Art and Livelihood: Part One

By Miriam Gabriel

Back aching. Uniform stinking. Phone chirping for a break; it is slow at the Subway store where – trust me – you will seldom eat fresh. It's my ex and best friend Jess calling, whom I heard was in a master's program by now. "Be right back."

Here I was, a Bachelor's-holding, 3.8GPA, published-art-critic, spoken-word-poet Critical Humanities budding scholar and womanist activist, working two close-to minimum-wage jobs on Orlando's tourism district of International Drive, the transitional trap of sites made of cardboard, glitter, lost tourists and equally lost locals looking for last-resort jobs.

There is no monolithic way that will suffice, that will tell this story. Especially for writers, artists, musicians, journalists, literary academics, aspiring generations, from the starving to the striving and everywhere in between, we feel today the tectonic shifts of institutional non-/recognition and communal non-/support for our crafts, our service, fraught with excitement and risk and joy and loss. The loss is especially highlighted today in America, perhaps not visibly enough for the lives affected. From the New York Times to the Huffington Post to class-conscious coming-out blog posts, an overwhelming flock of media telling and re-telling this story is unavoidable for those among us with internet access.

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My biggest concern is that the dryness of cash flow would turn us, contemporary writers, into paper, stealing sundried, watermarked opportunities off one another. My biggest fear is if the virulent pecking order of writing internships, paid and unpaid, based on the accessibility of race, gender, class and epistemology (meaning way of knowing or writing considered superior by a market/institution) become even more unavoidable as more writers buy into it. In other words, I would not want to contribute to a world of writers where we would be mind-washed by a culture's failure to recognize and reward writers – just as much as I would rather not live in a world mind-washed by its success. What can transformative language artists do to re-write this story?

As transformative writers, artists, scholars (academic and/or rogue), journalists and creatives, I believe that we can vigorously hash-out the re-telling of this story for ourselves and for others. As I traverse the worlds of working-class uniforms and socially transformative writing and performance, I also will humbly give voice to the opinion that not only the well-fed and comfortable can afford to ask the important existential questions for the role of a writer today – and to begin to answer them. Here are some opinions I came across.

Maria Popova suggests that a middle way between creative control and capitalist participation is to be found. Lemony Snicket believes in a complete replacement and reimagining of our contemporary economic system. Charles Eisenstein, as an independent scholar, illustrates a re-imagining where money, or gift exchange or both, are made sacred. He writes in his book Sacred Economics that two key aspects of a sacred participation is the uniqueness and relatedness of the gift.

As money usually is experienced as the complete antithesis of both, standardizing the value of a gift in units of dollar and caught in the abstract cloud of Wall Street, so can art transformed by money. But how did you feel when you experienced art that transformed the money, and its value, and the value of art, and of lives, and of a community or collective consciousness?

I couldn't afford the free internships after graduation, and after living in a strict household for so long, I felt like I entered my independence with few "real-world" citations on my resume. Volunteering and joining a non-profit was impossible given the cost of food and shelter. In 2010, Jess called me during one of my Subway shifts to tell me that she loved her graduate program at a progressive, independent Goddard College. She said there is a program there called the Transformative Language Arts. It is made for me, she explained; it is what I already do.

I am a year now into graduating with a masters from Goddard. I travel between the lands of mythopoetic writing, blogging, eating out, settling for Raman noodles, reading independently, filling out unrequited applications, getting paid for freelance teaching opportunities at diversity centers, being tired, considering more college debt and epistemological recognition/rejection in academia, thanking the heavens for occasional support from friends and family (something I didn't always have, some never do), watching Netflix, volunteering irregularly with participatory organizations, meditating for creative emptiness from which loved shapes take form, and working at a homely chinese restaurant as a server.

Can I get an "I can relate?" Or, even better, a "have I got a story for you?" What is your contemporary artist's story? What has the richness of your creativity and resilience, personal and communal and spiritual, discovered thus far?

Write me, write us, your own transformative tale. Write the infrastructure anew. Speak the concrete-splitting garden into being. And doing. Suggest to your community what to do, and take back gift-wrapped suggestions. Not all gift wraps are made of paper. And so let us not shy away from speaking of love and pain and practice into the im/balance of creativity, social change, money/resources, governance, and local and global alternatives as creatives.

Here at the Transformative Language Arts Network, the Buddhist tenant of Right Livelihood (part of the Noble Eightfold Path) is borrowed to signify what we strive to re-imagine and re-cycle into practice. We are committed to creating self-sustainable, community-supported infrastructures that would reap from the brilliantly impactful gifts of transformative language artists, as well as support them back for servicing with their gifts. image

In the spirit of this tenant, I encourage you to contribute to the engaged art of TLA by offering the art of your living, messy or meticulously drawn, survivalist and surrealist and surreptitiously grafting networks of support into the old house. I can be every bit as overwhelmed as I am resilient, overworked as stubbornly daydreaming. Writing dream into reality, for the lives traversing my life, I feel compelled to share my desire, my will, to spring new life into the communal role of transformative writer. I hope you will in return.

Please share your reflections in the comment section below, or correspond with me for consideration of the international TLAN blog community publishing your stories, critical reflections, imagined pathways and other offerings on this crucial topic via mgabriel.miri@gmail.com.

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