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It's easy to write 100 words in two minutes. At that rate, I could write a 100,000 word novel in 34 hours, four days of solid work. Then I could sell it, and my financial woes would be over.
I know: it's not that easy!
I've been considering goals for 2010. Most of all I need to get out of debt, but scrimping, keeping receipts and going to counseling--these things alone--will not make me happy. A habit involving sacrifice without pleasure is bound to fail.
Creativity is satisfying. How can I write my way out of debt?
I started working for a pipe organ builder in December 2006. It is exacting work, requiring a wide range of skills. A wind chest can't be built a few millimetres out of square as you can a house, otherwise holes won't line up and the pipes won't sound. I spent much of that first winter learning to use the big drill press to make thousands of holes. We usually use tulip poplar for the wind chests because it is stable (won't warp) and cuts cleanly, so the holes aren't full of frayed fibres. Each board ends up like Swiss cheese.
The wood shop where we work was constructed by an organ builder, but not by my boss, by his predecessor. It makes excellent use of natural light, which is valuable when planing even surfaces and making snug joints between boards. Large windows fill most of the northwest wall, overlooking a few other small industrial buildings and a woods beyond. It is like a movie theatre of the weather. In winter, curtains of snow slowly enclose us, partly obscuring the distant shadowy line of trees.
On clear afternoons the descending sun slants through another row of windows high in the southeast wall.
When I started working on organs, I hadn't had steady work for many years. It felt good to earn money of my own again. It felt like power. It seemed I had so much of it, but I must have continued spending more than I had. It's like a kind mania that comes over me, pleasure lacking judgment.
Work was slow for a while. Now we're busy again, but I never manage to get ahead. My credit card is maxed out and the company has stopped increasing my limit. I never seem to have enough money to pay the bills.
I wish work inspired me to get out of bed every morning. My boss is away this week so I can set my own hours. I enjoy the luxury, but have a harder time getting moving. This time of year is especially difficult. Fern frost on the windows imitates tendrils of winter furling around my mind. I coil deeper under the warm duvet. This morning the clock radio suddenly shut off indicating I had been lying, dozing and listening to music for two hours. It was 7:55. I finally got out of bed and went to the living room.
Yesterday I stayed home because I could. I had been planning to take a day off this week to work on creative projects, but it wasn't supposed to be Tuesday. I was slow getting going in the morning. I looked after a few necessary things, contacted people about the knit-a-thon and so on. Suddenly it was 11 a.m. Outside it was snowing and I didn't feel like going out in it. So I didn't, just like that. And all the writing, knitting and housecleaning I had hoped to do on my day off didn't get done.
This week I'm making toe boards for the organ we're building for a Vancouver church. The toe board is the structure where the feet of the pipes rest. It conducts air into each of them. Under each board is a slider, a long strip of masonite, which turns each set of pipes off or on. It is full of holes. When it is on, the holes in the slider line up with holes on the underside of the toe board, allowing air through. When it is turned off, the slider slides, the holes shift and the air is cut off.
I've been singing with the Rainbow Chorus of Waterloo-Wellington for a number of years, and this year we are planning and raising money to go on a trip to Winnipeg in May for Unison, a conference of gay and lesbian choirs from across Canada. I want to retire from the Chorus, but the director encouraged me to go on this trip because I wrote text for a new composition we'll perform there. It is being composed by a prominent Canadian composer.
What I don't like is the constant emphasis on fund raising. Selling stuff doesn't come easily to me.
Yesterday I enjoyed work as much as I can remember for a long time. I need this shift in attitude. Earning money should not be a chore. We spend one third of our lives doing it.
I finished drilling toe holes in the boards for the great division, and began hollowing out channels on the undersides of the boards. To do this I used a plunge router, a heavy hand held tool with a rapidly spinning blade underneath. It cuts wood like cream. It screams. Ear protection is essential. It could do serious damage if it fell in your lap.
I have $26 and change in my wallet. Somehow I have to get through the week on that. I should keep about half of that for gas. Another $10 will go to tips for our lunches at Horizon Restaurant.
I have a few empties sitting by the door. I should run them over the the beer store today and get a refund. That would add a little.
I could ask my boss to pay me for last week when he arrives back from holidays on Tuesday, but somehow the challenge of getting through the week this way appeals to me.
