Tag Archives: economy

Learning to Say “No,” Without Needing an Excuse

28 Oct
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The other evening, I was having dinner with my upstairs neighbor, E., a dear friend whom I don’t get to see as often as I’d like despite our close proximity. We were catching up on our lives, and I told her about a quasi-recent turn of events in which I’d told someone I wasn’t able to make the commitment they wanted from me and how I’d tried to explain to them why.
 
She stopped me mid-sentence.
 
“You don’t need to explain,” she said. At first, I thought she meant I didn’t need to explain to her. I know she often has a full calendar and as well understands how particular stages of life mean commitments are more difficult to make and keep. I knew she could relate to my experience. Then, I realized she meant that I didn’t need to explain myself to the other person. I didn’t need an excuse for my no. As she suggested, I didn’t have to justify my no.
 
I think this is true in many ways. It’s difficult to say no to others. And so often I say yes to the detriment of my own goals and dreams and time. I put other people’s wants and needs ahead of my own. I do believe there is value in this. I do think there are many times when we are called to go the extra mile for someone. There are times when it’s important to give back, to encourage, to help, to mentor, to volunteer our time and our talents. To set down our own desires in service of someone who really needs it. Still, there is a difference between someone’s real need and someone’s fleeting want. A difference between committing in a way that serves a greater good and getting locked into somethng that is so far removed from one’s own important needs that both parties end up suffering because of it. And there are times when saying no should come not with a justification but with thought and compassion. I know my friend would agree with me. She avidly devotes her free time to volunteer work, to spending time with those in need, to helping the disenfranchised. 
 
Perhaps the difference and the balance comes in not saying an automatic yes to things that hurt one’s own self in the long run.
 
Often because I am a writer and an editor, people come to me with essays, full-length manuscripts, resumes, and book proposals, asking for my advice, my edits, my time. I love helping people. I love hearing their stories. But I do this work for a living. It’s how I earn my income. There are people who pay me to do this. It’s how I pay for my electricity and how I pay for my subway fare and how I pay for my dinner. And unless it is a real need, say someone who has been out of work for a year and needs their resume reviewed so they can get a job to feed their hungry baby, it is unfair of me to not charge them when I would normally charge others. It’s unfair for my other clients. And it’s unfair for me, as, in a way, I am my own client. I am working on a new book. I spend hours sitting at the computer, typing, deleting, revising. I do this on top of my full-time career. I do this on top of my freelance opportunites. I do this on top of the free readings I give to support the biography I coauthored. I do this on top of smaller creative projects. I do this on top of the volunteer position I have leading a writing group. I do this when others are watching tv. When others are getting together with friends. I don’t get paid to write my book. Not yet. And so when someone asks me to look over something they’re working on, I instinctually want to say yes, I want to help them. But it takes time away from my own writing. It would mean saying no to paying freelance opportunities. Or, perhaps it would mean saying no to spending time with friends I haven’t seen in a long. I am honored that someone would want me to review their work, but I shouldn’t have to justify why I can’t help everyone for free.
 
I stubled upon Austin Kleon’s tumblr the day after meeting with E. He’s the author of Steal Like An Artist, and he posted about authors and editors saying no. I think I may steal E. B. White’s line:
 
“I must decline, for secret reasons.”
 
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Friday Links: Helping Others Is More than Wishful Thinking

17 Apr

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Make a Wish matches!

It’s been forever since I did a link roundup! I’ve been trying to focus more on my memoir writing these days, but I’ve run across so many great news stories and websites lately that I wanted to share with you:

