Tuesday, September 25, 2007

on making a wage

so you might recall a little while ago, i wrote a post about how i make money. this is a bit of an update. i'm still working at the wood shop and the grocer, but i've finally started working on the websites and i've made a little chunk of change with the deposits. once those are done, i will be posting links to them here.

i'm really glad to be working on these sites. i enjoy it and it doesn't make me feel grimey. i am pretty confident that my sites are cleaner, easier to use, and generally better than what most people with dreamweaver would design. but then i hit a wall.

you see, even though i design better than most amateurs and even some pros, i am now behind the "industry standard" for web design (there is a whole list of standards for websites that corporations and government institutions strive to uphold. in my experience, small businesses and artists are about 50-50 in upholding them). i've been looking at a lot of sites and without getting into too much mumbo jumbo, i've realized that i need to update my process for design. i learned web design about three years ago now, and it's beginning to show.

not to say that the sites i'm already designing are not up to snuff. after extensive research, i believe i have asked for nothing more than what my clients will get. i've seen people ask for more money and design sites that are uglier and less functional than what i'm working on.

but here is where i have to contemplate something. i can learn a fair amount on my own about updating my design process to be closer to "industry standard." but somewhere along the line, i could learn a lot more if i took a class of some sort.

part of me wants to learn more just out of principle and pride: if i'm gonna ask for money, i should execute it to the tee. another reason for learning this new set of web skills is that once i become current with my design strategies, i could potentially ask for 3-5 times as much money as i am asking for on my current design projects--but is it worth it? should i spend the equivalent of what i would charge for building an entire site to acquire some new skills that may or may not yield an income? i mean, web design is great--it's creative, i can be my own boss (kinda) and it has high earning potential. but it's not my passion. it doesn't make my ears tingle or give me a sense of purpose. would it be better for me to spend that hard-earned money on something else, like a trip to a new city that could inspire my writing, or renting video equipment for a weekend, or renting a rehearsal space for a new show or... rent? credit card bills? insurance?

i don't know. if any of you fair readers has any advice, i'm open to it all.

on winning

hello everyone! on sept 18, i won my first lotto! i got a whopping $2! here is the image of my winning ticket in all its glory!

now, if i could only add several zeros to the right side of my winnings....

Saturday, September 15, 2007

on the lotto and the arts

so, yesterday, my partner and i watched an indy film with alan rickman in it called "snow cake." As the opening credits rolled, both my partner and i saw a tiny credit line like the image above. i exclaimed, "funds from the national lotto!? where is this?" beautiful partner told me it's a canadian film, so i said, wow, the canadians sure do know how to use their lotto! our neighbors to the north are mighty enlightened! then she said, "you should blog about it!"

so after some poking around, i found out that this film was not a canadian production (even though it was set and filmed in ontario) but a uk production. turns out, it received 1 million pounds (sterling, that is) from the national lottery of the uk. upon even further investigation, there is an entire public body, the uk film council, that awards money to film projects from the national lottery fund.

according to the uk national lottery site, 28% of the lotto money goes to "the good causes"--health, education, environment, community, "charity," art, sports, and "heritage." 16.7% of that goes to the arts. a sizable amount. in addition, the film council has a page dedicated to diversity in film. looking at the budget, the film council has granted money to huge films like "gosford park" as well as to lesser-known shorts, amounting to nearly 10 million pounds (roughly $18m dollars). this is huge, and is only the film arm of the "arts" portion of "the good causes."

in comparison, mega millions and texas lotto are a bit more vague, 35% of megamillions goes to "whatever the state chooses." and the texas lotto site breaks down the funds as shown in the left graph. note that absolutely none of it is designated to the arts, or even health care. recently, i found out that the 8 billion that was supposed to be going to texas education from the lotto (according to billboards i see) is actually not accurate at all. it turns out that a lot of that money gets redirected to other things. what? i don't know. texas public schools rank between 25th and 39th in the country, depending on your source, making me really question the efficacy of "lotto education."

