A decade and a half ago, after I quit my comfortable job at the university and set out on a freelance career as a writer, I suffered. I suffered a lot trying to make a living. Or rather trying to cash in the money that I was due. I struggled. Many people were keen on writing for free. How was I supposed to make money in such an atmosphere? Nobody produced fridges or any other stuff and gave them to shops for free so that shops could sell and make money, why did people do that with writing? They wrote, gave to newspapers, newspapers sold that piece along with other free pieces they were given. A friend remarked “That's because they write as they shit.” No comments on that one. Someone else said “Writers/artists get money.” Well, maybe some well-known ones did, but not all. I believed that sentence had to be stated the other way around: Money had to be PAID to writers/artists. If newspapers/magazines were selling their product and they were using your contribution, they had to give you retribution.
Many rivers flowed under the bridge since then. Life changed, my views changed. I guess I still think if money is paid for other things, money should be paid for writing as well. But I no longer have such an expectation. We now live in an age where many people pay money out of their pockets to have their books printed. Now there is so much stuff on the Internet, mostly free. There are quality ones too among them. When the situation is this, I wonder why anybody prints books, who reads books? Don't I read? I do. But I cherry-pick now. Because unfortunately I've grown to think most books are “hollow”. And of course there is the fact that as I have zoomed into certain areas of interest with age, not much grabs my attention.
Earning a living gets harder in other areas too. Competition is on the rise. A friend of mine who worked as a guide for the Japanese was complaining about the agency who did not want to pay her for guiding. The Japanese left high tips, plus the guides got commission from sales, the agency wanted free guide service. Looking from the agency's side, it provided an opportunity for my friend to make money. Just like the newspapers see it as providing recognition and visibility to the writer.
Isn't there a truth in this view? Sure there is. But come to think of it, when the system starts rolling this way, as people need to earn a living and they cannot do so by the main job/work they do, they become shopkeepers or merchants. Guides try to make their tourists shop. You earn if you can sell. Whereas guiding should not be commerce. Selling/Commerce is another talent. It's a different profession. But that difference blurs every passing day. As "the bread is in the mouth of the lion" as we say in Turkish, everybody is pushed to become a lion themselves. Everybody is forced to become a merchant.
Musicians struggle too. However, they can at least make money from concerts if not from CD sales. Concerts are an area which is directly related to music. Thus they're in a rather better position. Of course I don't know how they see it from the inside. It may very well be that they need to have the talent to "sell" themselves in order to go on concerts.
When it comes to lawyers, they complain about people consulting them and not wanting to pay for it. That the claimants want the opposite party to pay for the lawyer fee. Which, to me, seems very fair actually. The one in the wrong should pay all the expenses, why should someone without any fault be obliged to pay at all? ( http://www.gulin.world/on-laws-and-justice.html ) Unfortunately, lawyers don't see it that way. It's not justice they are after, they are after making money for their living. True, usually it takes years for a case to come to a final conclusion, and lawyers have to live so they expect money upfront. Yet, once the case is decided, the “winner” does not get the lawyer money s/he spent back, what's worse, he is not always sure that he'll be able to cash in the money from the losing party. So the lawyers and the justice system is always at an advantage. The one who has been wronged takes all the risk. Now, that doesn't look fair to me, but that's the way it is.
Anyway... In all freelance jobs, there is the problem of cashing in the money you earn. You may get money upfront, but you don't know if you'll be able to get all of it.: If people will pay what they promised. That's why parents usually want a 9-5 desk job for their children to provide a secure future.
I look at life, at how money flows in the modern city... Somethings are so abundant and cheap. There is a Chinese shop at every corner. They are all a bunch of “clutter” if you ask me. On the other hand, you may find what you're looking for when you need something.
