getting my mind right

I’m in the midst of working through something, mentally and emotionally. I’ve been working on this for a long while. This was a significant contributing factor to my taking some time off from showing at art walks & art fairs a couple times a month (though getting to a point of running in the red month after month (probably due to the down economy) was the most significant factor), which I paused in March of this year. It’s the effect of commercialism/capitalism on my creative output.

I don’t believe in capitalism. I hate money. I don’t like business. Accounting rules are literally insane. Marketing makes me nauseous. Sales, inasmuch as I can do it honestly, is moderately acceptable, at best.

I’m concerned with the questions of ‘why’. The ‘why’ of my art, of my writing, of my publishing, of my life – none of it has to do with money. I’m not interested in wealth. I don’t want those concerns to alter or infect the ‘whys’ of my creative work, or my life in general. When I need to address a question of ‘why’ I created this book or that work of art, I don’t ever want the answer to be something like “to make money.”

This has been easier to maintain with my books, possibly because they’ve never been “profitable” in any financial sense. They’ve always been works of love, the ideas behind them and the effort going into them based on expressing myself and writing the books I wanted to write rather than the books I thought were going to sell. For a long time, this was true of my art, as well. Then I began doing the art walks every month. Twice a month, at times. Investing as much or more time in selling my art than I was in creating it.

The mini-paintings were literally a money grab. The reason I bought small canvases (mostly 4×4″, but up to 8×10″) to paint was so that I could have items for sale under $20 at the art walks, where people often balked at paying realistic/appropriate prices for art. One problem with this was that, after a while, I would get down to a day or two before an art walk and -in a panic- paint half a dozen mini-paintings at once, almost entirely at random, just so I would have something that might sell. Another was that they became an overwhelming percentage of sales. In 2008, where I only did art walks for four months, they made up 28% of my unit sales and about 3.6% of my revenue from art. In 2009 where I showed probably 18+ times, they were 66% of unit sales and 25% of my art revenue. If I exclude the sale of the original artwork created for my book covers (and sold explicitly to people who wanted to support the publication of my books), for 2010, which I only showed at 3 art walks before pausing, mini-paintings make up 100% of my art sales. (Actually, looking at my spreadsheet, I also sold a crocheted mobius strip for $5 and a crocheted zombie to a fan of my books at Comicon, and I consider my crocheted creations to be sculptural artwork. If I account for those works, the mini-paintings only make up 71% of unit sales and 52% of revenue for 2010.)

So, even when I first began to create the mini-paintings, I was already uneasy about the significantly commercial nature of their existence. Certainly they were each an original work of handmade art, created with my own style and ideas. Just as certainly, I was creating them for the express purpose of making sales at art walks. When they began to make up a larger and larger proportion of both my creative efforts and my actual sales, it made me very uneasy. The point of showing at the art walks wasn’t really supposed to be about finding something that would sell and making that, over and over again, just for the sake of sales. The point was supposed to be that I already create art and the only way to sell it is if people know it’s available. I believe (though I’d have to go to my other computer and dig around in Quickbooks for a while to give accurate numbers) that I made more sales online via Twitter/Plurk/facebook in 2008 and 2009 than I did at art walks (not in volume, but in revenue). My art walk sales were mostly, then, works I’d created from a drive to have something to sell, rather than from a drive to express myself or to create what I wanted to create. Which makes me a bit sick.

My wife and I have been working on our financial situation fairly diligently for the last ~3 years (we’ll have been married 3 years on 12/1), and I’ve been working on structuring my “business model” for Modern Evil Press so that I’m not running further in the red the more books I write (see: selling paintings to pay for the cost of publishing, specifically the original cover art (and possibly interior illustrations, in future) for the book in question), and this year we reached a point where we’re slightly better than breaking even both personally and in terms of the business. I’ve got us on track, barring unexpected negative changes (apocalypse, housefire, expensive car repairs, pregnancy and the like), to have all our debt (was close to $45k when we married) paid off except Mandy’s student loans (another $40k) by mid-2013. That’s without Modern Evil Press earning another dollar. That’s without selling any more art. If I could make money from my art and books, we could get there faster, but it isn’t necessary.

This is what what I’ve been working on, mentally and emotionally. This is how I’ve been trying to get my mind right; to deeply realize that making money from my creative output isn’t necessary. With a model similar to what I did with the Lost and Not Found – Director’s Cut, going electronic-only (eBooks & audiobooks) until/unless sales (generally: the original cover art) cover the cost of going to press, I can write as many (or as few) books as I’d like. With the amount of canvas & paint & yarn I currently have stockpiled (from excellent sales at local stores), I’ll have a debt account or two paid off before I need to go shopping for real (expensive) art supplies again – so I’ll be able to afford it, even if none of the art I create between now and then sells. I need to fully return to a point of creating from inspiration rather than from profit motive.

