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As I’ve chronicled in earlier posts, I make my living as a bartender. This career has it’s own sets of pitfalls and frustrations (the next time I see a doctor they’ll be a coroner) but one definite benefit is that no one pretends it’s anything but what it is. You are there to serve drinks, make chit chat, and above all, make money. If you are too bad at either of the first two, you don’t get the third, and if the money dries up, it’s understood that you go somewhere else. No one assigns high meaning to it, but likewise, no one shames you for quitting, or having a bad day at work.

For many years I made my living as a bartender and also spent more than a full time job’s worth organizing, promoting, and facilitating literary events. These were usually focused on poetry, but included prose, theater, music, and visual art. It was exhausting, the people I had to deal with were generally insufferable, and in the end it made me more miserable than any paying job ever did. But I did it because I had and have a passion for literary arts, loved many of the people involved (even some insufferable) and felt like I was “part of” something. My own involvement is on me.

But what isn’t on me is the fact that during that time, many people who spent far less energy, time or money (it costs to put on events) would guilt, castigate or otherwise shame me for dropping my involvement because “this is art.” Likewise, I and many others were expected to work for free because what we were doing was a “labor of love.”

Recently I started teaching a poetry workshop course. The per hour pay is good, but the hours are a nightmare and I’m not paid for class prep time. This is largely due to our state budget, which de-prioritizes education. But when I asked if I was paid for my prep time, or if I could change the hours of the class, I was treated much the same as I was when I would ask for compensation for hours of booking poets.

This work is so important we can’t possibly pay you. Do it because you love it or you are a bad person.

Abstract notions of “fulfillment” and “doing what you love” permeate arts, education, and various other intellectual pursuits. Work that is not important enough to get compensated for, but it so important that if you care about it, you must do it. I can’t think of a job I’ve had beside teaching where if I talked about the labor-to-hours ratio someone would say “well at least it’s really rewarding.”
Fuck you.

Rewarding doesn’t pay my rent.

The Following Things Are Not Money. You Cannot Pay Me With Them.

Throughout one’s life, obviously, there will be things done for love, not money. But those things are on the doer, and it’s not right for the person demanding the doing to set the terms.
In short: fuck you. Pay me.

Originally published at how’s your morale?.

Written by

Graham Isaac and Peter Johnson

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