now, i could go on and on about the hypocracy of the texas and megamillions lotto. but instead, i'm more interested in how other nations view "the arts." i remember when i was taking classes in conservatory, one factoid we learned in our intro music history class was that austria spends 20% of their national budget on the arts while the u.s. spends 0.02%. that was the late 90s, but i doubt much has changed. here in the states, the arts are often relegated to the category of "product." therefore, non-commercial arts and artists must struggle to: a. make our art "commercially viable," b. find private wealthy benefactors who support our work or c. learn to starve. whereas some places see the arts as part of the public sphere--where art is part of the political and structural fabric of a culture. the arts in the u.s. are in the private sphere, indicators of taste and consumption, commodities that gain or lose value over time.

this yields varying results. the recent boom of local opera houses would not have happened if the u.s. had as many large-scale state-funded opera houses like germany or italy. these larger opera houses have been bogged down by the responsibility to stage well-known, canonical operas. conversely, local opera houses have taken the route of putting on original operas or smaller programs, creating vibrant programs supported by younger crowds.

even though i know there are exceptions like this, i get very angry about the state of the arts in the u.s. but it's not just "arts funding." artists and the arts suffer from other institutional failings. if we had some type of social/public safety nets like healthcare or welfare, i believe our experiences would be radically different.

my favorite example is j.k. rowling. her whole thing is that she was on welfare when she wrote the first harry potter book. in britain, it's relatively easy for someone to get on welfare. not so here. who knows if potter would have ever taken flight on his nimbus 2000 if britain's welfare system were similar to ours? but we know what happened. thanks to that year on the dole, rowling has become the richest woman in britain. her personal taxes alone have paid for that year on welfare hundreds of times over, not to mention the business she has brought to britain through a film franchise, merch, and potter-themed tourism. if you ask me, britain made a very good investment in that particular artist.

i know britain has its problems (racism and xenophobia come to mind). but from this side of the pond, i can't help but envy those artists on the other side.

confession # 1

forgive me readers, for i have sinned.
this week, i forgot to purchase a lotto ticket for tuesday's drawing. i must atone for this misstep.

i will continue using this forum for other confessions i have.
in the name of the art, the craft, and the inspiration,

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

on dreams

about two weeks ago now, i had a dream.

my partner and i were running a bed and breakfast. austin city limits (ACL, which usually happens about this time of year) was in town and we were hosting lots of musicians and fans for the festival.

now, we were running a pretty modest b&b, so when we looked at the roster, we were quite surprised to see "Sir Paul McCartney" as a guest arriving that day. apparently, the ACL organizers had a mix-up and forgot to book a VIP hotel suite for him.

so paul mccartney arrives at our house, complete with his entourage. he was nice and all, and complained about being tired, so we showed him to his room. i kept calling him "sir paul," which made me cringe. i've always thought he was the "boring beatle." just as he was settling in, he kept flirting with me--touching my arm, calling me "hun" and "love" and looking at me quite intently with those droopy eyes. man, this guy must be getting murder through his divorce! i thought. but i wanted to be professional about it, so i asked if he needed anything. he said he wanted water. i went to our pantry to get him a bottle of water, only to find we had run out. so i go back to "sir paul" who had started dozing off on his bed and told him, no we didn't have bottled water, but we had filtered water. i then said, i know he's a singer, so i thought be might be particular about that type of thing. he said, yeah, i'd prefer bottled. so then i asked, any particular brand? and he said, no, as long as it's bottled. then, as i turned to leave, he said, wait, i'll come with you! i rolled my eyes to myself but said, okay, "sir paul."

there was a convenience store just two blocks from the house. "sir paul" kept chatting me up and flirting, which kept disturbing me, since i'm probably way more butch than him and he seems to usually like blond femmey types. but i wanted to still be the professional host. we walked into the convenience store, where i knew lots of the black women and latinas who worked there. i got a box of bottled water, but had to set it down because "sir paul" was getting rowdy with some folks in the street. when i returned to where i set down the water, it was gone.

knowing that the folks "sir paul" had harassed just stepped into the store i was in, i walked with "sir paul" down to another convenience store, that had a small cold-cuts station and lottery ticket cases. i bought a case of water, and asked the cashier to look after it while i located "sir paul" in the store. i heard some other ladies talking about him. when i finally found him, the cashier had re-sold my water to someone else, and the water case was empty. then i walked up to the lady behind the bakery counter, who i apparently knew, and told her: you know what this means, right? they always sell out of water when a war happens. i think we've invaded iran!