One of the headlights on the Sunfire is out. I picked up a new one from Canadian Tire, but with the weather so cold I wasn't keen on the task of changing it. Finally yesterday I took my toolbox downstairs and opened the hood. I soon realized I would not be able to change it myself. After twenty minutes tinkering I gave up in disgust. On the old cars it was easy. Now they design these things so that only a professional can do it. It makes our lives more complicated and expensive. It's robbery. Somebody should go to jail.
Jesus taught, "You can not serve both God and Mammon." He referred to earthly treasures. Early Christians personified Mammon as a false god of greed, however there is no evidence of such a deity prior to Jesus' time.
What is money? It is not a demon, but power. Wise men have always taught we should prefer the power of wisdom and good example, rather than of currency. We cannot live in this world without money. It is food on the table, social security, a resource to the artist. It is a tool in creative hands, a weapon in careless hands.
Employment is a part of your life you sell. How much is it worth to give up an hour, eight hours, a week of work days? As an artist you value your time as a resource or tool to accomplish whatever you wish. How much money will you accept to give up hours of that resource to the service of someone else's ambition? If you are lucky, that work will be somehow related to your heart's desire. Or it might feel like a great sacrifice so you can buy food to eat and shelter, to live, to make more art.
Yesterday afternoon I used a jig to cut straight lines with the router. A jig is a tool used to control the motion of another tool. It could also be called a template. We have many improvised wooden jigs in our shop.
It required me to stand leaning to one side with my legs braced. It was exhausting. My boss was not around. About 4:00 I began to think about knocking off early.
"Come on, Van," I told myself. "Another half hour, another $8.50."
I have to think that way, but wish I felt more joy in it.
I felt joy yesterday.
A friend dropped by to collect wood chips out of the dust collector. He needs them for his wife's animals, and we have an abundance. We had toe boards laid out and he was curious, so my boss explained a few things before our friend went out back.
I was using the screaming router, so my boss left the shop early. Our friend finished loading just before closing time. When he came through to say goodbye, he asked more questions and I answered.
In my own voice I heard enthusiasm for tools, wood and its texture.
My boss pays me on Fridays, and I'm used to once a week. Last week he was on holidays so I didn't get paid, although I worked. Tuesday, his first day back, he said he intended to pay me, but it didn't happen.
My credit card is maxed out and my chequing account overdrawn to the max. I started the week with $27 in my wallet. I spent $10.01 on gas, $10 on tips for lunch, and $5 on a glass of chardonnay when I met my writing partner on Thursday evening at The Cornerstone.
Yesterday I got paid.
Movies are something on which I sometimes spend money impulsively. I haven't done it in a long while, but yesterday afternoon I went and laid out $40 I really could not afford for
A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
and the Korean release of
. It might have been alright if I had just bought the first two on the two for $20 deal, but
was more expensive. This frequently happens when I finally have spending money after having gone without for a while. Having cash in my wallet makes me feel rich, but I am not.
I used to make a living from writing, and wish I could again. I was unhappy working as a media relations writer for World Vision Canada. The organization's top-down structure was toxic. I would hide in my cubicle playing computer solitaire part of the day. I went to a job counsellor who told me I was in the right field, but ought to be self-employed. But leaving the job at that time was a mistake. The real problem had more to do with my personal life (I had not come out yet, and was in an unhappy marriage).
The Rainbow Chorus has commissioned a new choral work to perform at Unison Festival in May. The commissioning committee selected my poem, "Starlight", as text. Last summer they commissioneded Mark Sirett to compose the music. It has been in the works for months. Last week Mark contacted me for formal permission to use the text when he sends the composition to publishers. He said we will share royalties. Sunday afternoon he sent the finished score with a MIDI file. Danny and I listened through. I wept when it got to the part about pinpoint fires shining across time and space.
At work this week our focus has shifted away from routing. Now we're concerned with gluing together the toe boards with their respective veneers, thin sheets of wood that cover the channels. Glue must be applied quickly and amply to large surfaces, then the two pieces are put together, and the assembled board is placed in a press for an hour.
Meanwhile I prepare another set of boards, cleaning up the holes and channels. A soldering iron is used to burn off frayed bits of wood around the cut edges. Otherwise these could eventually come loose and block air channels.
A credit card is a small piece of plastic people carry around in their wallets as if their lives depended on it. If aliens landed in our society and tried to figure out what's going on, this would be one of the most puzzling aspects. So much suffering and responsbility, power and weakness is bound up in these little cards.
I've been terribly in debt for a few years now. I had hoped that when I got back to steady work I would be able to make headway, but so far I continue to max out my account every month.