I am very spoilt too. Street markets in Italy are full of piles of used or out of stock new clothes. I go to the market, I do not even turn my head to have a look at benches that have price tags more than 2 euros. Of course satiety plays a role in this. When one does not need anything, it's a lot even to spend 2 euros. I buy a 2 euro thing only if I like it a lot or if my daughter needs it urgently. If a piece I saw on a 50 cent bench is 1 euro the next week, I find it too much and do not buy. Still, every time I go to the market, I find myself coming home having bought a couple of 1 euro pieces for myself and my daughter. I put myself up for a challenge. I once want to go and come back empty handed. Couldn't succeed yet. I either say “It's just a coffee money,” or I say “These people need to make a bit of money too” and I buy.
On the other hand, when it comes to food shopping... Beforehand, I used to buy the cheapest olive oil, now I buy the most expensive. Organic zucchini is four times as much as the normal, bio chicken is 20 euros by the kilo. I spend money on these. I say “How much do we eat anyway? It should be the best quality.” I see it worth for our health and spend. I don't give a second thought. Well... Maybe I give a one and a half thought for the zucchini.
I don't think twice before either when giving to others. I do not calculate when giving to an orphanage I have found trustworthy. I guess they've taken notice of it, they ask when they need something, and we give. Beforehand, I used to evade those obviously “foreign” people who tried to sell something in front of the supermarkets, or who wanted to take your cart back in order to get the 50 cents-1 euro that you had put in. That's how I was raised. Now, especially after I started writing on migrants, I have developed a different conscience. “Who are these people? How did they come here? Why did they? How do they live?” I wonder. Slowly, I started a dialogue with one.
I was at Coop, our supermarket. On coming out, a black young guy approached. Socks on one hand, lighters on the other. I had a look but said “Non serve”, there was nothing I needed. “Please help,” he said. I put the groceries in the car, put my daughter in her seat and fastened her seat belt. I was thinking, buying myself time. After closing the door, I took out my wallet and handed over 20 Euros to the guy. “This is not a hand-out, I do not like or approve of the way this world treats you,” I wanted to say but my Italian is not that good. “Do you speak English?” he asked. Yes. I asked him too. He said yes too. He was from Nigeria.
“When did you come here?”
“Five years ago.”
“How did you come?”
“Where do you stay?”
“In a house.” He pointed the direction with his hand.
They were staying a couple of people, now the others went away. He was alone. In one room.
While getting on the car, I asked from the window “What's your name?”
“Colis,” he said. He had a happy smile on his face. I thought... He is human... He is human too. A human interaction... Don't we all need this? He is in trouble and is in need, who does he turn to? He asks someone. Those someone generally prefer to pretend these people do no exist, they prefer to ignore. When we ignore, when we go our way, do these people disappear? No. Do their problems disappear? No. We should, could see that money as a tax we need to pay for those people. We pay the world to the government for nonsensical stuff. I don't think Colis flinches/eludes/shies away from work. If somebody gave him Carlo's job even at half, even at a quarter of the salary, I'm sure Colis would get up early in the morning, get on the train and sweat. He would do other menial work too. Why would he have come here leaving his home, his family? To a country he doesn't speak the language? How does he live alone? I'm sure he has friends but what kind of a life does he lead? I felt I lost an important chance. I should have gone to his home and found out his story when I found someone speaking English. But I did not expect this. These people generally are not at Coop. I did not see the Indian looking girls I did the other day again either. Hopefully next time.
Then when I got home, I looked at the receipt of my shopping... My bio chicken was 50 % off. It was 11.20 by the kilo instead of 22.40. I had bought seven boxes. It added up to 19.50 Euro discount. “I saved a lot,” I thought and right away realized I had given that money to Colis. Fair. That the money went to him instead of Coop. I don't know why I gave 20 either. It would perhaps have been strange to give more. I had thought of 20 and I had a 20 bill in my wallet. Next time I have to do it in a more aware and organized way, give my e-mail address and listen to their stories. Even if I don't go to their house and interview them...
On one hand there is the question of why I should be giving money to someone who has not done any work, on the other “If I advocate these, I have to help.” At some period I kept giving 50-100 Euros to Colis. Then, when I said I was thinking of giving a higher amount Carlo asked “Is he on our payroll?” My face lengthened. "If we are to adopt him, let's agree and give a certain amount monthly, we do not do it randomly," he went on. I wasn't really convinced. So, as he is the one making the money, I stopped giving. I mean I gave less. Upon our return from the round-the-world tour, Colis had disappeared. He wanted to go to Germany, his wife and 2 year-old daughter were there. He must have managed. I was happy for him. Now there is another black guy I need to befriend. A bit chubby, has a nice smile on his face.
