Last night I hosted a radio show about the state of the arts. (Listen & Be Heard Network Radio, every Tuesday night at 8pm.) I mentioned an experience I had recently when I went to a party and someone asked me “what do you do?” My answer to that question tends to be different every time I give it a whirl. So this time around I said I was a writer, a poet. The next question was inevitable. It doesn’t seem to change no matter what my answer to the first question is: “do you make a living doing that?”
Well, I’m living. Now, I know many of you have had a similar experience. Depending on your personal history and what your “achievements” have been, your emotional response to the question “what do you do?” will shape your answer. You might feel pride, and anxiously await the next question so that you can blast your latest career triumph to the world. Because if you are an arts professional and have a successful career, possibly you should be very proud of your accomplishment. Or maybe just grateful. You might feel like maybe you are not good enough, or just embarrassed, or remember you don’t have a pension fund like the person who just asked you that probably does.
Do I make a living writing poetry? No. So do I have a lot of nerve telling people that I am a poet. Yes. It takes nerve to be a poet. It takes nerve to be who you are no matter what dollar value is placed on what you do with what you have. It is a sign of our culture and times that no one expects a poet, a musician, a painter, a playwright, to make a living.
Do you a make a living doing that? My longer, more defiant answer goes something like this: ‘I express my creativity in all sorts of ways, and I get by without anyone dictating to me what my creations should be.’ I would really like to hear from other people about their answers to these questions and how it makes them feel.
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Wishing you Peace and Poetry
Martha Cinader Mims