I’ll accept profits, if and when they appear, but that isn’t -and shouldn’t be- why I work.

trick v. treat

I saw some tweets today, some people making comments about their preference re: tricks and re: treats.  It’s Halloween-time, it’s understandable, and it occurred to me that this says something about people.  About what sort of person they are.

Actually, at first it directed me to think about the fact that, as a child and as a youth, I was never exposed to the culture and reality of Halloween “tricks” – for me, and as far as I knew, the repeated phrase “trick or treat” was just part of the Halloween ritual.  Especially as a child, I never thought about the meaning of the words – I just said what I was expected to say, when I was expected to say it, and was rewarded with candy.  Later, as an adult, and only through cultural context and never through personal experience, I became aware that for other people, Halloween isn’t (just) about dressing up in a silly costume and practicing communism with candy – it’s about pranks, tricks, vandalism, et cetera.  None of which has ever seemed like a good idea, or fun, to me.

Thinking about this today, and about the people who were saying that they’d always preferred tricks to treats, on Halloween, I saw immediately that it corresponded directly to the sort of people I don’t like.  Inconsiderate people, assholes, people who think of themselves first and often others not-at-all.  People for whom saying “trick or treat” taught them that it was morally and socially acceptable to extort what you want from people with threats of violence and vandalism and harassment.  Who were probably taught, if not by their parents then by other youths of the same ilk, that it’s wholly appropriate to act out (and break the law) if, on 10/31, you ask a homeowner for candy and aren’t satisfied by the result.

I was taught to obey the law.  To me, Halloween is about sharing, and community-building.  When I first heard about people going to neighborhoods other than their own for “better candy”… even as a youth, I knew better – that’s clearly exploitation of the modern urban isolationist lack-of-community.  Admittedly, I’m not much good at community myself, these days.  I also don’t like wearing costumes, at all.  And I mostly don’t like to participate in holidays.  But that’s personal preference – and so is, I guess, having respect for other people, for their property, and for the law.

To me, one of the ideas of Halloween is that even though not everyone wants to or is able to participate (some houses stay dark and/or have no candy), there’s more than enough candy to go around.  Everyone takes home a bag full of a wide variety of treats, and everyone gets to see all the different and interesting costumes and the happy families, and to connect with the people in their neighborhood.  There’s no need to follow through on the ritually-threatened “tricks” to act out against non-participants; you’re going to have a good time and get candy without them.  Obviously, this requires a critical mass of participants – but that’s why it’s supposed to be about the community!  If you lived in a neighborhood where most of the people didn’t want to participate, and you were part of a community with those people, you would know it, and vice versa.

Communist activities like Halloween work only when there is a community of people who are connected to one another – isolationism and self-interest run contrariwise to them.  Being community-minded leads to a harmonious event where everyone has a good time and is rewarded.  Being self-interested and having a disregard for community leads to tricks, pranks, vandalism, and retaliation, which would only lead those being attacked for not participating toward further isolation from the community that attacked them.

I think this post changed tracks, somewhere. Thinking in words again, I guess.

Doctors are selfish bastards, pt. 1

There is a shortage of Primary Care Physicians in the US. It leads to longer waits for patients to see doctors for basic & preventative care, and to PCPs who have less time to spend with each patient.  ie: Wait weeks-to-months for a 15 minute appointment with your doctor.  (And/or get treated by a nurse instead.)

There is not a shortage of doctors. But given the choice between earning 2 or 3 times the median household income as PCPs and 10+ times the median household income as specialists/surgeons, doctors are choosing earning more money over doing what is best for people’s health, or for society at large.

We pretend that doctors, as a class, want to help.  Want to do good.  That they selected their profession with noble intentions.  Sadly, this is not borne out by the facts.  Not any more.  Not in how doctors set their courses as a group, and not in how they practice medicine on a day-to-day and patient-by-patient basis.*

They are choosing self over society.  They are choosing wealth over health.

*(The latter exemplified in the rising costs of healthcare without corresponding increases in wellness or even accurate diagnosis – doctors don’t bother to do a good job because they get paid better not to.  Which is a separate issue I may post about another time; today I am thinking about a dearth of PCPs, not the average PCP’s high likelihood of running a test rather than thinking.)