  • My friend Gregory Andrus has been taking these stunning photographs of the Jersey Shore. The other day he posted this article about NJ musician Jon Bon Jovi opening JBJ Soul Kitchen in Toms Kitchen, where there are “no menu prices, to help the fiscally challenged, and the restaurants try to serve organic produce whenever possible.”
  • My friend David Sung, the pastor of the Upper East Side-based Christ Resurrection Church, told me about this New York Times article about how Dan Price, who attended the Christian college Seattle Pacific University (which, by the way, offers a creative writing MFA), slashed his $1-million salary to give his lowest-paid workers a raise. The minimum wage at the company he founded, Gravity Payments, is now $70,000/year.
  • Meanwhile, this article reveals that 25% of “part-time college faculty” (and their families) receive public assistance. You know who this includes? Professors. Many colleges rely on adjunct professors, who get paid per class instead of being salaried.
  • My editor Jordan Green is obsessed with Clickhole. Obsessed. I particularly enjoyed the satirical buzzfeed-style listicle “How Much of a Grammar Nerd Are You?” he posted. My favorite line: “I got a tattoo of a comma splice and then had it removed.”
  • Via Pure Wow I discovered the loveliest named jewelry company: Wanderlust + Co. These gold arrow earrings are super cute. Arrows are so hipster.
  • Another company I discovered recently is Moorea Seal. I love the fact that sales from their goods benefit charities and that you can shop by cause. I also love these Make a Wish matches!

Happy weekend!!

Kuros Charney’s “The Humanist” Questions the Value of the Humanities

18 Mar

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My friend and I attended Kuros Charney‘s play “The Humanist” the other night, and it resonated ever so profoundly. Here’s the synopsis:

A comedy about the corporatization of higher education. When his old flame becomes his new boss, a classics professor at a public university must fight to keep his job in the face of state budget cuts and profit motives, while defending the humanities as the foundation of democracy.
The play was put on at Urban Stages and starred J. Anthony Crane, Kate Jennings Grant, Lipica Shah, and Dylan Chalfy. They all have great acting chops, as evidenced not only by their performance in this reading of the play, but in their former credits. In particular, Shah gave a standout performance, appearing so natural in her role of the student that at times I forgot she was acting.
Kuros, a writer I know from living in the same neighborhood in New York City, explores weighty issues of the purpose of education; culture as both an ethnic (read: immigrant) and socio-economic (read: aspirational) descriptor; and relationships between administrators, professors, and students. “The Humanist” shows both the plight of idealistic, intelligent students and their wearying professors in an economic environment in which success needs to be quantifiable. For as much depth as is in the two-hour play, it was also full of humorous and tender moments.
As a graduate of a liberal arts college who studied the humanities — English major FTW! — who also happened to study the classics (I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College), and then went on to get my MFA in creative writing (nonfiction), I believe strongly in the importance of education for education’s sake and art for art’s sake, and yet that’s because I view both education and art as transformational, empowering, and purposeful. I believe that in the long run, education and the arts are just as important to democracy as anything else. Capitalist business models have their place. It’s important to be able to put food on the table. But I believe we can do that while still valuing the studying of Classical Greek.
But maybe I’m a bit biased. 😉

Happy 118th Birthday, Fitzgerald!

24 Sep

442px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921Photo circa 1921, “The World’s Work” (June 1921 issue), via Wikipedia

The man who perhaps best captured the glitz and the glam of the roaring twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Fitzgerald is, of course, the author of The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He was connected with a group of expatriates living in Paris, who became known as the Lost Generation.

It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term the Beat Generation when he was having a conversation with John Clellon Holmes one day. However, in many ways, Kerouac’s content is dissimilar to Fitzgerald’s. F. Scott — named after Francis Scott Key, the lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his second cousin, three times removed (whatever that means!) — glamorized America’s economic boom during the Jazz Age, while Kerouac glamorized the American hobo that sprung up following the Great Depression. Yet, their language, their syntax, is similar in capturing all that jazz.

 

You might also like:::

Life Continues to Be Absurd: Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fizgerald, and Eugene O’Niell

 

The Quotable Greek: All Paid Jobs

29 Jul

All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.

~ Aristotle

Blame Parents for Millennials Acting Entitled: Helicopter Parents Have Trophy Kids Who End Up Boomerang Kids

12 Jun

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Remember my post from last July “Hipsters Hate Driving”? It was inspired by the Reuters report “America’s Generation Y Not Driven to Drive” that did not once use the word “hipster” but rather “millennials.” Well, apparently Ford—as in the car manufacturer—sponsored a panel discussion with my exact title on May 30, 2013.

