Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's 3 AM. Do you know what your money is doing?

I have to admit, when I saw the headline, "Madoff Takes Responsibility," I snorted. Dude, it's too late. The only way that Madoff could potentially redeem his debt to society would be to donate his brain to science, in the hope that we can isolate the Sociopathy Factor, and eliminate his kind from future generations. Lame journalism reached a new nadir as the writers solemnly decribed the millions of dollars worth of assets that are being liquidated in order to repay billions of dollars in judgment. His wife only gets to keep her $2 mil in cash, poor thing.

Neither am I particularly a fan of the legions of articles and comments that blame Madoff's victims for being victims. These people, some of them, are having a hard enough time without being excoriated for projected character flaws by others who, at bottom, are just afraid it might happen to them.

But then, I have to wonder--what did these people think their money was up to?

Back when I was an eager, idealistic adolescent, I realized that as a member of a First World nation, the biggest effect my existence has on this planet, for good or ill, is what I do with my money. I can recycle, compost, agitate against plastic bags and for 'green' energy every waking moment of my life; I can work in a 'healing' profession, I can be kind to strangers, children and homeless people. But when global economic conditions are such that a $25 micro-loan can make the difference between starvation and prosperity for an entire Third World family, I have to accept that my point of maximum global leverage is financial, even if I'm at the extreme low end of the income curve in my social circle.

That means that when I get an IRA rollover when I leave my civil service job, or a windfall from a relative, I need to be careful what I do with it. Not only because I ought to be planning for 'retirement' (as if--I'll be painting, blogging and giving meddling health advice until I drop), but because all of my vaunted values are mocked if my money is off pillaging rain forests and propping up brutal regimes while I sleep.

Like many people, I am not consumingly fascinated with the ins and outs of finance, trading or big business. I'm perfectly happy to park my money with a dependable expert and check on it every now and then. But it seems only common sense to park it with some people who are going to do a rainforest and brutal-regime filtering process before they use it. That is why, for the last ten years, my miniscule IRA has been invested with Sentinel Investments, formerly Citizen's Funds, a sustainable investment firm that looks at the real-world consequences of its actions, not just the bottom line.

(N.B.: Sentinel Investments is not paying me a dime for writing this post; in fact, they don't even know I'm writing it.)

I haven't suffered financially more than anyone else for doing this. The paper value of my IRA dropped by about half when the stock market did, but during the years when the market was doing well, it did better. The fact is, not only is myopic greed a lousy principle on which to run a society, it's not even a good investment strategy. You might make a buttload of money smuggling guns to thugs, but you still run the risk that a rival thug might torpedo both your profit margin and your boat captain.

So in the end, I have to assign at least some responsibility to Madoff's bilkees. Not for not understanding investment banking; for trying to get a lot of money without ever thinking about what money is for. Money is not a moral force, in and of itself; it is merely a tool for doing things. And it behooves those of us who have it to take responsibility for what those things are.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Black Art

Received in the mail today, in an imposingly funereal envelope:

For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you. The Black Card is not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it is the ultimate buying tool.

The Black Card is not for everyone. In fact, it is limited to only 1% of U.S. residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every cardmember.

• Limited Membership

• 24 Hour Concierge Service

• Exclusive Rewards Program

• Luxury Gifts

• Patent Pending Carbon Card

•Annual Fee $495

Say, wouldn't it be fun to actually get one of these, use it to go on a whirlwind tour of the major continents, and then declare bankruptcy? I could easily write up an Artist Statement about the insidious destructiveness of capitalism, the cultural meme of excess, and the arrogant disconnectedness of the First World. I could ironically call attention to global warming by contributing directly to the problem, flying around the planet on a carbon card.

I would, of course, extensively document my travels and the ensuing bankruptcy (using cutting-edge photographic, video and computer equipment, which I will also charge to my Black Card account), and then someone like Larry Gagosian, Mary Boone or Jeffrey Deitch will have plenty of performance artifacts to sell to the kinds of people who would get this card for real. If they do their job well enough I'll even be able to resuscitate my credit rating, so that I can do it again and again, finally achieving a successful art career.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How to Sell Your Art In Manhattan for Free

Rumor has it that certain Chelsea galleries are renting out space by the hour, in a sort of Recession Special that is allegedly going to help artists make ends meet in these desperate times. They must suppose that there are still a few thousand artists in the city who have not figured out that the only people who come look at, and occasionally buy, your art when you are not represented by a Big Important Dealer are your friends, and you can invite your friends to your studio for free.