Last week, I left Carlo at the station. There was no water to clean the windshield, so he couldn't do it. I do not care about such things, I drive like that. But Carlo is obsessed. When he was getting off, he said “Wait a minute. There is water at the back. Let me fill it up.”
“No need,” I objected.
“There is time for the train, I have time,” he said.
Who cares about him having time?! “I am the one who doesn't have the time!” I yelled out from the open door.
Upon hearing me, I realized a black man started coming toward us with fast steps. We speak English with Carlo. I don't know if the guy approached me because he found someone speaking English in Italy or just arbitrarily. “I'm hungry,” he said.
I looked at Carlo. “I don't have change,” he said. “Do you?”
Now, there is the previous incident. I was actually going to give 50 to the man. Then I took out a 20 and gave it. I asked where he was from. “From Ghana,” he said. I actually wanted to talk to him but he turned around and left with quick steps as he came.
At night, Carlo asked how much I gave the man. He usually doesn't ask such things. He doesn't ask how much something is. He just hands the money to people, puts the change given back in his pockets without counting. He is such a man. Has no count, no finances. Anyway,
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I don't know. That's why I asked.”
“Guess,” I said. But when he didn't guess, I asked “How much would you have given if you had money?”
“50 cents, 1 euro,” he replied.
When I told him I gave 20, he said “You must have made his day.”
“Do you think so?”
“Eh yes. Nobody gives such money to people on the street.”
:) Perhaps that's why he ran away so fast, thinking I might be asking for the money back.
That same afternoon our neighbor upstairs dropped by. She just graduated from university. Albeit it's a three-year university. Doesn't serve much. Making a masters is about 6000 Euros per year. She wants to take a cooking course, that's about 3000 Euros. She has to earn that money somehow working. She doesn't have anything to do, sits at home. I mean not idly. She does housework, she runs the house. She did the waiter for a short time but either the restaurant shut down or the old waiter came back, she couldn't continue. Being originally from Venezuela, her mother tongue is Spanish. She wants to give private lessons. She put flyers at the tennis club etc. Nobody is interested much. In the end, she found a place like a cultural center. They give 5 euros per hour. She goes there for two hours a week. “Instead of staying home,” she said. “I get experience, I develop confidence in myself. Besides, I may get to know people.”
On the other hand, she had a friend who owned an ice-cream parlor, he needed someone. “You need to go there at 4 pm until 1 am. It's not so crowded now but in summer that place overflows. You are up on your feet all the time. And what does he pay? 4 euros an hour,” she nods her head “No” with lips pursed. Eh “If she doesn't take a job when there is opportunity, she must not need the money so much,” I think to myself. But isn't she right? She doesn't need it that much to work for such money. When Lara was a baby, I used to give her 7 euros an hour to babysit. At least it's something fun, no expense or time loss for transportation either. Now of course Lara has grown up and I don't need anyone. I don't want to spend money needlessly. And if I call her and say “I give 4-5 euros an hour,” wouldn't that be inappropriate? Wouldn't that be using her? But I won't be asking her for myself, I give the job for her to make money, don't I have the right to ask for some more extra time for myself?
“Why don't you work at a job related to your schooling?” I asked.
“I can work as an intern somewhere, but they don't pay.”
“Eh be it. That's experience too. Besides, they may hire you afterwards.”
“Perhaps it was so beforehand. Now that there is a crisis, everybody is trying to cut expenses. They use you during a trial period, when time is up they say 'Sorry, we don't have the budget' and give way to you. They get another intern.”
Who is wrong here? Isn't the business owner right in his own way? He is trying to save money too. But then again... How is this girl going to make money?
What About Shared?
Going back to my original problem... Should it be free or paid?
