Prism ponderings: Stunt Writing day 6

I’m doing things a little backwards today: writing before I go out for my walk.

Why?

Because I’m going to write a piece using the “prism” method and see how it works.

The concept is that you’re supposed to think of a person, place or situation you’ve been circling in your mind, then put it through a prism of weather, geography, history, politics, religion, culture, gender, or class.

Here is something I have been circling in my mind since yesterday. My husband is frustrated with his work life right now, and wants to get out of his 9-5 job. He’s an artist in several senses: a musician, a painter, a person with plenty of creative thoughts and ideas, but not enough time to express them. I told him that he needs to work on getting a work-from-home type of job, or starting his own business, instead of simply looking for another job to pay the bills. He told me that he was jealous of me, and all the free time I have, because I do work from home.

That shocked me. Not because I didn’t know that he was frustrated with the way things are, career-wise, but because he thinks my life is so great, and that he feels like he does everything to make it that way.

Now, I can’t say that he’s wrong, in many respects. His day job provides affordable healthcare for both of us, as well as a steady paycheck in the face of my feast-or-famine times as a freelancer. Since he has to drive to work each day, and we only have one car, he also is in charge of getting groceries and running other errands. His “normal” job does come with benefits that mine doesn’t.

On the other hand, I tend to make more money than he does during the “feast” cycles of my work. I pay all the bills. I remind him to get the cat food, or whatever other errands need to be done. And although I work from home, which means zero commute, it also means I stay in our apartment for most hours of the day, precisely because we don’t have a second vehicle for me to use when I want to go someplace else. It’s not a perfect life. I’m not saying it’s a bad one, but it’s not quite the bastion of free time he imagines it to be. I do, after all, work at home – it’s not as if I am just lazily writing up blog posts and talking windy walks to gather my creativity. Indeed, I have had to force myself to walk for 30 minutes every day precisely because I am working so much, and staying chained to my desk is terrible for my health. My right shoulder hurts pretty much all the time now, due to overuse, and I’m certainly not burning off all the calories I consume.

Like they say, the grass is always greener.

But getting back to the prism angle, I have been wondering how I can help him achieve a lifestyle more like mine. I know he would much rather work from home, preferably doing something artistic. But I also know that art usually doesn’t pay the bills (even I, freelance writer, have a day job). I know that his goal is to ultimately sell merch that will support his artistic works (t-shirts, fridge magnets, etc.), so I have made some suggestions like using Teespring to test out t-shirt designs, rather than trying to screenprint them all himself.

I feel like there is some angle of the prism I can’t see here, because I’m not sure how to best offer my assistance. I think that he thinks my ideas will not work, because he believes they are either too difficult to implement or too creatively “sell-out-ish.” Like, he is the consummate artist, never wanting to give away his best ideas. And yet that is exactly how the Internet has made things work. (I’ve been reading Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon, and this is the basic core of his book.) When I try to share that message with him, he gets angry. He wants to know how artists are supposed to make a living, if they are being told to give their work away for free. And I understand his anger, because I share it to some degree. I don’t want to give my hard work away for free!

But that’s part of the point. If you don’t let anyone into your process until it’s complete, how can they connect with you? You don’t have to give away the end product (in fact, you should definitely charge for that!), but you have to give away glimpses of the work-in-progress, the process itself, the behind-the-scenes and the cutting-room floor. You have to start drawing people into your artwork before the art itself is finished, because all those sneak peeks keep them coming back for more, get people more and more invested in seeing that final result. They want to know how you do what you do.

Isn’t that what a blog is? A peek behind the curtains at the wizard manning the gears?

I try to tell him that, and he doesn’t want to hear it.

Perhaps it is a gender gap. Perhaps it is a technological divide. Perhaps it is a frustration with all things computer-related. Perhaps it is a feeling that providing all of those “DVD extras” is just too much work.

Well, yeah, it is. But that’s what builds up your audience, or so the theory goes. Connecting with people as you create your art is the way to link people’s interest in you as a person to your art as a finished product.

That’s the thing about working from home, or being a freelancer, or being an artist. They’re all the same in this sense: you have to do it all yourself. Or, you have to farm different pieces of it out to another freelancer, but either way, you have to be the boss, the CEO, the head honcho, the chef bossing everybody else in the kitchen around to create the product you see so clearly in your mind.

I guess I have always been an entrepreneur in that sense; I have always wanted to work on my own, create my own products, and then sell them to others. When I was younger, my best friend and I wrote a rag sheet called Gossip World and sold it for a nickel a piece to friends and family. We set up our own “office” in one or the other’s bedroom, with several typewriters purchased at garage sales, and typed up our one-sheets by hand. We asked permission to use her mother’s copy machine to create additional copies. Maybe we didn’t make a shitload of money with it, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that we had this mindset of doing it ourselves, the will and desire to do it, and the tenacity to see it through. We learned the process to create what we wanted to create, and then we did it. We had plans and executed them.

Sure, it was a simpler time. Sure, it was easier when we got off school at 3 PM and could devote the rest of our waking hours to such things. But couldn’t we all still do the same today?

In some respects, we have it way easier. Type up a few words on your phone on your lunch break, post them to your blog, and hit “publish.” Blammo, you’re in print.

I think he could be building his audience with a once-weekly blog post, written on his lunch break. Hell, I could even ghostwrite it for him, if that’s what he wants. I am an expert at this kind of stuff. I mean, I have been writing and publishing my own work – and the work of others – since 2004. That’s more than a decade of experience. Does he not trust me? Is he afraid to ask?

I guess the problem is that he doesn’t have a plan. All he knows is that he hates his job, and he wants out, but he doesn’t know what to do next. I can tell him to make a plan, which sounds simple enough, but really isn’t that easy. How do you make an escape plan when you don’t know where you want to go? How do you map out a course for yourself when you don’t have any idea how to get from Point A to Point B, much less Points X, Y and Z?

Maybe all I can do is make suggestions. I would like him to read Show Your Work! and see if it changes his perspective any, or gives him any ideas. I will keep offering to help. I will keep telling him I am here for him. But ultimately, he has to be the one to implement the changes, to take up the challenge.

I just worry about what will happen if he doesn’t.

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