Flavorwire’s Tom Hawking caught up with Hipsters Hate Driving keynote speaker and millennials expert Jason Dorsey  in the June 10, 2013, article “Flavorwire Interview: Millennials Expert Jason Dorsey Says Young People ‘Really Do Act Entitled.’” At the Ford panel, “The Gen Y Guy” had said: “[Millennials] don’t want commitment. They drop in and out of experiences. They can’t wear a shirt or blouse if it’s photographed. The worst fear of millennials is wearing the same dress twice on two different [social networks],” and Hawkings got to the bottom of whether Dorsey really did think millennials are that shallow.

Flavorwire’s title quote comes from one of Dorsey’s responses:

When you dig into it, you find that a lot of millennials really do act entitled. They really do show up and have these massive expectations and are not willing to work at [things].

The word “entitlement” has come up again and again in discussions about millennials, and Dorsey argues it’s important to delve into the “why.” Of the root causes, Dorsey mention aspects relating to higher education and employment. Valid points, but I want to highlight a few comments he made that may slip under the cracks. Dorsey says, he focuses on trends like when people of the current generation are “moving out [of parents’ homes]” and “the relationship you have with your parents” as well as “views about parenting, especially how they were raised.”

Now we’re getting somewhere! Think about it for a moment: who are the parents of Generation Y? The oldest of them are Baby Boomers, who are “the generation that received peak levels of income” and “are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values,” as Wikipedia put it. The younger parents are of Generation X, often derided as the Slacker Generation, who, facing economic downfall, turned to entrepreneurship. In other words, the shift from Baby Boomers to Gen X itself set the stage for a new generation that would be less traditional in their career outlooks.

In terms of their parenting style, these Baby Boomer and Gen X parents of Millennials have been called “Helicopter parents.” Jennifer O’Donnell defines this phenomenon in her About.com article “What Are Helicopter Parents?”:

The term “Helicopter parents” is often used to define a group of parents who engage in the practice of over-parenting. Helicopter parents are accused of being obsessed with their children’s education, safety, extracurricular activities, and other aspects of their children’s lives. Critics have criticized helicopter parents for over protecting their children and for failing to instill them with a sense of independence and a can-do attitude. Helicopter parents are also accused of over programming their children, and for failing to allow them free time to play and explore on their own.

She goes on to explain the root causes:

But the practice of over-parenting came into its own sometime during the 1990s when parents were bombarded with news stories about child abductions, academic competition, and ultimately, competition in a global economy.

Wikipedia explained the definition further, giving light into how this parenting technique affected children’s habits:

[The term “helicopter parenting”] gained wide currency when American college administrators began using it in the early 2000s as the Millennial Generation began reaching college age. Their baby-boomer parents in turn earned notoriety for practices such as calling their children each morning to wake them up for class and complaining to their professors about grades the children had received. Summer camp officials have also reported similar behavior from parents.

The children of Helicopter parents became known as Trophy Kids. I very briefly touched on this concept in my post “Parallel Generations,” in which I discussed the commonalities between the Lost Generation, the Beat Generation, and Generation Y, when I said:

Since then we’ve seen Generation Y, also known as the Millennials or Generation Next, who are often thought of as privileged Trophy Kids.

Notice the word “privileged.” Ron Aslop wrote the book on the subject: The Trophy Kids Grow Up. As the book’s website explains:

The millennials are truly trophy kids, the pride and joy of their parents who remain closely connected even as their children head off to college and enter the work force.

As Aslop suggests, these helicopter parents have been extremely involved in their Millennial children’s careers. George’s Employment Blog writes:

Although the Millenials often seek out challenging work and high levels of responsibility, these applicants’ parents are highly involved in their kids’ job search.

In a story entitled “Helicopter Parents Hover in the Workplace” on NPR on February 6, 2012, Jennifer Ludden says parents are doing more than just sending their children wanted ads and helping them with their resumes:

With millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child’s behalf.