and the dream ended there. i'll leave it to you, my lovely readers, to interpret its meaning.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

on donations

one of you lovely readers has suggested i add a donation link to this blog. so here it is: if you would like to donate money to me or this project, you may do so by following the paypal link below. if you donate money and i do end up winning the jackpot, i will return your donation times 20, or donate that amount to the artist, organization, or charity of your request. if you think of it as an investment, a 2000% return is indeed good. hee hee. (please let me know if this button doesn't work!)

on sickness and health

i'm a bit of a hypochondriac. i'm not ashamed to admit it. sometime i will post on the many reasons in my personal history why i am.

but this week, after visiting my primary care physician (pcp) and taking a blood test, a breath test and a fluroscopy, i have been thinking about the relationship between art, health, and capitalist society.

where to start? let's start at the end. today, i found myself sleeping an obscene amount, and not in that lazy, let's enjoy saturday because we can, way. i feel my body just refusing to wake up, as if held down by an enormous weight. i've decided to blame the prilosec, which i took for the first time yesterday morning.

i have a cough that hasn't gone away for about two months. it's one of those intense coughs that makes me double over sometimes in fits. it interrupts conversations, it keeps me awake, it makes my partner look at me with those very concerned doe-eyes. for the first three weeks, i thought it was just a bacterial bronchitis and that it would go away. but finally, i decided to go see my pcp. she listened to my chest, looked at my throat, and very patiently and thoroughly asked about my symptoms and diagnosed it as allergic bronchitis--a cough brought on by the post-nasal drip caused by allergies. this made sense. for anyone who lives in central texas, you know that allergies afflict everyone for at least a few months a year. pollen, mold, and various animal allergies are almost always abound. so doc prescribed a generic antihistamine (which cost less than the generic claritin i've been taking) and a generic nasal spray (which has an awful taste and burns my nose).

two weeks later, although my symptoms were okay during the day, i would still have coughing fits at night. i went back to my doc on thursday. she shook her head a little and after asking whether i've been consistently taking my meds, she said, "i think it is probably acid reflux, but i'm gonna have you take some tests to make sure. once you're done with those tests, immediately start on prilosec."

so i went in to the lab, after getting my blood drawn to check my cholesterol (which is yet another problem i have, i believe it is genetic), i breathed into a bag, drank a nasty drink, and then breathed into another bag. then yesterday, i scheduled a fluroscopy. it involves not eating, drinking, smoking, or chewing gum (i remember saying to the person who scheduled my appointment, "not even water?!") from the night before. then, they made me drink this fizzy drink that "inflated my stomach" and then i had to drink barium. if you've never had barium, it's basically liquid chalk. she took still pictures of the barium going down my throat and into my stomach. it was kinda neat seeing my own stomach on the screen in front of me. she took pictures of me swallowing barium while standing up, while lying on my stomach, and then she took "different pictures" of me on my back. then she told me to be on the lookout for constipation. wonderful.

but this whole ordeal has made me very thankful that i have insurance. at least for now. i enrolled in COBRA when i left UT. this is a way for me to keep the same insurance i had as an employee at the same rate UT had been paying. it sounds like a deal, but it still costs me over $300 a month. but with my monthly medications, office visits, and therapy, i usually end up breaking even. the thing about COBRA is i'm only eligible for 18 months, so it will eventually run out.

the real rub is the fact that UT doesn't recognize domestic partnerships. if my partner and i were married, i'd have free insurance and it would only run out when my partner left her job. whenever i think about that, it becomes acutely real and material how homophobia affects my life. it will cost me $4000 in health care to be queer this year.

but after briefly taking a tantrum about heterosexism, i begin to hate the state. ever since that time in a london hospital when i hypothesized having HIV to a doctor and her saying, "we'll take you on--for free." i have been ashamed of the U.S. health care system. we live in one of the only first world countries where poor people (and even middle class people) are not allowed to be sick. when we/they are "allowed" (though local grants and non-profits) to be sick, we/they must accept that the care we/they receive is inferior to that of upper-middle class patients. it becomes painfully clear that the lives of the poor and uninsured are less important than others.

