Part 1: On Saturday I went to yoga class, and afterwards my deceased friend who used to teach that Saturday morning class, Maggie Estep, was loud in my head. Then I realized her birthday had just passed. And I started reading her blog. And found this post I’d read before. I’m pasting it here:
I’ll Buy That For A Dollar by Maggie Estep, 2013:
A while back, the prolific and excellent writer Joe Lansdale posted something funny on his Facebook feed. I can’t find the post, but it was really good.
The post said something about how, oftentimes, when you tell someone you meet you’re a writer, they ask:
“Would I have heard of you?”
“How the fuck should I know?“
Okay, actually, I don’t think that was Joe’s post, but his was about going to the dentist and the dentist saying:
“You’re a writer? I’ll expect a signed copy of your next book when it comes out. “
And Joe says: “Good, and I’ll expect a free root canal.”
Totally paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.
I laughed and laughed.
A surprising number of people don’t understand that writers and musicians and painters are not waifish dilettantes flitting about, subsisting on flowers and good lighting.
This is how we make our living.
Buy our shit or we die.
Most people grasp that Adele and Stephen King have products in stores that can be bought, but seem to assume that, if they haven’t heard of those of us who are less well known, then our work cannot be bought, or is perhaps shitty and shouldn’t be bought.
Sometimes people tell me: Oh, after meeting you I went to the library and took out a copy of one of your books. I really enjoyed it. And then I loaned it to my entire family.
It’s a compliment, I suppose, but, really, can’t you just buy ONE of my books? They’re not all great, but they don’t cost more than a cappuccino and a muffin and they’ll make you feel things. I promise you that.
More and more, a lot of us do give our work away for free — or for whatever a person wishes to pay for it. We blog. We put up pay-what-you-wish downloads of our records. Etc.
See the indefatigable Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk, The Art of Asking. It’s part of why I finally decided, Fuck it, I’ll ASK!
All the industries behind the arts are in upheaval. I’m not going to snivel about it. The world changes, sometimes quite rapidly. That is one of the beautiful mysteries of being alive.
It was seeing Jon Katz’s “Donate” button that was the final straw for me, that made me rip at the resistance I felt about ASKING. And I’ve installed a “Donate” button on this blog.
Nurture the things you love or they die.
So I think it’s okay to offer people the opportunity to donate to this blog.
I might die tomorrow. You might die tomorrow.
If you found one of my books in the stuff your ex left behind and read half of it then forgot it on a park bench, you could give me a dollar.
If you saw me on MTV when you were 15 and thought I was hot and put me in the spank bank for future masturbatory fodder, you could give me five dollars.
If you’re a high school student performing one of my poems in speech competitions, you could give me a dollar.
If you wonder how I’m going to keep from going to debtors prison before finishing my next novel, you could give me several dollars.
Or not. That’s fine too. You can just think nice things about me. In the yoga philosophy, they say this is really powerful. This thinking of nice things. I have found it to be true.
Which reminds me of one of my favorite Bob Holman poems:
You know things
And then, if you want, give me a dollar.
Part 2: There’s a long essay in my forthcoming collection titled Hungry Ghost. It’s about a time 2 years ago when an über famous celebrity was supposedly coming to sleep over at my apartment. The essay is about success, money, status, the internet, female friendship and ambition.
The essay was originally called The Celebrity. But when I was holed up in a cabin in Rhododendron, Oregon for a few days to work on my book, my friend Fran told me about the Hungry Ghost concept after reading a draft of my essay. I spent those days working on my essay and listening to Tara Brach talk about what it means to be a Hungry Ghost on her podcast. I promptly changed the title of my essay.
So I was surprised on Saturday when I came across a post called Lulu The Hungry Ghost on Maggie’s website, about her cat. Then I was even MORE shocked when I read this paragraph so eerily similar to one from my essay. I will paste them back to back below:
There is, in Buddhism, the figure of the hungry ghost. A revenant with a tiny mouth and a huge belly, constantly hungry but unable to sate itself through its miniscule mouth. It’s meant to symbolize beings who crave insatiably. Often, it refers to addicts. In some cases, beings who eat, um, FECES and the bodies of dead humans. No one can fill our big hungry ghost stomachs. I think we have to come to terms with wanting or be doomed to die wanting. Wanting more and more and more. Too much is never enough.
—Maggie Estep, April 19, 2013
In Buddhism, the term hungry ghost refers to the person whose appetite exceeds their capacity for satisfaction. The visual of a hungry ghost is a Buddha-ghost with a tiny mouth and an enormous stomach. They’re greedy, starved for money, sex, drugs, power, status, all the good stuff. More is never enough. Though I’ve done my fair share of self-work—therapy, books, yoga teacher training, meditation—I have hungry ghost tendencies I must keep in check. When I started what I thought would be this epic friendship with the Celebrity, I really did want to be close and intimate with her, but my hungry ghost started haunting my dreams, surprising even me.
—me, 2016, Hungry Ghost, I’ll Tell You In Person
Damn! I mean…uncanny. Really.
Here’s the thing: I’m sure 70% of people have a Hungry Ghost inside them. It’s normal. It’s being aware of it that matters.
Then I drove to Maggie’s grave and delivered flowers.
Part 3: In July, it will have been one year that I have been working full time for myself.
I am doing better financially, as I approach my 30th birthday, then I’ve ever done. I have gained traction in my 29th year. (See: The Power of 29) I still worry over money every day. But I ask for more. I was recently asked to write an essay on any type of pain for a launching publication in LA called END PAIN. The editor could pay me 400, she said, for 1500 words. I asked for 500. Absolutely, she said.
I love this essay Story of The Fuck Off Fund on The Billfold.
I’ve been wanting to do this for a year now, so finally, yesterday, Samuel Sargent helped me install a DONATE button on my site. You can see it on the right side bar underneath my books.
And if you ever feel inclined to donate a few bucks to me, I am grateful.
I would not have been able to work for myself if it hadn’t been for Gotham Writer’s Workshop, Litreactor, Catapult, and the people (probably you) who sign up for those classes. (I’m planning to write a post called LETTERS TO PEOPLE WHO PAID ME b/c many of you buy my books directly from me, and pay me to work with you one on one. Thank you.)
But, I’m still poor. It’s just how it is. I’m doing better, but my version of ‘better’ is relative.
I work for myself, i.e. I work for a million different people.
p.p.s. I love this essay by Ann Friedman, One Weird Trick For Keeping Female Employees From Quitting as well as this conversation about $$$ between Logan Sachon and Emily Gould.