But what if your studio happens to be in a Scary Neighborhood, as so many studios are, and your friends with disposable incomes refuse to visit you there? It so happens that there are other options than renting out six feet of blank wall in a failing gallery on a weekend when all the collectors are in the Hamptons. So here is some practical advice, from an artist who has Actually Been There.

On the sidewalk at West Broadway between Prince and Spring, Saturdays and Sundays year-round, that is. You might also try Fifth Avenue near the Met, or Union Square, but I don't personally know the scene, so don't blame me if you get roughed up by the regulars.

1) Stake your space before 8:30 AM.
You will need a folding table or a display rack to do this. Set it up on a section of sidewalk between the foot-traffic zone and the curb. Do not set up directly in front of the doors of any retail establishment; they will call the police and have you removed if you do. Do not leave any objects of value, such as art, on the rack or table while you are off napping in the car or sitting in the café.

2) Do not expect any foot traffic before 11 AM.
Tourists and other people with disposable income sleep late on weekends, rather like you used to do, when you had a day job and a dealer.

3) Shiny, shiny, shiny.
Artworks that catch the eye of tourists and fashionistas need to be bold, colorful, and executed in a recognizable (read: retro) style. Picasso knock-off prints do very well, as do photographs of NYC landmarks. Small paintings of dogs and flowers are also great sellers, as long as you put in enough consecutive weekends to build up a following.

4) Simplicity of display is essential.
Remember, you are competing with the chaos of a Manhattan retail district sidewalk, and all that that implies. Don't try anything subtle or fussy. Use a simple black backdrop and a vertical display format; sandwich boards are the most stable. Bring folding chairs, suitable attire for the weather, a friend and a sense of humor. Make sure that everything is firmly anchored, especially on windy days; find or bring a few large rocks to chain your table to.

5) Be consistent and professional.
Don't share a display rack with an artist whose style is utterly unlike yours. Don't show art from every phase of your creative development. Don't show anything on unstretched canvas, unless you're just there to drink beer on the sidewalk with the other losers.

6) Package yourself.
Have business cards with your website and your etsy.com store available. Keep works on paper in plastic sleeves. If you can beg, borrow or steal a credit card machine, do so; people spend twice as much with half the consideration if they can charge it. Come to think, you may be able to use PayPal from your cell phone; do the research.

7) Cover your behind.
Go to the irs.gov website and register for an EIN. It should come in the mail within a couple of weeks; keep it to show to the cops if they pester you with talk of business licenses. Be nice to the other artists on the street, even the Chinese guys selling kitschy framed photos mass-produced in China, and stay out of political and territorial wars as much as possible. Remember: the fiercest battles are always waged over the smallest stakes. A few square feet of sidewalk is not worth a night in jail.

8) Do not expect to be discovered. Especially, do not expect to sell your work for anything like Art World prices.
Works on paper move for between ten and forty dollars; paintings for between fifty and a hundred and thirty. Feel free to price them higher, but be aware that you will be sitting there for a long, long, long, long time.

9) Tell your friends.
You may think you're going to display your brilliance for a world of ignorant strangers and bring them to their knees, but round about three o'clock you're going to be very glad to see a familiar face, even if it's only your brother-in-law the IT guy. Hey, don't IT guys make pretty good money? Do his walls need something on them?

10) Appreciate your day job, if you've got one.
Isn't it great to be getting a paycheck for sitting behind a retail counter in a temperature-controlled environment, or for washing dishes, or scrubbing toilets, or painting houses, or laying tile? Isn't being an artist kind of overrated?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, June 26, 2009

Revenge of the Bourgeoisie

Q: "Do you paint portraits or landscapes?"

A: Only when I'm fundraising.

Face it: most people have no interest at all in contemporary art. I cannot count the number of times I have been asked this question when introduced as an 'artist.' It used to mean misery for all of us, as I embarked upon a condensed, tortuous and unappreciated précis of twentieth century art history, until I finally learned to answer with, "I paint with oil on linen. They're big. Here's my website if you're interested."

Moreover, as a painter who attempts to expand the boundaries of self with work that does not belong to a recognizable genre, I endure a significant amount of contempt and dismissal within the contemporary art world itself. Spokespersons from Big-Ass Art Institutions would never admit it, but there is a not-so-subtle bias against painters when it comes to awarding grants, residencies, solo exhibitions and places in the Whitney Biennial; the unspoken but loudly implied subtext is, "God, another painting. That's so boring, so bourgeois, so Been Done Already, so over."

