So the last time I called, it was to ask the meaning of art. This time I want to talk about its source and sustenance. Would you help me through my ambivalence on this question, follow as I st r u gg le? Thinking over the things my mother worked to procure for me – shelter, food, education – I noticed a glaring contrast to what you can find me busy reaching for. My writing. Mom was preoccupied with making rent and putting rice on the table. I am often lost in my search for the perfect word – whether I’m running around like a headless chicken or slogging through kitchen duty and the lessons with my son. Through it all I never waste a minute, too many things calling for my attention. So it is with moms, and I remember my mother flying everywhere all the time. But it was a different quality of time, a different meaning to it, between Mom’s and mine. Maybe one day I will write a book on the challenges that are my normal. It is on the soft bed of middle-class existence, though, that I do my battles, not the hard ground Mom walked. Would I pursue my writing in her worn-out shoes? I can take nothing for granted. I have mused at times that my world can be pulled from under me any moment. I’ve asked myself if I could keep up A Holistic Journey if I found myself a single parent without means. No. At least not with the time and fierce love I’ve poured into it. If a roof over my son’s head and food in his belly were no given but necessities that I had to clock in 12 hours outside the home for, I’d be foolish to consider my art in any space between the pressure. I would marshal all my resourcefulness and energy to meet my child’s basic needs today and prepare for his tomorrow. Survival trumps all, transforms many desires into nonessentials. Which leads me to conclude that art is a luxury borne out of class. Only now, 20 years after the required reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, am I able to write the paper with understanding.
So what do you make of Woolf’s famous precept that women need money and a room of their own to write? Unbroken time and space to think and hear herself. Woolf was insisting upon a level playing field in reaction to the socioeconomic disparities between men and women throughout the centuries that had impacted their art. It was men, and therefore male writers, who published readily. Women couldn’t get in the game a hundred years ago, let alone attempt to write through the demands of family life. Woolf wrote, “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom.” Freedom was one of many things my mother did not have. Financial, material, intellectual. She certainly had no room of her own in a one-bedroom apartment. Though I am not made of money, I still enjoy a feast of options on the food, toys, learning materials I can get my son. I will also fight for the freedom to teach him exactly as I wish if need be. Against this backdrop I exercise my intellect in the luxury to imagine and wonder beyond the walls of my home, and create. I feel secure enough that the walls will not give way. There was no such thing as self-actualization for my mother. No time, no wherewithal. Because my starting point in the discussion was this financial duress stamped into my consciousness, the joy I take in my art feels like hedonism. Now Woolf wasn’t arguing for luxury as she was that money and time be staple provisions for women as they were for men. She resonates with the wild, helpless artist in me, of course. My words are not wine but water, air. I would thirst and gasp if I couldn’t write. Not a day goes by where I don’t begrudge the clock my due, petition the day the time to myself.
But isn’t the classic starving artist single? Or childless (as luck would have it), able to stalk his dream at the encouragement of an understanding, optimistic spouse? Stephen King and the rest who created successfully through the stress of providing for young children seem to disprove the archetype. Yet while King helped with the kids, he did write in his lunch hour at work – outside the home. And though he was often broke, he had a college degree. I grew up watching extremely talented musicians busking in the subways of New York. Street art and brilliance out of the ghettos make it an interesting question, doesn’t it? The circumstances most hospitable to art. Of course it’s ridiculous to say the poor cannot birth what is powerfully beautiful. All over the world we have evidence to the contrary; poets and novelists who wrote in the trenches and drew upon raw experience to bring the power of reality to their art. But don’t time and the sense of stability that money can buy give you not only a room but space in your spirit to conceive things bigger than your life? If art keeps your heart beating, do you need money in the bank to live more fully? Turning our attention to virtual art: anyone can open a blog account and not all bloggers are professing artists. But do those of you who are serious about your art out here consider yourself above the stated lower class where you live? Money is no panacea and some of the richest people are the most unfulfilled. The question is how sustainable art is and whether it can thrive where one’s pocketbook fits only so many coins and groceries and dreams.