i have had a strange relationship with my health. it just happens that i seem to develop ailments that are not usually diagnosable with the textbook symptoms. the cough mentioned above is just one example. it took me many years of uneven periods with different nurses and doctors before i was finally diagnosed with poly-cystic ovaries. it took going to one of the best gynos in the city to come up with a treatment plan that didn't involve birth control pills that i did not want or need to take. it took that diagnosis process to reveal i was clinically depressed and at risk for diabetes.

none of these revelations would have happened if i had been going to an hmo or medicare. the doctors just wouldn't have had the time, patience, or resources to figure the whole thing out. and these doctors were available to me because i had/have one of the best insurance programs in the state.

almost all of my friends who are artists full-time are uninsured. some are in heterosexual marriages that allow them insurance, but those friends are few. almost all the dykes i know who don't work for UT or IBM are uninsured or under-insured, even if they do make an okay living. everybody i work with, including my boss, is uninsured. i have a good friend who will be paying off a $200k hospital bill for the rest of her life. sure, she only pays $20 a month now, but if she were to come into any money or assets, she would basically have to give it up right away.

a lot of political analysts seem to think the 2008 presidential election will be decided on health care. i doubt it. lobbyists are too invested in for-profit health care. and for-profit health care is here to stay. whereas before, places tried to keep it under wraps that they were curing people for money, now it is becoming more obvious. i heard that a lot of hospitals in the area are beginning to call patients "customers" complete with the "customer is always right" mentality. and hospital and pharmaceutical boardrooms are filling more and more with business tycoons and accountants rather than doctors and researchers. many doctors, who feel it defies the hippocratic oath, grumble, even start their own clinics. my old-school physician father in-law said, "it's not about doctoring anymore, it's about getting the patient out of the facility as soon as possible." the pensive look on his face said a lot.

i don't look forward to losing my insurance in less than a year's time. in all likelihood, i will end up joining some type of health plan, no doubt much inferior to my current plan, but something that will let me sleep at night.

it's just i feel that along with equality, choice, and speech, the right to become ill and have access to the best care is a fundamental human right. doesn't that fall under the "pursuit of happiness" that our country was founded?

when i hit the lotto, i think i'll just buy a group insurance program and just allow anyone who wants to join it. especially those dykes and artists. they'll be first to get on.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

how i make money

while i'm waiting for the rules of gravity to lift me up from living down, i still have to support myself. it's not the easiest thing. here's what i've been doing to keep afloat:

confirmed sources of income:

  • my "savings" from over fifteen years of gifts, inheritance and, yes, saving my own money from my old job. this source is rapidly running out.
  • my job at the shop-i work at a woodshop, where we make mostly custom-designed cabinetry. i went to the job with no skills. i started as the "sander." i never appreciated the importance of sanding wood until i began doing it all day. sanding is still my main duty, but i have been learning to do assembly an other things. just yesterday, i learned how to use the band saw and the drill press. very exciting. i also recently learned how to use the router.
  • NEW! working at the local japanese grocer. i start on sunday. discount, here we come! woo-hoo!
  • web design: although i haven't actually seen any money from it yet, i'm currently working with three clients, and they are all good for their money. if all goes well, this will get me a reasonable chunk of change by the end of the month.
  • selling stuff. my biggest sale was my old 1971 honda trail bike i had bought two years back. it had given me headaches, mostly of the department of transportation variety. otherwise, it ran fine and would have given me cheap transportation. but alas, i just couldn't go that extra bit to get it street legal. i sold it almost a month ago for less than half what i paid for it. i was very sad about the whole thing, so to mourn my loss, i drew the above picture of the engine starting shaft. thanks to the sale, however, i kept afloat okay for august.
unknown or mix-success sources of income:
  • ebay: i listed my first ebay item last week, and the bidding is actually getting pretty high. at least higher than i expected. this evening, i'll be listing more items. i have a huge cache of pretty nice clothes i needed for my administrative job at UT. now that i wear a stained t-shirt and shorts to work and have plenty of casual clothes for every other day, i have no need for the amount of slacks, dress shirts and blazers i own. i love mens clothes and have gotten attached to mine, but they would serve me better as cash than languishing unworn in my closet.
  • half.com: i sold one book, a duplicate copy of "citizen 13660" last week. like the clothes i own, i have many books that my academic job demanded that i do not need. i'm beginning to create a pile of books that are not needed anymore. but for a lot of reasons, this is much harder than sifting through my clothes. sigh.
  • ads and affiliate programs: over the past four months i have earned about $2 from this. boo-hoo.
  • items at cafe press: i took this anatomical heart image from my mail art and slapped it on merchandise. i wonder if i actually designed a t-shirt front whether this would work better....
failed sources of funding:
  • grants, competitions, and fellowships: i've applied to about twenty so far, to no avail. i'm trying a new tack of applying to (unpaid) residencies. i hope that works. i'll be posting those details later on.
  • translating work: had a possible client lined up, but backed out on me.
  • selling my art at art galleries