Of course, painting still gets shown; the problem is that it is often shown as a conceptual conceit, as an interestingly retroactive quirk, amongst the sea of progressively quirky Conceptual Installations. The bigger problem is that such painting is often really bad painting, shown for political and financial reasons, not for any integral qualities of form or execution. The plain fact is that the vast majority of contemporary art impresarios have no earthly idea what a good painting looks like, and couldn't care less.

But now that the market is crashing, galleries are closing left and right, and funding for non-profit institutions is drying up, these institutions are perfectly happy to try to re-capitalize on the backs of the lowly portrait painter:
Don't get me wrong, I love Smack Mellon as much as the next guy, but isn't it a little ironic for an organization that cleaves toward site specific installations, and has little interest in contemporary painting, to rely on painters for fundraising? Please, tell me I'm wrong.
I used to assume, naïvely, that the contemporary art world was a hierarchy like any other--a climbable meritocracy. You'd start out as a student, learning technique and getting to know your peers; you'd exhibit in group shows, apply for grants and residencies, and as your work got stronger you'd win some of them. Art dealers and curators, always on the lookout for new talent, would discover your work in registries, open studios and group shows. They'd remember it from panels. Eventually, if you did good work and paid your dues, you'd build yourself a modest career--not necessarily Fame, but regular shows, a dealer, an income.


The truth is a lot darker. The real forces which determine the shape of the Art World hierarchy are simple: "I'm More Special Than You" and "Who's Got the Money." It is constructed of creative cul-de-sacs, mediocre minds, territorial spite and disingenuous protestations of 'fairness and equality.' This is why painting is despised, but never absent.

Because people like paintings. Ordinary, dull people go to look at them in galleries, and hang them in their homes. They get inordinately excited about the idea of having their portrait painted. They like beauty, and think that they have some idea of what it is.

This is well-nigh unendurable for people whose entire reason for being is to be Different and Superior. These people must seek out and produce the arcane, the cryptic and the self-righteous; they must speak and write in polysyllabic gibberish; they must, above all, look with contempt upon the bourgeoisie. At the same time, they must convince a handful of staggeringly wealthy people that they share this superiority of being and perception, in order that they may fund their lifestyles.

It wouldn't do for these patrons to spend billions on objects that a construction worker or a soccer mom might look upon freely, appreciate and enjoy; thus, the piles of inaesthetic goop, fortified by hermetic rhetoric and a total absence of standards. For if once you admit to the existence of Quality, what's to prevent hordes of outsiders from achieving it, and thus devaluing your investment in the Few?

So now that the sustaining patrons are much less wealthy, look for painting to come back into style. Or at least, look for affordable art auctions containing art that you, the Common Person, might actually like.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cash and Platitudes

So I'm now on Twitter. I resisted for almost as long as I resisted getting a cell phone, but the Iranian Twitter Revolution and my wellness networking group convinced me. The wellness networking gals said, "It helps your business; you can tweet at your clients when you're having a special, or have a free booking," and that made some kind of sense. Before that it just seemed like extreme narcissism.

About ten minutes after I signed up for my account, I had four followers. Then seven, then fifteen. I was thrilled. Finally, the lurkers were coming out of hiding! People actually DO read my blog! And now I get to find out who they are!

Then I started taking a closer look at profiles. Turns out about half of them were people doing ''affiliate Internet marketing," which is basically social-networking spam, and the others were spewing bulk platitudes "in order to raise the consciousness of the world." Although my loathing for purveyors of platitudes is well known, I signed up to follow a few of them anyway. Sometimes a timely platitude is all right, provided it's coming from a neutral source in a timely manner.

Because like so many others at the moment, we are having serious financial Issues. We have a new baby, a $10,000 deductible, and have been living off credit since January. Both of us are working part-time jobs at the New York Minimum Wage, for lack of anything else. Both of us wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to get back to sleep for worrying, despite new-baby exhaustion.

So the platitude that rather caught my eye was from Jim Kitzmiller: 'Suffering is wanting what you can't have or resisting what you must have. Love what is.'

That, at that moment, helped.

What helped a little less was wasting time on affiliate marketing websites that promised 'Cash for free! Just an hour a day set-up time, and you can make thousands!'