She states the facts:

Michigan State University more than 700 employers seeking to hire recent college graduates. Nearly one-third said parents had submitted resumes on their child’s behalf, some without even informing the child. One-quarter reported hearing from parents urging the employer to hire their son or daughter for a position.

The result of helicopter parenting is that Generation Y is coming across as entitled whether it’s their fault—or their parents. The Wall Street Journal article “The ‘Trophy Kids’ Go to Work,” published in 2008, said:

More than 85% of hiring managers and human-resource executives said they feel that millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers, according to a survey by CareerBuilder.com.

But who’s to blame: the parents or the kids? In the September 12, 2012, BusinessNewsDaily article “What Gen Y Is Not Getting from Their Parents,” David Mielach, writes:

A new survey has found that 69 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 receive little financial support from their parents.

He goes on to say:

The research found that 75 percent of young adults would rather live independently of their parents even if it is a struggle to do so financially.

Oh really? Then what are we to make of the rise of the phrase “boomerang kid,” which refers to young adults moving back in with their parents? It’s a concept that had such resonance it got its own (ill-fated) sitcom: How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life.  T. J. Wihera wrote in the 2009 Denver Post article “Gen Y: Returning to the Nest”:

The Census Bureau reports that 56 percent of 18- to 24-year-old men and 48 percent of women in the same age bracket were living at home with their parents in 2008, though it should be noted that these numbers also count college students living in the dorms as living at home.

A more recent 2010 article in The Atlantic summed it up in the title “1 in 10 Millennials Living With Parents Because of Recession.” This year, Bloomberg Businessweek launched a business to get boomerang kids out of their childhood bedrooms.

While millennials’ parents may have raised them to be confident, independent-thinkers, and may have done everything in their power to push their little Trophy Kids toward success from a young age, their helicopter parenting techniques may have backfired. Many millennials have become boomerang kids, relying on their over-protective, control-freak parents to continue giving them the direction they have always given them.

In my recent blog post “Shunning Cars … and Life” I touched on the cultural shift that took place around the time of the Beat Generation, saying that while Jack Kerouac went on the road, today’s Generation Y is living a virtual life. Could it be that part of the reason why so many millennials have turned to living life through a computer screen has something to do with helicopter parents who “fail[ed] to allow [their children] free time to play and explore on their own” because “the 1990s […] were bombarded with news stories about child abductions, academic competition, and ultimately, competition in a global economy,” as O’Donnell wrote? In other words, perhaps parents believed life behind the computer was safer and more educational than the alternative of playing carefree outdoors. Children were the gods of their computer worlds, they could control their domain, and they soon became celebrities of social media sites like MySpace [emphasis mine], which furthered the entitlement already instilled in them by their parents.

Of course, these are generalities. Even though he was from the so-called Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, who used the term “hipster” in his writing, could fit the profile of a millennial. His mother, Gabrielle, hovered like a helicopter parent, and he was a boomerang kid, who was living with his mother even in his forties.

“The Mediterranean Is a Miserable Place”

6 Jun

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While surfing the Web, I came across an article titled “Vacationing in the Most Miserable Place on Earth This Summer?” The tag line: “The Mediterranean is a miserable place.”

By the second sentence, the author Curtis Tate, was finger-pointing Greece: “[…] Greece was the flag bearer for the economic and social misery these countries are experiencing.”

There are countries in the news right now for deadly protests, horrific crimes against women, suicide bombers, and warlords. Vacationing in those countries would quite possibly be a more miserable experience.

But wait! Tate’s article actually has nothing to do with vacations. It’s about how people actually living in the Mediterranean–not only in Greece but also France–are unhappy with their current economic situation. His article concludes by saying “[…] China, Brazil, and even Kenya are optimistic for the future….” I have nothing against those countries, and I’m sure they can make lovely vacation destinations, but I’ve heard more people say they’d want to travel to France and Greece. Tate’s article is dangerously misleading.

