My Food Stamps Manifesto, OR, How far will you go for your art?
You might judge me for posting this. What follows is an email I wrote to Beth while applying for food stamps. It was a very low point for me, inside my mind, my heart, my wallet. I legitimately needed assistance, but my decisions alone had led me there. When I decided to leave my nice steady job doing social media for a non-profit so I could lead the “artist’s life,” (write a book, write a movie, film that movie), I wasn’t truly prepared for what I’d done to myself. Financial instability is normal in your early 20s, forgivable in your mid-20s, and bordering on pathetic in your late-20s. At any point I could cash in my college degree and get a big-kid job, but I’m stubborn. I dream big. They say “You can’t do that” I hear “Prove to us you can.” The three or four less-than-part-time jobs I juggle that cobble together a less-than-livable income means I have freedom and time. Sweet time, the essential ingredient in any creative output. For my writing, I’ve forsaken security, “success,” and at times, sanity. I doubt myself daily. “I might be in the gutter but I’m looking at the stars” is on repeat in my mind. Maybe I’m just an entitled child of the Nineties. I don’t propose an answer, I’m just offering a glimpse at my reality. Maybe I should amend the question: How far is TOO far for your art?
Hello Beth….I am writing you this from the food stamps office of Los Angeles social services, Glendale branch, where all signs are written in English, Armenian, Spanish and Cantonese. I love the diversity of L.A., that never wears off. Im sitting here eating my humble pie and feeling more amongst my peers–the down and out surviving day to day real folk of this city–than I did at the indie music fest i worked over the weekend with the faux dirty hipsters with their complicated haircuts, practiced air of indifference, overdosing on urban outfitters and drunk on smart phones.
I am so relieved something like social services exists…I came straight from a credit counseling appointment in which i was informed i can’t afford credit counseling. Ha! Irony! I am in an income drought and the bar job i killed myself over bounced both their paychecks to me. I have $40 for the next 5 days, which makes it a good week. So i do legitimately need these food stamps. But i was given every advantage a person could want in this life, a happy home, college education, my health. Does it make me an asshole to now be needing this help, or strong for facing my truth and reaching out? i can’t/won’t ask my dad for help. I can’t/won’t go on dates for dinner, because that’s just casual prostitution, trading my sparkle for filet mignon.
The most positive outcome of these last few months in the hard scrabble is I’ve come to view the entertainment industry in a new way. Those nights i would come home from the bar, depressed and exhausted, i found the only relief from my thoughts to be in watching movies. And i didn’t want complicated, artsy fartsy high-minded narratives, but to laugh and be entertained.
I look around this social services lobby and see my audience. I don’t want to make movies for privileged white kids living in fashionable disrepair, for art school graduates and their 10 friends, for snarky internet critics and their need to produce content (negativity sells).
I want to uplift and engage these souls here at social services, not because being poor is noble, but because they deserve relief from the misery that is modern life. You know me, id love to have them over to my place, make them a snack and roll them a joint, but i can’t do that (not enough parking at my apartment/too broke for weed)…but i can plot stories for them, let them live inside magical kingdoms and see the shores of foreign lands. We need to remember THAT’S the power of making films: moving images delivered to those who would otherwise never see/feel/experience what we caught on camera.
When Hollywood makes schlock, slasher flicks, super heroes, video games come to life, they’re making it for these souls. But “entertaining” doesn’t need to mean “dumbed down.” High-concept doesn’t need to be low-soul. Lets strike the balance, make stuff for the film school students AND the immigrant mom of 5 sitting next to me, wrangling her kids in 2 languages.
And lets get ourselves some vegetables at the store, because hopefully Im going to have food stamps when i walk outta here, and I’ll be dammed if i use them on processed meat, refined sugar and the other fake foods I’ve been eating for years, which has kept me contained as an American robot, another cog in the happy meal wheel.
And need to go be in nature, where nothing is rushed, and the moon waxes and wanes, because perfection is the harmony of both darkness and light.