These things are always tempting to look into, even if you Know Better. And maybe they do sort of work, sometimes, for some people.

But I must accept that I'm not one of those people. Because every time I contemplate doing something like that, I come smack up against my True Nature, which is that I cannot, cannot, cannot put energy into creating a system that generates cash without creating value.

Affiliate marketing is about using people, in the most direct and cynical way. You get a Twitter account, 'follow' several thousand people, get them to 'follow' you back, and Tweet about sites which pay you for advertising them. Yuck. If I'm going to 'follow' anybody, it's because I actually like them, and actually want to pay attention to their lives. I can't do that for thousands of people.

So now is the time to econclude with some sort of platitude, about Value, and Alignment, and What Really Matters. But I can't really think of one, and anyway they're coming at me in tweets at about two or three an hour.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

WTF? department

From a recent 'Art&Education' press release:
One intuition motivating this series of talks has been the feeling that there is something deeply problematic about an approach that narrows the possibilities of engaging with art down to the procedures of decoding and encoding its inscription onto the symbolic order. That is: the idea that the primary task of art, as a strategical operation, was to provide conceptual legitimations (to satisfy or lay down the law, among other things) by constructing references that situate the work within an established economy of meaning. No matter how critical this approach may initially have intended to be, it has effectively proven to be coextensive with—and an involuntary ideological support of—an attitude towards art production that is indeed merely strategical and solely about plotting ways of inscribing a practice into the symbolic order, be it through the suicidal heroic mode of bringing the game of art to its logical conclusion by explicating its rules (old-school modernist conceptual) or through the somewhat more versatile mode of implicating a work within its given economies of referentiality as rarified secrets.
Translation: Maybe artists shouldn't be so freakin' obscure. Because I don't think anyone is paying attention anymore.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Abortion: The Non-Debate

In the immortal words of some pathetic character in a Muriel Spark novel, 'It is with great trepidation that I take up my pen,' to make a few observations on the unending, unresolvable question of you-know-what. Ordinarily I don't get involved. My private opinion on abortion is that it sucks, and that banning it is not the way to end it. Your mileage may vary; I certainly will not try to alter anyone else's opinion.

No, I merely have a couple of observations, speaking as a woman who has now traversed two pregnancies. The second resulted in the most objectively wonderful baby ever conceived in all of time :-). The first miscarried.

The first time I was pregnant, I felt like a glass bubble full of magic. I tiptoed around in a state of exaltation. I made sententious speeches to long-suffering friends, about how my attitude toward abortion, gender, politics and life in general was transformed; how I could never, ever conceive of having one, even though I had been pro-choice for twenty years previously.

Then I came down with a raging fever and strep infection. I was terrified, particularly as a dear friend had recently lost a pregnancy under similar circumstances; I hastened to a doctor, got a blood test and some antibiotics, and miscarried eighteen hours later. The doctor later informed me that my hormone levels indicated that the pregnancy had probably terminated before I'd come down with the strep.

Whatever. I didn't want to talk about it, mainly because if I didn't talk about it, I was okay. It was only when someone said something like "I'm so sorry" that I had an emotional breakdown. It is worth mentioning, however, that exactly one regular reader of right-wing extremist web fodder bothered to say, "I'm so sorry." The rest either ignored the issue entirely or said actively cruel things.

But whenever I did tell people, I discovered that first trimester miscarriages are incredibly common. At least sixty percent of the women I confided in replied with, "Yes, I had one too." It almost came to seem that a miscarriage was a prerequisite for a healthy pregnancy. People just don't talk about it.

So when anti-abortion activists count every first trimester abortion as 'one murdered baby,' this is, on the most fundamental level, not true. A pregnancy in the first trimester is a potential baby, whether abortion is legal or not. Nature is not moral; it is profligate, extravagant and wasteful. It flings the seeds of life around with wild abandon, letting them blossom or rot where they fall, without a focused plan. Human intention is not the master of all.

When I got pregnant again, I didn't tell anyone for quite awhile. My attitude was, "okay, we'll see." When I had my first ultrasound and they said, "There's your baby," I said, "Really? Are you sure? Is it alive?" I got attached gradually, fearful of another betrayal.

But this one was, of course, wildly successful. Which brings me to my second observation; that bringing a baby to term is, in the most literal sense, labor. It is really really hard. I didn't expect to get so stupid; I lost nearly all creativity, mental acuity and physical power while I was pregnant. I didn't make art, I scarcely wrote, I got breathless going upstairs. By my eighth month I was unable to give a massage without almost passing out. Pregnancy was comparable to building a house with my bare hands, in terms of the drain on my mental and physical resources.