Tate’s article title perhaps compels readers to click to read but it is offensive in its fear mongering. Unfortunately it appears to be a tactic he–or his editor–has used before:

Is Europe’s Unemployment Worst Than We Thought?

7 Reasons to Fear the Housing Bubble

Is Europe Holding the Rest of the World Back?

Are Chinese Export Numbers Increasingly Sketchy?

To be fair, the actual content of Tate’s “Miserable Place” article is not inaccurate in terms of the statics cited for the outlook of people in the Mediterranean.

The topic is not even his original idea.

Instead of linking to the Pew Research Center’s reports that he cites, Tate links to Drew DeSilver’s article published the day before his, entitled “The Mediterranean: Go for the Beaches, Not the Mood.” Although not identical word for word, Tate’s and DeSilver’s articles have the same content and in the same order. While Tate’s title invokes fear, DeSilver’s title is slightly more optimistic but suggests that the mood will affect one’s vacation.
While it is true that a poor economy can put a damper on tourism because of diminished resources and increased crime, neither Tate’s nor DeSilver’s articles are not making this point. Their articles says absolutely nothing about if and how the economy is affecting vacationers.Instead, Tate remarks that young people are unemployed. Unless he is subtly trying to warn you that you’ll be ordering your frappes from someone in their forties instead of some hot young thang, the fact that young people aren’t finding work right now probably isn’t going to deter your vacation plans. Oh and about that age thing — Jennifer Aniston is 44 and John Stamos is 49. We age well.

DeSilver says, “And, in what should surprise exactly no one, Greece has by far the bleakest outlook.” Hm… “in what should surprise exactly no one,” huh? He’s right: I’m not surprised that the statistics say 99% of Greeks say their country’s economic situation is “very or somewhat bad.” We’re a notoriously melodramatic people. Have you ever read the tragedies?

Does our “miserable” and “very or somewhat bad” outlook on the economy really affect who we are and how we treat our tourists, though?

My sense is that it doesn’t. Certainly, I’m a bit biased, but I’m basing my understanding of Greek tourism on the fact that every non-Greek I know who has visited there has loved it. They’ve found the people to be warm and generous, and they’ve gone multiple times or wished they could.
An article published the same day as Tate’s article was titled “Greece: Athens Tourism Up 10% for First Time in Three Years.” It concluded saying, “Arrivals at regional airports across the country last month showed a 20.5% increase in arrivals of foreign tourists compared to the same month last year.” Earlier this year, the Austrian newspaper Der Standard even hypothesized that this could be “the year of Greek tourism,” according to Capital.Gr.

I did my due diligence and checked out the Pew Research Center’s report. Guess what. The words “travel,” “traveler,” and “vacation” appeared no where in the report.

Greece needs your tourism now more than ever.

Shunning Cars … and Life

24 May

Last summer I relayed the news that Generation Y hates driving. Now it turns out, everybody hates driving.

According to the recent The Exchange article “Why More Families Are Shunning Cars,” the CNW Research of Bandon, Ore., reported that in 2012 the percentage of US households without a car was the highest its been in the 22 years they’ve been tracking this data. The percentage? 9.3%.

Citing a cultural shift, The Exchange says that people today don’t rely on cars as much because:

  • more people live closer to cities and public transportation
  • since they now don’t need a car on a daily basis, these people simply rely on car rentals, which have become more flexible
  • retirees now live in retirement communities that they seldom leave
  • teens prefer to keep in touch virtually than in person
  • the economy is still in the gutter

The economic factor is a fascinating one when it comes to the history of motor vehicles. I’ve been proofreading (what feels like) a lot of books on cars and motorcycles lately and also thinking about cars and road trips while writing Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” and it’s been rather interesting to discover just how much the Great Depression and various wars have had on Americans’ driving habits.

An all-too-brief history:

  • cars and motorcycles are relatively new innovations, and they were making leaps and bounds until the Great Depression
  • there was an economic boom following WWII and suburbs became more popular–think Levittown–so the car became integral to family life
  • during the Cold War, the emphasis on patriotism no doubt led to Greyhound campaigns like this one, featuring a veteran who after fighting for the USA wants to travel to see the entire country, and the tv show/extended commercial See the USA in Your Chevrolet

Life in America hadn’t really changed all that much from that time when the economy improved, people moved out to the ‘burbs, and cars became a fact of life.