Sunday, September 2, 2007

more lotto plans

in the past week, i have imagined yet more ways to use the money in my imagined lottery win. the first idea came to me while i was in one of the locally-owned bookstores. i saw many books, trinkets, and puzzles that could only be sold here, not at chains or even amazon. we are lucky enough in austin to have many independent bookstores. these stores encourage local art and community building. yet they are always in danger. i think the stores in austin are doing okay, partly due to the "shop locally" campaign of austin. but it made me think, if i won the lotto, i should try to help these places out. how would that work, i thought. then it came to me: i could buy books from these stores and have then sent to... local prisons and schools! how great would that be!

my other idea was one i have had for over a decade. i want to start an organization for artists of color. something that would grant money to artists as well as provide gallery and performance space, host retreats, and so on. i still haven't quite figured out the specifics for this dream, but it has been bothering me for a while. the beauty of funding such an organization with lotto money is that by sheer virtue of the large endowment, it can afford artists of color more "plush" grants that would hopefully enable them to refuel from the too-often cobble-together living we tend to have. because even when we do get grants, from people of color organizations, too, the most it will do is pay for a couple months rent. and usually we are required to put in some administrative or educational labor, which can be anti-creative to some. i myself love to teach and work with others throughout my creative process, but i know many artists who find this part of funding to be particularly tedious. with my dream organization, i would fund artists for at least a full year, on an upper-middle class wage, and only require them to do what they wish with the organization. or something like that. it would have to vary. flat out grants to some, residencies for others, lectures, and so on.

of course, the question i ask myself when i have these fantasies is always: that's good and all, kt, but what can you do now to work toward these ideas? i often fear that my lack of funds hinders my ability to help myself and others with the resources i do have. it also makes me wonder, if i'm doing so little now, what makes me think that having a lot of money will make me do better?

when people talk about the ethics of art, they often only refer to the image, metaphor and message art often embodies. but what about the ethics of process? what about the entangled web of representation/ideology and commerce? we are not so virtuous as we like to see ourselves. i would love to run this blog and my personal site free of advertising, but i would also love to earn money from them. it makes me think of played-out metaphors between art and prostitution. and the best thing i can think to do in these moments is fight as hard as possible against paralysis. which is difficult, because it means i will inevitably make mistakes.

but then again, the best place to make mistakes is in one's art, right?

on clerks

last tuesday, i stopped by a gas station to pick up my tickets while filling up my gas tank. i actually didn't think they would have lotto tickets, but i was pleased to find they did. when i got to the counter, the clerk was a young effete man, wearing a middrift-showing teeny tiny shirt, very tight jeans, and a red ballcap slightly askew. he also had long hair pulled back in a ponytail. his eyelashes were long, dark, and perfectly curled, while his eyebrows were two perfect arcs. i enjoyed talking with him, even though he was very indifferent to me. i kept imagining the fierce drag queen he must be once he clocks out in the evening.

the thing about the clerks is that they have thus far occupied marginal parts of society. they have been latino, south asian, and queer.

even more evidence of the strange places in society that the lotto occupies.