It would behoove anti-abortion activists, then, to recognize this fact if they are truly interested in ending abortion for good and all and forever. Expecting a woman to undertake this task without physical, financial or emotional support for the duration is absurd. Too many (mostly male) persons seem to believe that babies are things which just happen if you don't interfere. The reality is a bit more complicated than that.

Birth Story (repost)

'Behind every baby is an unbelievable story.' This post will be featured in Baby Week, a Discovery Health series, to air Sunday-Friday, June 14-19 at 8P e/p on Discovery Health. Episode premieres are:
Twins By Surprise Sunday, Sunday, June 14, 8P e/p
Little Parents, Big Pregnancy Monday, June 15, 8P e/p
Births Beyond Belief Tuesday, June 16, 8P e/p
Obese & Pregnant Wednesday, June 17, 8P e/p

As I write this, my beautiful daughter Olivia Grace is snuggled against my chest, sound asleep in her baby sling; hopefully she will remain that way long enough for me to finish this post. She was born on March 14, 2009, at 3:58 PM, weighing in at nearly 10 pounds. We are both as healthy and happy as we can be.

Warning: pregnant women and squeamish persons, this is all you need to know. Please stop reading now.

Before Olivia was born, I did everything in my power to prepare for a healthy, natural childbirth. I chose Clementine Midwifery as my care provider, did regular prenatal yoga at Park Slope Yoga Center, hired my wonderful yoga teacher Sasha as my doula, and attended childbirth classes with Jada Shapiro at Birth Day Presence. I cannot recommend all of these people highly enough. I got every bit of care and medical attention that I required, plus an enormous amount of practical information and emotional support. I am forever grateful that I ditched the insurance plan that placed me with a male OB/GYN from the Ukraine who was only in the office once a week, and who made me wait in the waiting room for two hours to tell me I was fine.

The pregnancy went mostly very well. As a bodyworker, I see a lot of pregnant women, and I know just how uncomfortable pregnancy can get; I was grateful not to have agonizing lower back pains, excessive nausea, insomnia, gestational diabetes, or hideous acne. I gained the minimum healthy amount of weight, got breathless going upstairs, and took a lot of naps. Childbirth classes were fun, and although I didn't write off the possibility of getting an epidural, I was game to try it without the drugs.

The only thing I wasn't prepared for was not to go into labor at all.

A week past my due date, I started trying folk remedies to bring it on. I got an acupuncture treatment from Laura at Providence Day Spa. I went for walks, and bounced interminably on my yoga ball. I ate spicy food and got a pedicure. Joe and I tried those other things that are supposed to induce labor, wink wink. The baby didn't budge.

The problem was that she was turned around--'occipital posterior presentation'--and wasn't dropping down. As time went by, she got bigger and bigger, to the point where she wasn't able to drop. My body being wise, it simply refused to push a rock against a hard place, and waited for someone to come and do something about it.

Two weeks past my due date, I was induced. I labored for 9 hours without drugs, then broke down and asked for the epidural. Pain is one thing; unending pain without purpose is quite another, and at that point I could sense that the contractions weren't accomplishing anything.

It took 45 minutes to install the epidural catheter, which wasn't fun. They kept stabbing me in the spine, asking "do you feel that?", taking it out and trying again. The last time they hit a nerve which led down my right leg, which was REALLY interesting, but after some twiddling it worked well enough. I was able to get the first sleep I'd had in more than 24 hours.

Eight hours later, after the maximum dose of pitocin had failed to bring the baby any closer to emerging, I agreed to a c-section. They shipped me to the OR, strapped me into the Jesus Christ position and extracted my baby. As soon as we were introduced she recognized my voice and Joe's voice; her eyes moved toward us and she stopped crying. I asked her if the name 'Olivia Grace' was okay with her, and she consented.

Then the epidural catheter fell out.

I know the catheter fell out because when the anaesthesiologist came in two days later to remove it, it wasn't in. I know that it fell out then because I started feeling the c-section in ways they hadn't warned me about. "Ow," I said, politely. "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow. That's very violent."

They whisked Olivia away and started feeding me drugs, seemingly at random. "Is this better?" they asked.

