be a coroner) but one definite benefit is that no one pretends it’s anything but what it is. You are there to serve drinks, make chit chat, and above all, make money. If you are too bad at either of the first two, you don’t get the third, and if the money dries up, it’s understood that you go somewhere else. No one assigns high meaning to it, but likewise, no one shames you for quitting, or having a bad day at work.
For many years I made my living as a bartender and also spent more than a full time job’s worth organizing, promoting, and facilitating literary events. These were usually focused on poetry, but included prose, theater, music, and visual art. It was exhausting, the people I had to deal with were generally insufferable, and in the end it made me more miserable than any paying job ever did. But I did it because I had and have a passion for literary arts, loved many of the people involved (even some insufferable) and felt like I was “part of” something. My own involvement is on me.
But what isn’t on me is the fact that during that time, many people who spent far less energy, time or money (it costs to put on events) would guilt, castigate or otherwise shame me for dropping my involvement because “this is art.” Likewise, I and many others were expected to work for free because what we were doing was a “labor of love.”
Recently I started teaching a poetry workshop course. The per hour pay is good, but the hours are a nightmare and I’m not paid for class prep time. This is largely due to our state budget, which de-prioritizes education. But when I asked if I was paid for my prep time, or if I could change the hours of the class, I was treated much the same as I was when I would ask for compensation for hours of booking poets.
This work is so important we can’t possibly pay you. Do it because you love it or you are a bad person.
Abstract notions of “fulfillment” and “doing what you love” permeate arts, education, and various other intellectual pursuits. Work that is not important enough to get compensated for, but it so important that if you care about it, you must do it. I can’t think of a job I’ve had beside teaching where if I talked about the labor-to-hours ratio someone would say “well at least it’s really rewarding.”
Rewarding doesn’t pay my rent.
The Following Things Are Not Money. You Cannot Pay Me With Them.
- Happiness: If money can’t buy it, happiness can’t replace money.
- Sex: If we are sleeping together, lucky you. Or me. Or both. But I can’t give a fuck-receipt to my student loans officer.
- Cultural/Social Capital: Some of the things I’ve done because they garnered admiration of my peers. Once again, on me. But you don’t get to tell me whether or not this is worth my time. It’s also largely subjective and subject to change at a moment’s notice.
- Free Beer: This happens to bands a lot. Free beer is great! But it doesn’t pay for the gas to get to or from a show, and if we’ve been drinking the free beer, probably shouldn’t be driving.
- Exposure: Insert joke about voyeurism here.
- Fun: I’ve worked a lot of shifts at the bar, or teaching, or the summer I drove a truck, that I enjoyed. Many of my friends who get paid quite a lot to do things like code, engineer, or play music professionally have many good days at work. They still get paid, because it’s still work.
- Getting to Wear What You Want: Oh, you aren’t making us wear a humiliating little hat? CALL THE NOBEL PRIZE COMITTEE.
- Hot Co-Workers: I worked for a bakery in Bellingham for a year where my co workers were almost exclusively college sophomores in ridiculous clothes. Many of my friends liked to posit that this made up for the weird hours and bad tips, but it did not. It was nice though. Ironically, this was the only job where I had health benefits.
- Free Pizza: See “free beer” and take a shot every time a company offers this when they fear their workers might unionize.
- Experience: So theoretically, this can lead to getting paid what you’re worth. Sometimes experience is worth working a little below your wage to climb things. Just how it works. But it’s not, in fact, cash.
- Recognition of One’s Peers: My peers can fuck off and die if they think their weak, limp approvals make up for getting paid.
- Scratch Tickets: Could turn into money. But not money.
- A Sense of Moral Superiority: I understand that this is what Seattle runs on, but nope.
- Blockchain: Technically, still not money.
- An Oil Painting of a Heron, Rendered In Pastels and Framed in Majestic Oak: I’ve been duped by this too many times! Never again!
Throughout one’s life, obviously, there will be things done for love, not money. But those things are on the doer, and it’s not right for the person demanding the doing to set the terms.
In short: fuck you. Pay me.
Also published on Medium.