Friday, March 27, 2009

Philadelphia Chronicles: Part One

I moved to Philadelphia on New Year's Eve with no safety net. Well, at least not economically. During the 3 months that I've lived here I have faced a number of challenges as far as following my passions while also managing to get by goes. Much of this has been related to the process of transitioning from one place to settling in somewhere new. From the bureaucratic nightmares of forwarding mail and opening a bank account to just figuring out how to frugally access resources in an unfamiliar city.

Before I moved to Philly I planned on structuring an independent work week in which I would get up every morning (at least Monday through Friday) and spend the days working on my own projects: Booking tours and doing publicity work with Aid & Abet, the activist booking agency I started with former Clamor editor Jen Angel, along with publishing my own writing. The idea was that if I worked on this stuff as if it were a full-time job then I could get paid enough to sustain myself, to at least be able to scrape by without an hourly wage job working for someone else.

The first challenge that arose involved my previous hourly wage job working for someone else, in Massachusetts. I was depending on my final paycheck being mailed to me in a timely fashion, as my former boss had promised, in order to get by during my first month in Philly. What actually transpired is a long frustrating story that, most significantly, involved that promise being broken/forgotten and me not having access to the money that I worked hard for until early February; over one month after the fact.

In addition to the immediate material problems that this situation posed, it affected me psychologically in terms of my ability to work on my own projects full-time. With no money in sight I was distracted from fulfilling this goal. The economic imperatives of survival trumped my motivation and desires. With basic needs like access to food becoming uncertain, I began to delve into the dark, disempowering world of job hunting. But because my heart was never in it, because I never intended to begin my experience here working for someone else, this process simultaneously impeded my own projects and only served to perpetuate my lack of income.

This brings up larger systemic challenges that I have been confronted with in this new city: The cultural and economic pressure to conform to the capitalist work ethic along with the dominant definitions of work and employment. Because our identities in the US are so shaped by our occupations, it's hard not to internalize a certain amount of shame around "unemployment." This is the case even as we struggle to redefine what work means by devoting endless hours to the things we are passionate about--often for little or no money. It can involve more risk than most folks are able to take though, as debts multiple or we become ostracized by family members and peers, among countless additional challenges. The system is designed to prevent many of us from even attempting to engage in new ways of living and working.

I continue to struggle with this especially amidst the economic crisis that seems to be profoundly affecting this city and the entire world. My work booking tours and writing still has not been able to provide me with enough money to live, but that continues to be the goal.

-Matt Dineen

Friday, March 20, 2009

Update and 'Downward Mobility' Story

Hello everybody. First of all, I just want to announce that I will be updating this "blog" more often now. In fact, my goal is to post something new every Friday...starting today! So make sure to check back again next week for the next installment. It will be a mix of: my personal reflections on a variety of issues related to this topic of surviving under capitalism while simultaneously struggling to actualize my passions, what I truly want to be doing with my life; transcribed interviews with other folks discussing their experiences with this dilemma; and other essays and conversations that I find relevant to this project.

I have been living in Philadelphia since the final day of 2008 and have a lot to share about my experience here. That will likely be the theme of next week's post. For now, I just want to share one short story about something that happened recently...

In early February, I went back to Massachusetts with a friend who also recently moved to Philly from there. On the ride back we were talking about a cafe in my neighborhood here where a lot of punks and activists hang out and she mentioned the one time that she had been. She overheard a frustrating conversation some folks were having that inspired her to write some grafitti in the bathroom (where chalk to write on the walls is provided) about "downward mobility."

When I got back I discovered, and appreciated, what she wrote. Then a couple weeks later, I came across an essay on the excellent website Enough, written by its co-founder Tyrone Boucher, that was inspired by my friend's grafitti! I got in touch with Tyrone, who apparently lives in the same neighborhood as me, and shared this connection. We are meeting up for coffee next week to discuss issues around wealth, privilege, and "the personal politics of resisting capitalism." I'm obsessed with the potential of ideas spreading, and how they are like seeds being planted. We hope that they grow into something bigger eventually, beyond just words on a screen or a bathroom wall...

-Matt Dineen