"Well, maybe a little. Ow." They kept apologizing for putting little pinpricks in my shoulder, which I found ironic and amusing. The anaesthesiologist said, "we usually don't use this one, because it causes hallucinations, but it works as a last resort. Here come the sixties!"

Then the world exploded.

As those who are close to me know, it is my belief that the physical world is an illusion, a projection of the mind, and that reality is complete spiritual unity. This ceased to be a theoretical proposition and became my direct experience. "I am foam," I declared.

I expanded in all directions, becoming one with the Universal Mind, at the same time as a small part of me recalled that there were these things that thought of themselves as people, who were born and got old and got married and died, and wasn't that ridiculous. They sent each other silly coded messages on something called "the Internet" when they could communicate totally and directly at any moment. This might have been a fun game, except that along the way, a lot of suffering happens.

Suffering was a particularly pertinent issue to me, because they started stuffing my uterus back into my abdominal cavity, which was startlingly painful, given that it was only going back where it belonged. "Burrrrrrrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnn," I remarked. "Flame. I am flame. Burrrrrrrrnnnnnnnnn. Why did we invent consciousness? This is a STUPID experiment. We need to stop it RIGHT NOW."

The OB/GYN who performed the surgery told me later, "You were one of the colorful ones." I moved on to shouting Course in Miracles lessons at the top of my voice, and told Joe (who was, of course, part of my own mind, as was the midwife, the anaesthesiologist, and the rest of humanity) "You are the ONLY person I would do this for. Fuck those Christians." The six parts of my mind which were in the operating room at the time all chuckled.

All in all, if every woman who gave birth or had a c-section went through this, there would soon be no more people.

After an indeterminate period of time, my individual identity began to reconstitute itself, in a dim ugly room. One part of me coalesced into a midwife, another into my mom. The midwife appeared to understand when I confided that I loved her, that we were one, but my mom persisted in using this silly 'telephone' thing to 'call other people.' She also kept asking me if I wanted her to leave, and informing me that I'd forget she'd been there, which was just dumb, and I told her so.

Really I was quite disturbed, given that in the act of bringing a child into 'the world,' I had simultaneously gained proof that both 'the world' and 'children' didn't actually exist. Although I was unhappy that Olivia had been spirited away into the NICU because her glucose was crashing, I recognized that it was probably a good thing for me to get used to being me again before taking responsibility for her.

At 9 PM they finally got me installed in a postpartum room and brought her to me for a few minutes. They wouldn't let me keep her; they said it was 'a privilege' that I got to see her at all, which was a little rich. I put up a fight but was overpowered, and they took her away again. I was attached by an IV to a box which beeped all night, keeping me awake, and caused my feet to swell up to the size of small watermelons.

Later, of course, everything was fine. Intense, agonizing pain aside, the week of Olivia's birth was one of the happiest of my life. Midwives and doula seemed to expect me to be sad that 'things hadn't gone as planned,' but as far as I am concerned, things are ducky. If this were 1850, I'd be dead, instead of having a gorgeous, healthy 10 lb. baby and a small surgical scar; why, then, would I waste a second on natural childbirth regrets, let alone sue the hospital for gross negligence in the matter of the catheter?

Unless, of course, they decide to get ugly about the bill.

I'm a user, baby, so why don't you lose me?

Lately I've been reading Carolyn Hax, who can't be beat for succinct common sense. This letter in particular struck, shall we say, a personal chord with me:
I am having sex with three people right now. (Not literally, but you get the idea.) Two of them have no idea there is anyone else and the third one might. My friends say I'm being deceptive, but I say it's fair game as long as I don't pretend I'm being exclusive and we always use protection. Who's right?
Carolyn, as usual, cuts to the chase:

My evil twin hopes you fall hard for someone who treats you the same way you're treating these people.

The answer to your specific question is that you're telling a lie of omission. If you fear the truth would upset them, then you're being deliberately deceptive...


In my Dark Past, I ran into a lot of these characters. Their primary common characteristic was treating personal relationships like legal contracts. "Well, I didn't SAY we were exclusive, that I wanted kids, that I wanted a commitment, so I have no responsibility for your feelings of grief, betrayal, anger and frustration..."

There's little point in explaining what's wrong with this to someone who doesn't want to see it. But from my vantage point of being a Little Older Now, and having the opportunity to see some of the long-term consequences of this behavior in former associates, let me tell you--the reason that using people doesn't work is that eventually, you run out of things people want.

