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.