I’m so gauche or the high cost of consumption

Deep breath here. This is a post that has been simmering for months yet every time I try to get the words out, my inner good girl would chide me and say don’t do it… Yet after a really strange series of happenings, it’s time. I may lose a few readers and that is okay but sometimes truth needs to be spoken even if it’s uncomfortable.

Back in 2007 I was licking my psychic wounds after having been laid off from my teaching gig at a for-profit college. I was at a crossroads with a fairly new Master’s degree, a toddler, a boatload of debt and no idea what my next steps should be professionally. So I scraped together my pennies and worked with a life coach who helped me gained some clarity around my professional goals. Like many, I was caught between the practical and the creative and in the end it was clear that going back to non-profit management made the most sense practically speaking and that I should look for outlets to feed my creative self. As well as a way to create an additional income stream. That passion and plan along with a desire to connect with other people of color led to the creation of this blog in 2008.

In the early days of this blog, which I truly believe were the heyday of the blogging world, it seemed like every other week there was a blogger quitting their day job to earn a living from their blog. Like many I had my dreams and hopes of striking it big with this blog, getting that book deal, getting the attention, etc. It was also clear early on though, that despite becoming classified as a “mom” blogger that I was not going to become the next Pioneer Woman or Dooce. Despite my attempts at monetizing this blog, I knew the chances of earning more than occasional coffee money wasn’t going to happen and I made my peace with that.

A funny thing happened though. After accepting that I was not going to strike it rich with this blog, my writing became more focused as I started to write from my heart and not a script for blog success.  I started to write about the things that interested me and the things that I was knowledgeable about, which meant taking my lived experience and academic background and writing about matters of race and occasionally musing about growing older. That decision changed my life in many ways starting with an appearance on the Melissa Harris Perry show in November 2012 after the Maine GOP made a gaffe of ginormous proportions. My readership increased and suddenly this blog was receiving attention. Initially it was wonderful to receive attention; writers write because we have something to say that we need to get out, but we love it when our words are read.

However, the past two years have been tiring for me. With the increased exposure it has meant dealing with trolls, nasty attacks and requests. A non-stop stream of requests. Speaking of which, when I announced my decision to accept my current position as the executive director of Community Change Inc., one of the longest, continuously running anti-racism organizations in the US, it meant an increase in exposure as I was no longer seen as just some yahoo online spouting off but an actual  professional with the backing of a long-established organization. I had anticipated an increase in exposure and actually had factored it into my strategy to increase CCI’s exposure.

What I didn’t expect though was an inbox full of individuals and organizations requesting free services. People who are interested in anti-racism training and information but who have no interest or means to pay for said services. As a blogger this was one thing but as the head of an organization with a staff that requires payment and an office that isn’t free, freebies aren’t possible.

Recently a series of requests for unpaid services as well as a few extraordinary requests for my own time (again, uncompensated) led me to sitting down and tallying up just what this blog is costing me. For almost 7 years, I have spent $19.98 a month for this blog (in the day and age of intellectual property, slapping a site up on a free space is a very bad idea) I have laid out almost $1,678 to run this space, which says nothing for the countless number of hours I have spent writing posts, interacting with readers, and managing social media for this space…that’s just the cash that I have spent out of my pocket so that this space exists. It’s not a lot of money but I can honestly say that in all my years of blogging this site has not ever financially paid for itself much less generated any profit.

I have spent the last 17 years of my life more or less in the non-profit sector minus the year I spent teaching. I typically have worked at small organizations with budgets of $500,000 or less, the types of organizations that do critically needed work but lack financial resources. Places where you earn a salary and you get a generous supply of paid time off since you often don’t have any other benefits. My last position in Maine didn’t even offer health insurance; the organization couldn’t afford it.

As I find myself creeping closer to 42, I am starting to think about my future in the next 20-30 years and the truth is that unless I make some course corrections now, my golden years aren’t going to be  golden.  I will be the senior citizen who I have served meals to at the low-income senior housing complex. I will be the elderly woman who cuts her pills in half or eats one less meal because I can’t afford my medicine and food. I don’t want to be that woman when I am elderly.

Yet for those of us who dabble in the creative,a bleak future awaits us all if we are fortunate enough to grow old. (Lack of consistent health insurance and access to affordable health care might ensure an early death) No longer do people pay for creativity, thanks to the internet. We consume it with no financial investment on our parts. Back in the ole days, I remember when listening to music outside of the radio required someone paying for the music. Back in the old days, books, movies and magazines were paid for if we wished to consume them. (even at the library, the materials are often paid for). But now? We can read a smorgasbord of material from the comfort of our homes and never pay a penny for any of it and we have more or less come to expect this steady stream of material with no thoughts about the creators of this material. I am a writer with writer friends and I know more than a few writers on the brink of financial insolvency because publications that do pay writers, often pay pennies for articles ($50 for 1,200 words but millions of pageviews) or pay nothing at all. For bloggers, unless you have a popular and marketable niche the odds of earning actual money for your writing is harder than ever.

Back in the old days of blogging, a blogger might throw a tip jar up on the blog but as the digital landscape has changed, the tip jar in most cases is seen as tacky and as I have learned over the years the tip jar often stays empty. It’s been enough to make me think that it’s time to close my digital door and pick up a weekend job at Wal-Mart where at least I would earn a few dollars to stash away in the retirement fund. But the truth is, I really don’t want to do that and I am hoping that maybe a few of you wouldn’t want that either.

So I am putting on my tacky and gauche hat and asking regular readers to support this space. I am willing to continue giving my time to write pieces that I hope resonate with you but I am asking for your help to make this a donor supported space in an era where it’s increasingly harder for writers to receive more than pageviews. I love pageviews but here in Maine, the Central Maine Power company won’t accept pageviews for payment. I have met many wonderful people as a result of this space and I most certainly don’t wish to alienate any of you but I also know that long term I can’t sustain this space without financial support. I do have a modest goal, I would like to raise the $1,678 that I have invested in this space to date. Practically speaking, your support would allow me to pay up next year’s blog costs in advance and take care of a few minor things that I have been putting off as I pay down debt and save for my eventual relocation to Boston. So if you have the means, please consider a small donation and if you don’t send well wishes and keep reading!




6 Comments
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