Until recently.

There were, of course, recessions here or there after the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until December 2007 that the US experienced the Great Recession or the Lesser Depression, whichever ominous phrase you want to use.

The same day that I read–while I was on the subway, mind you–that more people are “shunning” cars, I also read a Newsday article reprinted in amNewYork as “A growth spurt in NYC” that said, “New York City had the greatest numeric gain in population between 2011 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates out Thursday.” Granted, the article seemed to be specifically comparing growth in cities (see this New York Times article as reference), but unless it’s indicating that people are simply moving from one city to another it seems to suggest that more people are taking to city life. And perhaps that’s the–ahem–driving force behind the decline in car ownership.

So… what do automotive trends have to do with literature?

Arguably the most popular of all authors who wrote about traveling by car and philosophized about the culture of his generation didn’t own a car: as I pointed out in my Hipsters Hate Driving post, Jack Kerouac was a hitchhiker, a bus rider, and a passenger, but rarely a driver, and yet he wrote the great American road-trip novel On the Road.

Now, let’s go back to that point The Exchange made that today’s generation–Generation Y, Millennial, whatever you want to call them–seemingly prefer virtual, rather than interpersonal, relationships. Here’s how The Exchange put it: “Teenagers using social media to keep in touch seem to feel less drawn to the open road than their parents did at the same age.”

The issue at hand is not that today’s generation doesn’t like driving or that they’re moving to the cities in droves. The cultural shift that needs to be more adamantly addressed for both the sake of our personal well-being and literature is that people prefer living life virtually than experiencing it first hand.

Kerouac lived life to the fullest. He famously told Steve Allen that he spent more time experiencing the content that would end up in his book than actually writing it:

ALLEN: Jack….How long did it take you to write On the Road?

KEROUAC: Three weeks….

ALLEN: Three weeks! That’s amazing! How long were you on the road itself?

KEROUAC: Seven years

Of course, as Burning Furiously Beautiful points out, it was only the scroll version on On the Road that Kerouac wrote in three weeks; it actually took him years to write the novel. But that doesn’t change the fact that Kerouac was out there living life, adventuring, experiencing, gathering tales to tell.

If today’s generation spends their life behind the computer screen or is too busy snapping photos for instagram to be present in the moment, that will shape our literature.

“My life is not a story,” Wrote the Memoirist

28 Feb

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After reading about how Benjamin Anastas describes his father as “a brooding Greek beatnik” who is “potbellied from lentils and with a beard down to his solar plexus chakra,” I knew I had to read his memoir Too Good to Be True. After all, I write about  Greeks and so-called beatniks. Too Good to Be True is the story of the breakup of his marriage and the dissolution of his writing career.

Its not told in an overtly emotional manner, yet its frankness is almost unsettling. These days we’re used to people baring all when it comes to relationships, but to tell the truth about money? To admit that even though he’d taught at an Ivy League and published in big-name magazines, he had to dig around in couch cushions to come up with money for his son’s dinner? That’s the type of honesty that’s hard to read because you worry he’s sabotaging his career by admitting his writing isn’t going all that well and putting it out there for editors and agents to read without the distance of time.

But isn’t that the struggle of the memoirist? While many critics claim that memoir writing is egocentric, a memoirist must lay down his ego. He must sacrifice self and present the truth. And while a memoirist may be introspective by nature, the beauty of memoir is discovering the truth along with the author.

This section from the chapter “Old Friends” is worth considering in terms of both memoir writing and living life:

How much of our lives do we write, and how much of them are written for us? I’ve been thinking about this problem lately, looking back over the trail that brought me to this place, and reading my progress at every step along the way—as adrift as I have been from the usual compass points, as unaware of my direction—for signs of an author, for the fingerprints left behind by some great invisible hand. My life is not a story. It has never been a story, not for me, not even while I’ve been taking great pains with this testament to tell it truthfully on the page. I am in too deep to call it a story. It hurts too much for me to understand it. But I am trying.

