When I look back over this week-end, I'm amused at myself. I was careful about when I watched Silkwood, because I didn't want to get too scared too close to bedtime.
What did I do instead? I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch--a book that terrifies me in many more ways than Silkwood. In this book, Ehrenreich wants to do the same undercover reporting on the lives of middle class workers that she did in Nickel and Dimed. So she creates a resume and waits to be scooped up into a middle class job that pays at least $50,000 a year and has full benefits.
She gets no calls, even with a manufactured resume. She fills her time with resume coaches and networking groups and online searching.
What's even scarier: she's doing this in 2003-2004 (the book was published in 2005), long before the economic implosions of 2008 onward.
So, for the first part of this week, I sank into that self-pitying, I-will-never-make-it-to-retirement, whiny state that I hate. But last night, I went to an event that put me back into the cautious optimism which is my natural state.
If Barbara Ehrenreich was writing from a scarcity consciousness, Branard Carey operates from a place of abundance. He's making a living from being an artist, and he had all kinds of ideas for the rest of us.
His presentation at first had more relevance for visual artists and some performance artists than for writers, at least at first glance. But I found all kinds of inspiring nuggets.
Careful readers of this blog know that I do more than write, in terms of my creative activities. In fact, yesterday, before I went to work and then to the evening presentation, my spouse and I did a mosaic project in our effort to avoid replacing a pedestal sink. More on that later. We've created fountains and worship spaces and photos and collages and paintings and all sorts of sculptures. We both cook, and he gardens, and on and on I could go.
I've often wondered if we could take all these projects and create a variety of income streams. Brainard Carey would say yes.
He began by asking why do we, as artists, check our success at certain levels? He says the only thing holding us back is ourselves. In other words, we've got a lot of self-defeating behaviors, and many of them are unconscious. If we could control that behavior, all sorts of success would follow.
He talks about speaking in the language of financiers, which those of us who are poets might think has nothing to do with us. But maybe it does. He talked about artists who approached rich people not by asking for money, but by describing their project, saying "This is our dream," and then asking, "Have you ever thought of investing in a dream?"
He also talked about approaching gallery owners by going into a gallery as if one is going to buy a work and letting the owner talk about the work. The way the gallery owner talks about that work is the way that the owner will talk about your work, should you choose to let that gallery represent you.
In many of our encounters with people who might want our work, he encouraged us to think in terms NOT of what those people can do for us, but what we can do for those people. What needs do they have that our creative work could meet?
I thought about publishers and then my mind meandered to readers. We live in a time-starved society. Our readers will be spending hard-earned money and then spending time with our words. What's the reward for them?
Over and over again, Brainard Carey reminded us of the value of asking for what we want and need. If you want a show, ask for one. If you need an audience with a mover in the industry, invite that person to coffee near where the person works or for 10 minutes in a cafe in the building. He understands how we're afraid of rejection, which makes us afraid to ask, but he assures us that we will be astonished at often the answer will be yes.
And in a corollary command, he warns us about underselling ourselves, which artists tend to do. He reminds us to ask for the moon.
If you live in Southeast Florida, you've still got one more chance to hear him: he'll be speaking tonight at Girls' Club Gallery (117 NE 2nd Street in Ft. Lauderdale)at 7 p.m.
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