4 0 2

402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Tag: money

Day 555: I Saw a Beautiful Thing Today

If you live in a city like mine, you’ve seen the women and men who stand on intersection medians and ask for help during red lights. Their cardboard signs identify themselves as Veterans, mothers, fathers, widows, unemployed workers, addicts, alcoholics, etc. They share the same titles as many of their car-driving, stoplight-waiting counterparts; just different circumstances.

Lately, there have been a number of times where I’ve been the first car in a line of cars right up against the median, sitting less than two feet away from a person reaching out for help. Last week, I had groceries in the car, so I passed along a bag of grapes. Today, I sucked on the straw of my soy chai and just sat there.

My stoplight today was a particularly long one, so I had plenty of time to wrestle with my ethics. I had about $10 in cash in my purse, but dollars didn’t seem like the right kind of help. I thought about making eye contact and offering a welcoming and/or I-see-you-and-I-wish-you-well smile, but I also worried about coming across as condescending. The more I went back and forth, the worse I felt. Then I felt bad for feeling bad, because how gross is that? I’ve been incredibly lucky, and who’s to say that he and I wouldn’t have swapped lives with different support systems?

As I slunk and drank and sat, I noticed a teenage hipster-ish girl across the intersection, standing in a sort of weird and dangerous spot in the road. She seemed to be trying to cross to the median, which was angled, and between two converging/diverging roads that run along the lake (in other words, not particularly pedestrian friendly). I wrote her off as trying to take a shortcut to the water and watched carefully as she tried to pick a good time to cross.

Eventually, she zipped through a long line of cars, crossed in front of me, and stepped up onto the median. She had a plastic bag with her, and I glued my eyes on her sideways as she greeted the median man, offered him her hand as an introduction, and asked him how he was doing. They introduced themselves to each other and exchanged pleasantries, and she started pulling goodies out of the bag – a giant bottle of water, peanuts, granola bars, a Tom Clancy book. She had scoured the gas station across the street on his behalf.

And then (this is my favorite part), she stayed there. He guzzled the water, the light changed and I pulled away, and I watched in the rearview mirror as the two of them sat down on the median and unloaded the rest of her plastic picnic basket, both of them smiling. She seemed interested in him as a person – not as a concept, not a representation of homelessness, not an uncomfortable part of an otherwise privileged daily experience. And because I think the full picture is important here, I’ll also point out that their skin tones didn’t identify their privilege one way or another. His was white and hers brown. Both wearing ripped t-shirts and jean shorts – his torn by wear, and hers by a manufacturer.

She’s my hero today. I don’t know her and I’ll probably never see her again, but she – likely half my age – exhibited the kind of understanding of human connectivity that every person (and especially every leader) should exemplify.

So. Here’s to the girl with the plastic bag, here’s to the guy reading the espionage book in the intersection median, and here’s to remembering we’re all part of the same thread.

 

Day 93: Advice for Artists

Towards the end of my graduate school career, I was well-prepared to create meaningful work, teach at the university level, articulate the vital connections between dance and societal growth, make the world a better place through art, and push the boundaries of collaboration between dance, technology, cultural studies, philosophy, science and a host of other fields.

But I didn’t know how to make a living.

Lois Welk, Director of Dance USA, came to my Producing Dance class during my final semester and gave the class some wonderful advice. I recently dug up my notes from her visit and think all artists (all humans, really) could benefit from her logic.

She drew a quadrant on the board that looked something like this:

Quadrants

She then told us to view every opportunity in terms of those quadrants. In gig + money terms, here’s how the opportunities shake out:

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 6.59.04 PM

What became immediately apparent to my class of uber-smart dance academics is that we should not pursue opportunities that don’t whet our artistic appetites or pay for sandwiches (in graphic terms, we should stay away from the lower left quadrant). This should have been obvious before Lois came to visit, but most of us had been saying yes to everything. Every show, every choreography request, every plea for an extra stage hand—all in the name of serving the dance community and increasing our personal visibility.

Lois addressed our misguided actions by reminding us that we continuously brand ourselves based on the decisions we make. Consistently agreeing to do mundane work for free would let the community know that we do mundane work for free (duh). Eventually, we’d all be flat broke and faced with more mundane, low-paying opportunities than we could handle.

Conversely, she gave us a life-long challenge to only consider opportunities that:

  • stimulate our brains and pay well
  • stimulate our brains but don’t pay well (or at all)
  • don’t stimulate our brains but enable us to buy food, pay bills, and rent apartments and rehearsal space

In terms of job and artistic growth, nothing else is worth pursuing.