The contents of the book may center around infidelity and a mid-career slump, but the deeper story, the one that Anastas circles around to, is the relationship between parents and children, the relationship he had with his parents and the relationship he has with his son.

If I could request a follow up to Too Good to Be True, I would ask Benjamin Anastas to write a memoir about his childhood.

“Flophouse Budget Lifestyle”

27 Feb

Remember the other day when I waxed poetic about my submission spreadsheet? Well, I just stumbled upon Aaron Gilbreath’s article “The Business of Tracking Lit Mag Submissions” on Tin House‘s blog. I loved his old-fashioned pen-and-paper advice. This paragraph punched me in the gut:

Accepting contributor copies as payment for something that took six to twelve months to write; subsisting off microwavable Trader Joes food in order to keep your expenses low enough that you can afford time to write; working temp and odd jobs while publishing in magazines that writers respect but non-writers have never heard of – that’s monkey business. To have an adult’s business mindset and the flophouse budget lifestyle of a twenty year old musician seem antithetical, but I think of those things as part of the business of writing: few poets or essayists make enough money to support themselves by writing, but if you’re willing to live frugally and without popular recognition, you can enjoy a gratifying creative freedom by writing for literary magazines.

It’s so important to protect your creative freedom. There was a time when I didn’t. When I’d take little writing jobs here or there just for the few extra pennies in my pocket and the thrill of seeing my name in print. It took a breakup for me to realize I’d been squandering my time and my creative energy. I don’t publish as much these days, but the writing I’m doing is better, more thoughtful, more “me.” It’s worth more, to me.

And yet it’s so difficult to explain what Gilbreath phrases as “To have an adult’s business mindset and the flophouse budget lifestyle of a twenty year old musician” to someone who isn’t an artist.

Especially when you live in New York City, where the first question someone asks you is “What do you do for a living?” and where you’re judged by which neighborhood you live in. Here, a box of pasta costs double of what it costs over the bridge in New Jersey. Being middle class in New York City isn’t really the same as being middle class in other parts of the country.

Take this quote from The New York Times’ article “What Is Middle Class in Manhattan?“:

By one measure, in cities like Houston or Phoenix — places considered by statisticians to be more typical of average United States incomes than New York — a solidly middle-class life can be had for wages that fall between $33,000 and $100,000 a year.

By the same formula — measuring by who sits in the middle of the income spectrum — Manhattan’s middle class exists somewhere between $45,000 and $134,000.

But if you are defining middle class by lifestyle, to accommodate the cost of living in Manhattan, that salary would have to fall between $80,000 and $235,000. This means someone making $70,000 a year in other parts of the country would need to make $166,000 in Manhattan to enjoy the same purchasing power.

Or this one from NY Daily News‘ “N.Y.C. so costly you need to earn six figures to make middle class“:

In Manhattan, a $60,000 salary is equivalent to someone making $26,092 in Atlanta.

And of course, there’s this one from The Huffington Post’s “New York City’s Middle Class Is Facing An ‘Affordability Crisis,’ Says Christine Quinn“:

City Council defines “middle class” as those with a household income within 100 to 300 percent of the area median income (AMI). In New York City, that means an income ranging from $66,400 to $199,200.

I personally don’t have a “flophouse budget lifestyle.” I have a Career. Yes, capital “C.” I enjoy the work I do, and it also affords me the creative space I need to work on my writing without having to make a living off my writing, though I do earn money for my writing.

But, what does “lifestyle” really even mean? Reading and writing, and even being part of the literary community, do not require much money. There was some talk a while back about bookstores considering charging for readings, however most readings in New York City are free. Libraries lend out books for free. Museums have pay-what-you-wish days. There are more literary opportunities for writers in New York City than in many other places in the country, so in some ways it evens out. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

I did think this Onion article was funny, though.