Every month I manage to make the minimum payment, but then I end up using the account balance to pay for necessities like gas and food. I guess this is what is called rolling debt. Some people like living this way, but I don't. I constantly worry about the system breaking down.
What am I afraid of? Running out of money, bankruptcy, being out of work at that point where I have nothing to fall back on and no way to pay the bills, having to give up the phone or the internet.
Ending up on the street.
With the New Year I decided to follow Leo Babauta's 6 Changes Method (to simplify your life and improve productivity). One of the goals I have adopted for 2010 is to establish and maintain a budget.
I got paid yesterday. I had worked 34.5 hours this week so it was a decent cheque. I finished making my Visa payment for the month and kept a little in my bank account. Phew! It's nice to have a little leeway again, but I can't afford to spend anything on extras because next week's cheque will go entirely to paying February's rent.
Yesterday was the 15th anniversary concert of the Rainbow Chorus. Danny came for the weekend and our friends Mike and Bryon also came yesterday, which made for a very special day. They treated us to dinner at the Greek Garden beforehand. We all went to the after-party at Boston Pizza, where Danny treated me to drinks and a plate of oven-baked chicken wings. So I didn't spend much money, and got spoiled.
The performance went pretty well. People tell me the audience liked my choral arrangement of "Pretty Things" by Rufus Wainwright. Maybe. It's hard to be objective.
A friend of a friend called last night. A few months ago when I didn't have much work, my friend had told this man and his wife I am handy with renovations. Now they want to get around to their home improvements and decided to call me.
My initial thought reaction was, "I am too busy now." But this is the kind of job I need to be willing to pick up in order to make extra money and pay down the debt. Besides, In the long term there is little promise in organ building, so I need the experience.
The big bill I had to pay this month was the final instalment in my auto insurance, $360. Now I won't have to worry about it again for six months. I never forget what needs to be paid. A constant checklist rolls through my head: Guelph Hydro, Rogers, Bell, Visa, Business Depot, the rent.
Then there is the list of other things I need or want, most of which keeps getting deferred. Last night on the way home from work I wanted to stop and buy a bottle of red wine. I had to tell myself no a dozen times.
Early last year I started rewarding myself for writing in my journal. Every day I wrote, I put a loonie in a jar. At the end of the month I had twenty-some dollars to spend on whatever I wanted: maybe a book or a bottle of wine. It worked, but writing should be its own reward.
Keeping a budget, on the other hand, is no fun. This year I plan to establish and begin following a budget. I should use the dollar-a-day method as a built in reward for logging expenses at the end of the day.
It's a wintery morning. The streets are slick and streaked with white. Snow streams through glowing pools under streetlights. The radio calls for a high of -4C.
People I know are going away to places warm. Brenda and Judy leave this morning on a trip to Florida. Bonnie is spending two months in Airzona. Dave and a friend are flying somewhere in the Caribbean.
I would like to have enough extra money to travel. I'd love to go somewhere warm in winter. I've never been to Arizona, California, Mexico or the islands. Last time I visited Florida was in 1984.
It takes a week to pay the rent. I need 36 hours to earn $600. Tuesday is always a short day, because I leave early for a volunteer shift. The other four days I must average seven-and-a-half hours (8:30 to 4:30 with a half hour lunch). Monday I worked late, hoping to come out ahead.
But yesterday's weather foiled the plan. It was bitterly cold with snow squalls. Les suggested I leave early, and I wanted to get home before dark so I left the shop at 3:30 and crept home through a whiteout.
My boss bought two new toys this week: a portable table saw and a router. He spent all yesterday modifying the router to fit a jig, while I puttered away on the project.
At 3:50 he sprang up and declared, "I'm finished!" then said I could stay long as I liked.
"I'll stay until 5 and clean up," I said.
By the end of the week there are wood chips and sawdust everywhere. I spent an hour sweeping the quiet shop. Long afternoon sunlight slanted through the high windows, making it easy to see debris scattered across the concrete.
Sometimes when I'm hiking along the Bruce Trail I notice a side trail I want to take. I suppose if I lived in the Rockies and had lots of spare time, I might see mountains I wanted to climb. When you concentrate on the journey itself rather than the desitation, you have time to tackle those obstacles.
This month I have written a path through one of my personal obstacles: my attitude about employment and finances. It is a high mountain, but I think this short pilgrimage has put me in better shape. Work is time is money is power.
The Tip Jar