And then you've got nothing and nobody. Because when you use someone's genuine affection solely as a means of Getting Stuff--as a way of bolstering your ego--eventually you kill the affection. It's not true that Love Never Dies. It dies a slow, ignominious death when it is milked but not acknowledged; when it is used as the paper on which you write your disingenuous 'contracts.'

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How You 'Earned' It

As some of you are aware, it has long been my hobby to dally in Right-Wing Extremist Land, trying to wrap my head around how the other 23% thinks. For years I read extensive diatribes on Those Evil Feminist Baby-Killers, Those Satanist Socialists and Those F*'n Libtards, setting aside the odd surge of incredulous rage and regarding their venomous screeds with scholarly detachment. I came out of it with only a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome, thinking, "Gosh, they're so CUTE. Good thing they're not running the world any longer, though."

But all honeymoons must come to an end, and around the time Obama sealed the nomination, the State of Grace in which I had been dwelling abruptly evaporated. It's not just that I like Obama, and believe that it is High Time that an empath with a balanced global perspective was running things; it's that when a person calls Obama a moron and takes Sarah Palin seriously--well, words and empathy both fail me.

So it is with the full understanding that I am preaching to an empty hall that I take on the issue of Taxes.

There are those of you out there who object to Paying Taxes on What You Earned. You state that Progressive Tax Rates Are Patently Unfair. The horror. The cruelty. The Economic Stupidity. You declare, righteously, that rather than pay those Taxes you will take your marbles and go elsewhere. After all, you EARNED it.

Yes, darling, you did. But if you earned more than a quarter million dollars last year, you didn't do it working freelance. That is, you didn't do a physical job in a measurable amount of time and get paid market rate for it. You didn't dredge up clients one by one, and convince them to pay you for a single object or a single service, one by one.

No, if you earned more than a quarter of a million dollars, you did it by positioning yourself--or being positioned--at a strategically superior position in a very large system. I.e., you were a high-ranking officer in a large corporation, a lawyer, an investor, or an entrepreneur on a large scale. You received a percentage of the profit from the labor of thousands of people. Your 'earnings,' then, are inseparable from both the existence and the smooth functioning of this system, and thus dependent upon the system in a far more pervasive way than the labors of a freelancer at the bottom of the pyramid. To put it mathematically--a freelancer's earnings are linear. Yours, by virtue of your advantageous connections within the system, are exponential.

So you may complain to me about paying Higher Taxes--if, and only if:

• You, and all of your employees, and all the employees of every corporation you invest in, never use roads.

• You, and all of the above, have never attended a public school, including a state university.

• Your business does not utilize any standardized weights or measures.

• You, and all of the above, do not require a working environment free of cholera, malaria, polio, war and pestilence of all kinds.

• You, AAOTA, do not use the Internet.

• You, AAOTA, do not require clean drinking water, sewers, or garbage removal.

• You, AAOTA, and none of your progenitors ever staked a physical claim--say, to a piece of land or a sum of capital--that was upheld in perpetuity by the rule of law.

You may tell me until the cows come home that you don't care about Those Other People, that lazy people don't deserve healthcare, that your right to prove to God that you are a Good Person by Giving Voluntarily is inalienable, and that Government is Evil. Fine. So why don't you go where there is no government--say, the moon--and keep 100% of everything you find there.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Plight of the Freelancer

This article describes my life.
Venkatesh also asks people if they work for themselves. Over the years, he has observed the rise in the number of people who say yes. This year, he estimated, at least half of his coffee-shop sample was made up of the self-employed. Increasingly, they talk about their fading prospects. In 2005, 16 percent of the coffee-shop patrons Venkatesh talked to in Brooklyn and 34 percent in Manhattan said they were out of work, were looking or had recently given up looking. In April of this year, the figure rose to 37 percent in Brooklyn and spiked to 53 percent in Manhattan. Many of the coffee-shop patrons told Venkatesh that they had maxed out their credit cards and had no savings. He concluded that it wasn’t just many workers in the sex industry who were living at the edge of poverty — it could be anyone who had hung out their own shingle.
As Chris Jagers points out, a freelancer is not an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs build businesses that eventually function without them; freelancers just do a job. They do a job without a steady paycheck, sick leave, health insurance or unemployment insurance. When a freelancer doesn't work, she doesn't get paid.

