Monday, February 9, 2009
You know you're broke when...
....the discovery of a Borders gift card from Christmas fills you with joy because you realize you can use it at the Borders cafe and eat something other than Craisins and stale tortilla chips for lunch.
I understood when I decided to go to graduate school for poetry, as opposed to law or business, that I was committing to a life of financial struggle. Even published "successful" authors have to teach to support themselves (which is fine with me, I love teaching) and book advances are not as lucrative as they used to be. When I went to my five-year college reunion last June and told my fellow classmates that I was starting an MFA program in Creative Writing, most people responded in awe: "Wow, that's so brave!"
I guess it is brave...certainly, my life is more suspenseful than when I worked a regular job and received bi-weekly paychecks. Freelance writing is tough in terms of cash flow-- sometimes you get paid promptly. Ok, sometimes is a little generous. I just got paid last month for a story that ran in Time Out NY in September.
And you can't control when you'll be working -- for instance, I have a pretty sweet gig writing 700-word articles for an internal Smithsonian publication called The Torch. They pay well and it's the government, so the direct deposit does usually come in on time, but things can still go haywire. Like last month, when the person I was supposed to interview for a profile decided to leave the country for three weeks without telling me. I couldn't make my deadline and the story is now indefinitely postponed. Which means $500 less in my bank account, which means readjusting my lifestyle and becoming a Lady Who Lunches at Borders.
I am not implying that I deserve sympathy. I love what I do and I love being in school. Paying off my loans won't be a picnic, but I have a couple of years before I have to worry about that. And poverty does breed creativity -- this past weekend, when my brother (also a broke student) was in town, I found a number of free activities for us: Sam Adams brewery tour and tasting, the Freedom Trail, a friend of a friend's open bar birthday party. We did a lot of drinking and sightseeing and I sent him home on the Fung Wah bus properly hung over, like a good big sister.
I have friends and I have my health, so I guess in George Bailey terms, I'm the richest (wo)man in Bedford Falls. My birthday is coming up -- March 1 -- and I hate getting cash. But I do accept hugs, cards, home-cooked meals and cocktails. I mean, what kind of writer would I be if I didn't have a drinking problem?
p.s. I'll be at the Borders in Copley Square if you want to visit me.