Biking to Work and Working to Bike: A Broke Blogger’s Struggle with Art v. Commerce

Today I had the pleasure to make the virtual acquaintance of former Austinite, now Denver-area, soon to be Pittsburghian writer Lauren Modery. Her blog is Hipstercrite, and her latest post To Geoffrey Owens —Thank You on Behalf of Working Class Artists. It draws on the experience of former Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens, who was shamed, then praised, for having a “day job.”

Geoffrey Owens
Geoffrey Owens

What does any of that have to do with bicycles? Well, everything and nothing. Readers of this blog know that I can and have linked a bicycle to Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and actor/director Tate Donovan, to chocolate, and to racism. (I’m still not sure but I’m really, REALLY hoping that it’s not racist to use the words chocolate and racism in the same sentence.)

The fact is, that work is for most people not in the 1% (like future ex-US President Tinyhands Orangehead), an inevitable part of life. A Dude is no exception. For almost a year, his work has been this blog and a book in progress, biking his ass off (though it’s still there), daily walking and yoga-ing, volunteering, among other things. But today, he rinally had to join the working class again and get the dreaded J-O-B. He rode there on his bike, of course.

Defendin’ Democracy, Stayin’ Alive

The job I got is a temporary one — helping with the election — something I’ve done before. It’s an interesting experiment in civics in that you are put in the middle of perhaps the most important part of democracy. You have to put aside your personal preferences and remain non-partisan. All manner of people come through the doors to exercise their franchise. The job is to process and help voters, but more than that, it is to honor and protect that highest of rights, not enjoyed by women and people of color until relatively recently in the US, and still limited or not available at all in some places. So a simple-sounding, low-paying gig is actually incredibly valuable to an institution and even a lifestyle most Americans take for granted. But mostly I just need the friggin’ paycheck.

“There is no job that’s better than another job. It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper. But actually, it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”  — Geoffrey Owens

Lauren Modery
Lauren Modery

Owen’s quote strikes a chord for me. As for Lauren’s piece, she skillfully works in her experience as a writer trying to make her own art, Geoffrey’s struggle to make it as an actor who discovers a new role as a spokesperson, for a moment, for the working class, and general attitudes Americans have about work and art. Her journey has taken her through numerous “day jobs” as well as success as a screenwriter; the film she co-wrote, Loves Her Gun, premiered at South by Southwest in 2013 where it was the winner of the Louis Black Lonestar Award. She’s no slouch. But she’s had to work to get there and still has to work, and isn’t doing it all for herself. Yet.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As a relatively new and as-yet unpublished author, I can relate to the struggle of wanting to create, express and produce something to inspire, help and teach others. I also realize that with the exception of a relatively few dear readers, I am one of millions of bloggers who is whispering in a windstorm. How I haven’t thrown in the towel is beyond me. (Well, maybe I have, but I keep tripping on said linen, and so I keep picking it up.) Like the huge lottery, I have this naive and wholly unrealistic hope I’ll get “discovered” and become “successful,” whatever those words mean. A Dude’s gotta eat. Alot. As a fathlete who enjoys food, yes, but also to power the body that’s bicycling 100 miles per week. (Check my Strava stats if you don’t believe me; I’m gonna hit 4,000 miles this year. Believe it.)

I guess what Lauren’s article got me thinking about is the fact that I’m being faced with the hard, cold truth of working a day job for the first time in almost a year. How that will affect my writing, both this blog and my book? What about the activities that feed that? Will my walking, yoga, and biking suffer? How will I continue to make it happen without the luxury of so much free time? How will I pay the bills with such low pay? What will I do in a few short weeks when the job is over and I have to start all over again? (I’m already pursuing other jobs, too.) The rising rent, mounting medical and food bills aren’t really flexible.

Make Your Art and Pay Your Bills

These may seem like small, First World, even white person problems. Maybe they are. It could be that these are just hobbies and privelege has allowed me to think that I’m entitled to do them. It’s possible I may have to quit writing this blog as much, as long as I do, or at all. The book may not get finished, or if it does, it may not see the light of day and get published and go nowhere. Maybe I have no talent, prospects, or future as a writer. It’s all an experiment. Things change, people change, interests change, health changes, circumstances change. But is writing, creating, art work? Even if it’s not compensated by crass, capitalist measure of success: the filthy lucre? Yes. It’s work.

Money is funny. I raised over $2,200 for breast cancer charities by doing a 40-mile bike ride, some in the rain. I’ve also raised $400 to be able to take a League Cycling Instructor seminar that will allow me to have insurance, teach kids and adults safe, smart cycling skills, and expand my empire as the King of All Things Bicycle of Austin, Texas. I’m kidding, obvi. When I mentioned either opportunity, most people got it. Even if they couldn’t pitch in. But a few, others, generally people across the aisle, would say careless, thoughtless things like “Just get a job,” “I can’t afford to give but I’m flying out on vacation tomorrow,” or my favorite, “Why are you so needy?”. I’ve never been great at making it, sacrificing gain over helping people, living a relatively frugal life, and one that has been for the most part, car-free.

So tomorrow, I’ll go to election worker training. After that, I’ll await the call to fill in for

bike to work 2018.jpg
Every day is Bike to Work Day for A Dude.

shifts that others can’t make. And work the following week five days, then a brutal all-day for the election. I’ll be a contributing member of society again, if even for a short time. I will get a paycheck, though small, that will keep me going another week. Sure, I’ll lament the crappy, low pay. But I’m already grateful for the opportunity to contribute to something important, greater than myself, an idea. An idea that we are all equal and that we have a voice in society. Regardless of status, job, wealth or lack thereof.

From famous actors who violate a woman’s trust and personal boundaries and break the law, to those who lost syndication money because of said actor’s crimes who take a working class job to provide for their family and still pursue their craft, to a writer working to create her own art but having to work for others, to this humble bike blogger and wanna-be author, a phrase from Punch magazine used by Mark Twain applies: “You pays your money, and you takes your choice.” It would help if the jobs paid a living wage. But that’s a topic for another blog.

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