The thing that you notice the most when working freelance is the number of systems that are set up to milk you, without any work actually getting done in exchange for the money extracted. Our landlord just jacked up our rent again; additionally, he tacked on a $300 addition to the security deposit. (We signed the new lease and pretended we didn't notice the security deposit increase, because there's no way we can pay it. We figure it will cost him a lot more to evict us than it's worth.) Everywhere you look, there's another fee--taxes, finance charges, ATM fees, bank fees, parking fees, tolls, utilities, maintenance, transportation. The most insidious thing is how amorphous and impersonal it is; it all just...gets....deducted. You're not paying a person for an object or a service that you are theoretically free to decline. You're drained simply by virtue of living in the system.

Of course, the system is what sustains us; I wouldn't want to do without my apartment, electricity, gas, Internet, phone etc. But in order for a system to survive, it has to keep its individual components alive. A system which takes far more than it delivers is ultimately unsustainable.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Happiness Question: A Conversation

I have a confession to make: I am a happy woman.

Career-wise, as I have admitted below, my life is less than successful. Financially speaking, I am circling the drain. But in terms of simple, minute-by minute, silly joy, I have nothing whatsoever to complain about.

It would be an oversimplification to say that I am happy because I am in a stable relationship with someone wonderful, who suits me. It would be an equal oversimplification to blame my happiness on having a wonderful little girl, when for most of my life I honestly didn't believe I'd ever have children.

But I do think there is something to be said about every human being's profound need for connection--deep, stable, and unbreakable--and my little family provides that. I lacked it for so long that just the simple fact of its existence is like a long drink of cold water after a marathon.

I bring this up because of a small flap about a recent Ross Douthat column about women, happiness and the lack of it, in which he brings up statistics which suggest that women are less happy these days then formerly, and suggests that more stigmatizing ought to make them happier:
They should also be able to agree that the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests and happiness of women. Here the public-policy options are limited; some kind of social stigma is a necessity. But a new-model stigma shouldn’t (and couldn’t) look like the old sexism. There’s no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen women” of a more patriarchal age.
Actually, I'm all for ostracizing serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors, but I'm with Ross--it will never happen. Not because modern society won't accept 'sexual stigma,' as he tut-tuts, but simply because high-testosterone, high-earning males will always invoke placation before ostracism. It's hard-wired into our brains and our culture. We're going to have to undergo a few more millennia of evolution before that changes.

But enough of my opinion! The reason this post is entitled 'A Conversation' is that I'm proposing just that. My time is fragmented these days; I can't fit all my thoughts into a single post, nor a post into a single day. So I pose you this question: are you happy? Why or why not? What do you think of Ross's article, and the subject it discusses? Let's take it from there.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The rights of the bigoted

Ah. To all ye charming, reactionary persons who find delight in hurling accusations of "racism" and "affirmative action pick" at Sonia Sotomayor, let it be known that this lady is on record as supporting your right to make any racially insulting, bigoted remark you choose, and in pointing up the dangers of enforcing politically correct attitudes at the expense of both privacy and the First Amendment in order to maintain one's Public Face.

The facts of Pappas are simple. The plaintiff was a white employee of the New York City Police Department -- working in a clerical position in information management -- when he was fired for having sent blatantly racist and anti-Semitic replies in response to charity requests he received in the mail. Pappas admitted doing it, and said he did it to protest the charity requests. The NYPD fired him for having sent the replies on the ground that it did not want racist employees. He sued the NYPD, alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated by the firing, because he was clearly fired due to the content of the political views he expressed.

The district court judge dismissed Pappas' case, finding that the NYPD had a legitimate need to exclude racists from its employ, a need which outweighed Pappas' First Amendment rights. On appeal, two of the three judges on the Second Circuit panel agreed with that ruling and dismissed Pappas' case. But not Sotomayor. She wrote a dissent emphasizing the strong First Amendment interests of Pappas' that were being violated -- however contemptible it was, it was pure political expression -- and she argued that it he was entitled to a jury trial to decide if the NYPD, under Supeme Court precedent, had any right to fire him for it.
As unpleasant as it may be to acknowledge, the fact is that persons who have been used to think of themselves as the Majority--Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon, Middle-Class Protestants, for example--are fast becoming a decided Minority in this country, and indeed, in this world. Insofar as this is a fact, and one likely to become more true as time goes by, it is in this Minority's best interests to hope that leaders of the New Majority make decisions from an empathic point of view: one that deeply considers your perspective, holding your rights as sacred as that of the majority.

In other words, you had better hope that they do not do unto you, what you have far too often done unto them.