Swallowing Your Privilege: Writing and Making a Living

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Privilege is a hard pill to swallow, especially growing up in the mythos of Puritanical-pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-idle-hands-are-the-devil’s-plaything-etc. America. But, like the giant antibiotics I’m taking right now for an upper respiratory infection, you have to swallow those enormous pills, all of them. Okay, the metaphor may be clumsy, but I keep getting those damn horse pills lodged in my digestive tract, making my stomach hurt and giving me nausea. Hm, perhaps, the metaphor is just right?

Writer Ann Bauer recently published a piece in Salon about writers being more transparent about where their financial support comes from. She identified two scenarios where a writer was prompted to address how they managed to lead a financially stable life as a writer. Both of these writers come from a background of varying privilege, one an heir to a fortune and the other the only child of successful writers. Bauer then goes on to admit that while she isn’t an heiress nor the daughter of the New York literati, she does have a husband with a stable income that supports both of them. This affords her the luxury of fully committing herself to her writing career.

YA novelist Holly Black (which, by the way, her stuff is great, so go read it) took to Twitter to praise the piece for promoting transparency, but raise the concern that the piece implied that every writer gets by the same waywith a sugar daddy.

She went on to say:

Many of her followers adamantly tweeted about how they too did it this way. Several women tweeted about how they supported their families with their art. After awhile, it all starts to read as a little #notallmen.

So, first of all, let’s start out with a definition of privilege, defined by total badass vlogger and social commentator Franchesca Ramsey.

Privilege does not mean that you are rich, that you’ve had an easy life, that everything has been handed to you and you’ve never had to struggle or work hard. All it means is that there are some things in life that you will not experience or ever have to think about just because of who you are. – “5 Tips for Being An Ally”

Ramsey goes on to point out that while she is a black woman, she is also heterosexual and cis. In sum, privilege is fucking complicated. It intersects with a whole bunch of other things. It ranges in visibility. It impacts us from the day-to-day, to the very way we think, perceive, and interact with our worlds. Lemme share a bit.

The first thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. But coming from a working class family, this was never viewed as viable because there were only two options: starving artist or Stephen King. I had no interest in being either, and not having the privilege of belonging to the creative class, I had no exposure to people who were making a viable living off writing and other creative pursuits. I just didn’t know it was even an option. It has only been in the past year that I have learned that there are ways to making a viable living as a writer even if it’s is not in the romanticized way we often associate with writers. But I have only learned this after having the privilege of moving away from my hometown to attend higher education, both undergraduate and graduate. Doing this and obtaining jobs that required me to have a degree and work with other people with degrees introduced me to what is popularly known as the creative class.

I cannot assume that all of Black’s followers belong to the creative class or have always belonged to the creative class, but many of their tweets read in such a way as to indicate that they have at least familiarity with it. This is a privilege. It may not be the privilege of the New York literati scene, but it’s still a privilege. Knowing the “right” people who are privileged as the “right” people based on the setting they were born into is a privilege. And privilege means something vastly different across contexts and settings.

For example, I grew up “middle class” because my family and I lived in a small, rural town in the American South where “poor” meant the trailer homes out in the boondocks and “rich” meant the few five bedroom homes around the town. Additionally, my parents are small-business owners, which is often considered white-collar work. When I went to college, I quickly learned that in comparison to the many kids who attended schools in the wealthier suburbs of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex that I was considered “working class.” (hick even).

Some thoughts: But, wait, weren’t the hicks the kids who lived in trailers and could only afford to get their clothes at Walmart? We shopped at Dillard’s, dammit! Wait, why are you leaving all the lights on? Were you raised in a barn? Are you trying to bankrupt us with the electricity bill?!

This is all just to show the complexities of privilege. Even something like class or socioeconomic status is variable to an extent. It intersects not only with actual income, but also education levels and the type of work you do. That’s what I mean by privilege being complicated.

I appreciate both Bauer’s honesty and the voices of Holly Black and her followers. Like Ramsey says in her video, social media gives us the opportunity to connect and hear stories from all over the world. I need to hear that people, women and men, are supporting themselves and their families with their art. It’s not just a side job or hobby. I would have loved if growing up people talked openly about their jobs and their varying privileges and didn’t just repeat the tired old refrain “I worked really hard.” What an utterly, useless statement.

It’s kind of like when Ryan Seacrest asks some celebrity their beauty secrets. I just want someone to say in their most pompous voice, “well, Ryan, I have so much money.” Kind of like this:

“Oh, it takes about 4.5 hours and hundreds of dollars and professionals.”
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“You too can look like this.”
Ginnis Tonik

Ginnis Tonik

Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik

One thought on “Swallowing Your Privilege: Writing and Making a Living

  1. Great post! I think transparency is so important when it comes to the art. Which is why I always appreciate those authors who bravely share information about their royalties/advance, not to brag but in the interest of educating people about what its really like.

    Related story – I went to hear Jane Fonda speak at a conference one year and someone asked her how she still looked so good after all these year and her exact answer was “lots of money.”

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