I have recently been reading “The View From Flyover Country” (Thanks, Pads!), and it reiterating and deepening my understanding of many issues.
Primarily for me, the impossibility of writing under capitalism.
Writing is communication. When writing is honest, it is an expression of soul, or if you prefer, an expression of the inner workings of the human psyche. Writing can be painful, revealing, and uncomfortable. In reading honest writing, we come up against difficult truths and enter new areas of thought.
These creations are important, necessary, even crucial in allowing people to think for themselves. Writing allows people to articulate their emotions, express themselves, debate, argue, speak, make themselves heard. Honest writing is a path towards social justice and true independence.
And honest writing does not get paid.
I graduated from a prestigious private college nearly three years ago, Carleton College in Northfield, MN, with a price tag set at $50,000 and rising. The only way I could afford to attend Carleton was on significant financial aid. Even then, I graduated with $10,000 in student loans and considered myself lucky.
I graduated with a degree in biology because I had been told that was a “safer” field of study. It was only in my junior year of college that I began to realize that there were no “safe” fields any longer.
The career-path for biologists not going into medicine included years of graduate study until attaining a PhD at which point one could conceivably begin teaching and hope some day to achieve tenure.
Otherwise you could join a lab, work your way up doing grunt-work and hope someday to afford enough to go to graduate school, attain a PhD and start a lab of your own.
Instead, I decided to follow my childhood passion for writing.
Excellent, the economy said. In writing you get your pick of the following career-paths: you can go to graduate school to get a MFA in creative writing and then scramble for book contracts and teaching positions; or if you prefer, you can get your graduate degree in journalism and then work unpaid internships until you are allowed to work for pay.
I knew I didn’t want to rebury myself in the world of academia, so that left freelancing. As a freelancer you might be able to sell your work for a pittance or more often for no money at all and the promise of a readership. Even then, most publishers want to see some form of credentials because the market is unbelievably saturated with freelance writers and you need to set yourself apart.
This is the cost of capitalism, constantly asking yourself, “How much is my life worth?” Or more accurately, “How much will someone else pay me for my life?” Or if you want to be quite honest, “How much will a wealthy person pay me for my life?”
And always, always, always accepting something less. Working harder to accrue more debt. To work harder. To accrue more debt.
It is brutalizing.
As a human and a writer, it is a game that I can’t win. I can try to write what I think will sell, and therefore produce bland half-hearted fluff. Or I can write what I believe and love and am passionate about and starve.
Because those whom the system is benefiting don’t want to read about how brutal that system is for the rest of us.
I’ve come a long way in the past three years in thinking about myself and my place in this country. I once bought into the idea that I could win eventually if I played by the rules. I no longer believe that is true. The game is rigged to keep the wealthy wealthy, to keep white people in power, to continue sublimating women and non-binary folk to cis-men.
So, I’m done trying to win. I am not going back to school. I am not going to aspire to a high-paying career. I am writing what I have to write because I have to write it.
I do like to eat, though.
My writing is worth something. If you agree, I urge you to pay me for it through my Patreon account (https://www.patreon.com/lafreymiller). Or even better, if you have other artists and writers in your life, people who are bringing you joy and truth and saving your soul, pay them. It’s only a stop-gap until we can find a better solution, but it is a start.
No more unpaid internships. Raise the minimum wage. Abolish prisons. Abolish capitalism.