For some unexplainable reason, I have long believed that talking openly about money issues was a big no-no. Akin to airing your family’s dirty laundry or admitting to being a bed wetter. This is ridiculous. I’m just gonna say it right now: I’m broke. I’m broke as hell. It’s true and I know I’m not alone. Without the support of my husband and sister this last year, I’d probably be in a shelter. I work very hard at what I do. I’m a playwright and teacher. I find my work generally fulfilling and on a good day, super and I barely have anything in my bank account to show for it. And this is painful for me to talk about.
Why the shame? Don’t panic: I’m not gonna go all Karl Marx on you right now; I’ll leave that to economic scholars and the late, great Carson McCullers. But I will say this. Having lived in a capitalist society since birth, I am incapable of looking at my life as an artist and professional and then looking at my bank balance, without some awful, nasty voice in the back of my head shouting: This is your fault! I probably don’t need to say this, but hearing such a criticism isn’t altogether helpful. This comes from the flawed belief that somehow we all began on a level playing field, we all understood early on which careers were lucrative and which ones weren’t, and we made our decisions regardless of how sound those decisions were. Now my prefrontal cortex knows that this is bullshit. If all things were equal and I decided my path in life based solely on money-making potential, my choice to become a writer could be considered clinically insane or sadomasochistic. I’m grateful to say I’m neither of those things...that I know of. Despite how illogical this type of thinking is in reality, my inner critic believes in it and lobs such useful questions at me as “Why didn’t you go to law school?” “Why couldn’t you have been better at math?” or more recently, “Why didn’t you move to L.A. after your TV job?” “Why did you turn down that full-time professor position in the middle of nowhere?” “Why didn’t you write that pilot for Macauley Culkin when he asked you to?” Yeah. Had I followed any one of these paths, my financial situation would probably be a fuck of a lot better.
Or not. Who the Hell knows?
The thing is? At the time when those questions were real ones in my life (OK being better at math was never really up to me), I didn’t want those things. I wanted my freedom. That sounds a bit—dramatic, but it’s entirely true. I wanted the freedom to make my own writing schedule. To do fun shit like going to residencies in Scotland and Iceland and California and New Hampshire. But mostly? I’ve never wanted to worry about freakin’ money.
But that catches up with you. It’s January. It’s 2015. I’ve been living in this city for fifteen years now. Long enough to have given birth to a high-school freshmen. I have some choices to make. Do I stay here for another fifteen? Do I continue on this path? Or cut my way through some deep woods to find a new one? Is the answer obvious? If you know me, you probably know that I recently wrote a young-adult novel called The Distance From Me to You. It was time for a new journey (notice it’s still a writer’s journey; I can only change so much). My book agent, the brilliant and accomplished Laurie Liss, is currently trying to find a publisher for it. I don’t know if this venture will prove financially fruitful. But my hope is that by finding new ways to be creatively fruitful, the proverbial vault of gold out there in the ether somewhere will slowly start to open. I’m also trying something new: I’m doing my best to police my cynicism. To approach the concept of money with openness instead of fear and loathing. And though I may work as many hours in a given week as someone with a standard full-time job and get paid far less--I’m going to start looking at those hours as positive energy flowing toward that aforementioned vault. I’ve heard that abundance begets abundance. Why not? I have the freedom to lament the lack of fairness of my situation or to hope for the opportunities to acquire all that I need.
So I’m saying it. I’m broke and I’m not ashamed! I’ve made choices that didn’t exactly lead me to riches, but they did lead me to some irreplaceable experiences and people that I’m grateful to have in my life. I’ll say this, too: I kinda love being a freewheeling artist but that doesn’t mean I have to accept poverty. And neither do you.
You know what else? We need to fucking talk about money. Let’s break the silence.