Picking Up the Crumbs
But who is your master?
I had a professor in law school who handled the copyright and contractual issues for a Very Famous Author you would know if I disclosed the name (Oprah Winfrey was a massive fan). He said that, contra the common practice of many attorneys in the arts and entertainment business, he did not accept payment in the form of royalties,1 since it did not feel right to him to profit in perpetuity (i.e., for life) on the fruits of another’s labor.2 As such, he informed us, he missed out on the chance to, likely, not have to work for a living. Ah well, such is the price of ethics.
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He also said something that has stuck with me these 15 years (I’m paraphrasing because memory is a tricky thing): “I always wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t good enough. So I figured, why not at least sit at the feet of the masters and sort of absorb some of their glory?”
Maybe this is just an aside to you, what lawyers call dicta, and isn’t worth an entire post. But it stuck with me because this is something I think all of us with a creative bent hear when the time comes to pick a career. The conventional thinking is that any sort of job in the world of the arts is unreliable at best, likely pays sub-sustenance wages, and is actually a waste of talent, so why not do something sensible, like fill out spreadsheets or read rules all day? And then, in your free time,3 you can do that creative thing you like to do.
Or, better yet, be the lawyer/bean counter/agent . . . to the stars!
I mean, I guess it’s more stable, and potentially lucrative. But there are only so many “stars,” and not everybody goes into the arts or entertainment to “be a star.” We just want to at least try to earn a living doing that which we love to do and actually care about. You can’t take an actor and force them to be an accountant and not expect them to have some serious mental health issues. Being out of alignment with one’s self is as unhealthy as smoking. Probably unhealthier. Maybe I’ll pick up a pack of cigarettes on the way home . . .
This goes along with the idea of a man needing to create. A man also wants to care about what they create. Something is wrong when I feel more satisfaction and a greater sense of accomplishment after mowing the lawn or cleaning my kitchen than I do from my actual day job where I spend 95 percent of my time. The sad thing is, the American system seems designed to (a) keep you on a treadmill of working to pay bills and consume without ever getting far ahead, (b) keep you in a car or some other mode of transportation for a solid 1/4 of your life, and (c) generally isolate you.
“Uuuuuh, Alex, why don’t you live in CHYNA, uhhhhh!”
One, your only choices aren’t (1) The Garbage American System or (2) China, and two, China is probably too smart to let Americans in.
Anyway . . .
As pathetic as I first thought my professor’s words were, and that idea in general, I get the point. Based on how post-war American life goes, where nobody really places any great importance on the arts, any arts, save as a means of making tons of money, when there are so few options available to make a boatload of cash as, say, an actor, singer, painter, musician, author, artist, there are few reasons to pursue those passions . . . especially with the ever-increasing costs of everything, it makes more sense to do something less risky. This doesn’t make it an easy choice, but it’s a reasonable one that I can respect, and helps one stay in the field. Think about a former college football star who didn’t make it in the pros, but is now an agent. I get that. I respect that.
And so, dear reader, as with much of my writing, I have identified yet another systemic problem in our profit über alles world. “If it doesn’t make tons of money, it’s garbage” is a horrible metric for the arts. Art is commodified, just like everyone else, and in the absence of a serious literary or poetic or musical culture—or any culture—the denizens of the United States can only track the one metric we’ve been taught matters from birth: the Almighty Dollar. Bow to your real god . . . and enjoy these fresh new beasts from Pitbull, brought to you by Bud Light and Norwegian Cruise Lines!
Doesn’t this practice of lawyers accepting payment in the form of royalties just make you want to go all Dick the Butcher even more?
“Hey ma! Come check this out! We found the lawyer with a conscience!”
Ha ha, “free time.” This is America: free time and leisure is reserved for people born before 1964.