“If all other things are paid, writing should be paid too,” I still feel like saying. Eh but how can you stop those that do not need money to give it for free? You cannot. There is a set up/established order, market economy, supply-and-demand, and it goes on. Or it rolls on. I studied these, got the lessons but I still do not get it. Because life does not go on as in course books. What's more, life changes so fast these days. Uber, AirBnb... But they are not really sharing environments. They are just a different form of marketplace/capitalism. They give people a chance to have their "own" small business, yet, the exploitation still goes on at another level. Couchsurfing is the number one sharing site that comes to my mind but there are so many other exchange and give-away sites. Should writing be paid? How can someone make money from writing? Can one? How do the ones that do? How do other people working in other fields make a living? I am seriously puzzled.
I'd say... Everybody's sheltering needs need to be met. Everybody should at least have a roof over his head or a hut. Everybody's basic needs such as food needs to be met too. Don't say “How is that going to be?” Don't say “Where are you going to find the money from?” Apparently, the top 100 richest people earned money enough to end world poverty four times over.
I'm not saying that people should not work but if they are ready to work and cannot find a job, what are they to do? Go hungry? “That's what social welfare is for,” you may say. But again apparently, it's not enough to limit that within the borders of “our” countries.
On one hand we live in abundance. The Chinese shops and tons of clothing at the market. Seriously, what's going to happen with all these? What about the food that goes bad at the supermarket? What about the white furniture and electronics at the techno shops? Who buys so much stuff? What happens to those that are not sold?
In one of the forums I've read someone was saying, “An apple tree gives so much fruit that it's impossible for you to consume alone. It's as if the tree is saying 'Share' to you. 'Give away.'”
It's so true. Even if you make jam or store it somehow, it's so much! But we generally don't give away. We either let them rot or, as we use a commodity called money we rather sell instead of sharing, then either use the money to buy something else or save it up for a later day as an indemnity.
Maybe it's time to change that and go on to a sharing economy.: which, by getting rid of capitalism, might also get rid of the enormous waste and suffering the "more profit monster" causes.
I asked Carlo, "I mean I know the answer but why do people put clicks and clicks on websites? You need to click ten times in order to read two sentences."
"You are the opposite," he remarked.
"It's for advertisement," I answered my own question.
"Yes of course it is," he confirmed.
"Yes of course I am the opposite," I confirmed his previous remark. "What's the point of getting a million hits if people do not read what I write? So many distractions with other links, just for the sake of clicks? What is the point of writing if it is not to convey something useful to make the world a better place, share an experience, or share the product of your inner world?"
Manufacturers keep producing, people in sweatshops keep toiling... What for? To sell. Not to provide for a need of others but to provide for their own needs.: Worse yet, for their own luxuries. Those in sweatshops are made to sell their lives so that some others can enjoy themselves, whereas all the meanwhile they only cover their basic needs.
Most of the money that is poured into advertisement is not for the service of others but for the pockets of the company. Don't you think there is something wrong with all this? Something seriously wrong?
I'm sure another model is possible. I don't know exactly how, I don't know exactly when it can be realized, but the only way to save this planet -and mankind along with it- is to shift to another economic model. One in which competition does not entail the submission of the many to the endowments of the few. In which consumption is discouraged, rather than encouraged. I know, the switch will not be abrupt. But the bottomline is to start.
So... Let's start.
But how do we even start? How do you start sharing in a world that runs on money? We need to pay rent, utility bills, gasoline, buy food and other necessities. Under these conditions, it's difficult for many people to even start. Okay, so let's get back to what I advocate. Let's plant these ideas, these seeds. After all, Max Planck, the German theoretical physicist who won the Nobel prize for his work on quantum mechanics said "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
So let's plant new seeds and wait for the next generation to grow up ;)
PS: Don't think I know anything because I write. I don't ;)* I only make an assessment and try to identify mistakes so that a solution can be found. These are the fruits of my brainstorms. Take it and continue from here yourself...
* This applies to other writers as well ;) Just because someone writes, doesn't mean they know much. So read, but think for yourselves.