It’s two a.m. and my eyeballs are so stuck to my computer that I’m afraid I’ll have to use a spatchula to scrape them off the screen. I’m applying for jobs. Contract writing jobs, editorial positions, and (sigh) intern writing positions. The past two weeks have been hectic, as I’ve been churning out articles for several online magazines and print publications. This is, of course, in addition to the tutoring, editing, and web-building that I do on the side. My days are filled with words, as its my job to string sentences together in an effort to sew meaning in from the tattered chaos of language and information.
I try to sleep, but several thoughts tug at my pyjama sleeve: money, groceries, and, of course, my neglected pet project, Lady Medusa’s Blog. “Why haven’t you been updating Lady Medusa?” my friends and family ask, to which I can only reply by pointing to the fifty-something articles I’ve written for other publications. Put simply, I haven’t had time!
The title of this post hints that this entry will function as an apologia, a kind of defense for my lack of attention to Medusa and the aims of the project she represents. You see, Lady Medusa is trying to change the world, but in order to get to that point, Amanda Cosco must eat. I’m struggling to afford the basics like rent and groceries while trying to balance my humanitarian aims. At this point, my desire to do good is kept in check by my need for one thing: money.
In a capitalistic consumer society, one needs money in order to survive. We trade our skills and bodies for money so that we can participate in the exchange of goods and services. Right now, to earn my coin, I’m writing for editors. My hand is always guided by their vision, and my artistic voice is always auto-tuned to the voice of their publication. It’s not the same as writing for myself.
In addition, I’m searching for a job. Not just any job. A meaningful one. While some people are content going to work to earn money, I don’t think I’ve ever understood the concept of “going to work.” What does that even mean? Where do you go? Why? And more importantly, how is your life’s work reflective of your life? I’ve been thinking about this last question a lot lately. The average Canadian will spend more than a third of their life at work, so I can’t imagine waking up every day and “going” to a job that I hate. If I’m going to give “work” that much of my life, I want my work to be meaningful.
“Meaningful work” is a subjective term, so I’ll clarify: I love the arts. I’m seeking work where I can combine my appreciation for the arts with my writing skills and business-savvy mind. But here’s the rub: I also desire to work towards social change.
In Canada, on paper, women have it pretty good, but in my everyday experiences, I’m pushed up against sexism and racism in unimaginable ways. If we were truly equal, I wouldn’t have to deal with an editor hitting on me and then cutting down my work when I refuse his advances. If we were equal, I wouldn’t have to explain to people why I want to be a journalist and editor rather than a wife and mother.
The thing is, I know I’m a smart cookie. I have the paperwork to prove it. But despite my qualifications, I’m disheartened at the scarcity of meaningful work available in a society where the bottom line is The Almighty Dollar. Since our consumer society measures an individual’s worth in terms their net capitol, there’s little room for the aesthetic and emotional value of art. What’s more, there’s even less work available that fights the capitalistic model of production and consumption—a model that turns art into the punch-line of a long joke rather than appreciating it’s political potentials.
Do you live to work, or work to live? I refuse to work to live, as I see nothing productive or meaningful in working simply for a paycheck. Perhaps if I thought differently, there would be more food in my fridge, but I can’t understand how people spend eight hours a day, seven days a week doing jobs they hate. Can work be meaningful, or is it just a means to an end?
I refuse to believe that meaningful work is in direct opposition to earning money. In fact, I’m currently reading a book that argues the opposite. In How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurship and the Power of New Ideas, Daniel Bertnstein claims that now more than ever it’s possible to do good in the world without jeopardizing your survival. If we continually perceive money as something separate from (and in opposition with) social justice, then we’ll fail to see opportunities where money can be made and good can be done in the world.
I carry a heavy cross. I’m trying to change the world. I actually mean that. Somewhere along the way of my twenty-three years of existence, I formulated the idea that words are power, and that my words can shape the world.
With Lady Medusa, I’m documenting my life. The internet is such a pervasive and potent technology, yet we fail to recognize the opportunities of social media; in ten or twenty years, scholars will scour through our webpages and blogs, searching for evidence of how our lives were lived in 2011. Feminist scholars will search for female voices, and I fear—like the female scholars of today—they’ll have to dig to find us.
Historically, women’s voices have been relatively absent from literature. Women didn’t receive the same education as men, and didn’t have the same opportunities to publish as men did. In recent years, women may have obtained formal equality, but we still struggle to make a living, and many women (like me) are still just trying to survive. Virginia Woolf once wrote that a woman “needs money and a room of one’s own in order to write supremely goof fiction.” I took Woolf’s words literally. On a leap of faith, I moved to the city to write. I have a room of my own (though I can barely afford it) and everyday, I trade my labour for money in order to get by.
Although I’m lucky enough to be writing, I’m still not writing “supremely good fiction,” as Woolf calls it. Why not?
In the Summer/Fall edition of Quill and Quire, author Nicole Dixon argues that contemporary women writers are failing: “Our women writers are failing us – failing women – because they have stopped questioning, challenging and conceiving of alternatives.” As a female author, I can’t help but take Dixon’s claim personally, but in response, I need her to know that we’re trying. The only thing is, we’re still struggling to survive.
I only hope that, in fifty years, when academics are investigating the effect of social media on women’s writing, someone takes my voice into consideration. I’m trying to use social media sites (like Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress) as stage to orate my experiences, to bear witness to what it’s like for a woman and artist trying to “make it” in a supposedly “modern, post-feminist” society.
Yet, as I endeavor to document my story via Lady M, I’m also bending over backwards trying to survive—to earn money. Consequentially, as my writing for paid publications increases, the amount of energy I can dedicate to Lady Medusa decreases. There are only so many hours in one day. Yet, I can’t help but feel that something inside me is dying at the expense of something else. That’s the only way I can explain it right now.
My leap of faith is not only a test for me, it’s a test for women. I’m testing how far we, as female artists, have come since the days of Virginia Woolf, George Egerton, and Olive Schreiner. If Lady Medusa’s words die off, fading into the oblivion on cyberspace, it means I’m still struggling to survive. You’ll have to read between the lines.
If I am able to write, then each post will be a small success, a small step towards truly feeling that women and artists are “making it”. And, if ever I’m living comfortably enough to complete my book of short stories, my first collection of poetry, or my first novel, then these accomplishments will also be held as evidence of women’s success.
All I know is we’re still not there yet.
At this point, your words of wisdom and encouragement are definitely appreciated. Yes, I’m asking for your words—those little letters clumped together, those little trinkets of thought—despite everything, I still believe in them.