Rasma Says

Musings, deliberations, flashes of unaccounted for brilliance…

Money, money, money – bad for the spirit?

In Reiki healing the teaching is that the person receiving the reiki must pay. Reiki is energy, and money, too, is only energy so the exchange of energy for energy creates a perfect balance. It is said that when Mikao Usui came down from Kurama mountain with Reiki he offered it at first for free, but found that it had a healing effect only for those who were willing to pay for it.

Be that as it may, we have a general cultural taboo against asking for money for something when it is 1) esoteric 2) creative 3) spiritual 4) anything other than the product of materialistic-capitalistic greed. In other words: words, thoughts, ideas, and art in its many forms are passed these days from one person to another, shared on blogs, bulletin boards, webpages, emails and all other aspects of the virtual world where a large part of the world spends a large part of the day. I have sometimes wondered at the willingness of people to allow their work to be copied and spread around on flickr and facebook and what have you. And I have considered myself just too plain selfish to do the same. Or I haven’t learned the rules yet to know how to play the game. If there is a game.

I have published lots of poems, and been paid nothing for most of them. I have published lots of essays and been paid a few hundred dollars for some of them and nothing for others. I have grown up in a literary culture where you don’t expect to be paid for your writing, unless of course you are in the big league of publishing blockbusters. But every creative writer I know, even those with a long list of book titles to their credit, earn their living by doing something else. This makes writing into a type of hobby, because it is what we do for free.

And of course we have to do it for free, because the magazines and anthologies that publish us are always on the brink of economic doom. We don’t expect them to be making money, and we don’t expect them to pay us.

Why aren’t they making money? Because we don’t want to pay to read the books and magazines. We get them at discount rates, off discount tables at the bookstore, from the discount online booksellers. When was the last time I paid full price for a book? Well, I actually did just order a whole load from Alibris. Most of the books I needed could not be purchased with a comparison-buying approach, they either were not in print, or they were, and I paid for them with my research grant money.

A few years ago when I approached a publisher and asked them to let me write a textbook for them, I was just thrilled to be given the opportunity. I had no idea how much I would be paid, but coming from the mindset of creative writer, I expected it to be not much. A few thousand dollars would have been more than I had ever made before from writing. The book project was difficult, grueling, and as I plodded along I swore to myself never again, no way was this worth the effort. But it was, because unlike most of my writing being a labor of love, I have earned a fair chunk of money from that book.

But there is that terminology again: creative writing is a labor of love, so don’t expect to get paid…. whereas textbook writing is a hellish toil, so of course you are paid well for it? I don’t know. I work just as hard at my creative writing, more really, because the textbook writing was, when I look back on it, much easier than, say, finding a way to end my essay “Urdu, My Love Song,” which took years. But when I finally found a way to end it, the thing was done, and perfect. And I was paid a hundred dollars for it. Then it earned me an award and I got another $500. Then the teacher’s union got wind of it and gave me about $600 more. Then a college textbook asked to reprint it in a course book, with no mention of compensation. Now another university has asked to put it in a compendium, and told me to bill them for it.

Therein lies my dilemma. If they had asked to reprint it for free I would have said yes. If they said we’ll pay you a hundred dollars to reprint it I would have said yes. But they have asked to reprint it and put the onus of determining the monetary value of the essay onto me.

Lil’ old me, the creative writer, who isn’t supposed to want money for my creative writing, because creative writing is creative, a labor of love, a spiritual state of affairs, not to be tarnished by talk of money. And, you might well say, hasn’t the wench been paid enough for the essay already? Aren’t most essays written and published FOR FREE?

Yes, they are. But should they be? Why shouldn’t we be paid, well paid at that, for creating something that invokes the human spirit, touches the human heart, stirs the human mind? Why is not a labor of love deserving of lots and lots of money?

I just did a google search for “costs for reprint rights” and found that the universal conversation going on out there is about how cheaply something can be obtained, how to get by without paying, where to find the cheapest volumes of this and that, and how many words can you use of somebody else’s writing without having to even tell them about it.

Money, it seems, cheapens the worth… the best values are those in which the least amount of money can be used. WELL DUH you might say, best value for money means cheapest price doesn’t it?

Does it? I just spent the day at Paris’ largest flea market, at Clignancourt. Bargaining prices down is part of the game, but at one point I thought to myself why shouldn’t this old man from Senegal, this young immigrant from Morocco, this hardworking waiter from the 18th arrondissement get as MUCH money as I can afford to pay for their good service or quality product, rather than as little money as I can get by with? Why is money the dirty word, the point of contention, the issue that raises the hackles and provokes the ire of citizen-man?

Mikao Usui had another notion. That paying more money for something actually increased its value. This gets me back to what to charge for my essay. I went onto the website of the NFFO, the writers union I belong to, and found that low and behold they actually had a table for what to charge for reprint rights. By the line, the word, the number of characters including spaces, and depending on the type of publication and print-run. So I get out my trusty calculator and decide I will calculate out the various options, and charge the university in England the cheapest.

About a thousand dollars, charging by the number of lines, is the cheapest.

But they aren’t going to want to pay that are they? A poor struggling university whose goal is to edify the minds of young people would be offended if I asked a thousand dollars for an essay which they could have just photocopied out of another book and used without my ever knowing it, right? Will I sound like a selfish boar instead of a creative writer if I ask for so much money? Will they say no thanks and not want the essay any more?

Here I sit, unable to deal with, or understand, or determine the worth of a piece of creative writing that I put my heart and soul into writing and which others seem to really get something out of too. But that means I should just give it away, right?

Or does it mean I should be well paid?

All I know is that as a creative writer, I am used to someone else deciding on whether I will get a thimbleful or a spoonful of crumbs tossed my way, and saying yessuh, thankyee suh, when they do.

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This entry was posted on 26/07/2011 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , .

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