Thoughts on Expensive Lit things

Or why no I’m not applying to ALL of those conferences, residencies and whatnots.

Before I get into it, understand this is no shade to those who can. I’m going to talk specifics to me and my lived life.

Ookay. We’re going to talk about why the famed residency etc type things that you apply for with work samples and cash are not really going to be a thing for folks like me. When I say folks like me here’s what I mean:

  • Poor
  • Breadwinners
  • Caretakers
  • etc

Now when I’m talking cost here, I also have to take in the following:

  • Do I have paid vacation time from work?
  • Can I use it?
  • Do I have sick time accrued in case I get sick?
  • Can I -get- that time off?
  • How long would it take for me to save to cover costs if a scholarship isn’t granted?

We’ll assume that for the spots I’m mentioning, I get into them.

So let’s start with four of the most famous that I know of. Breadloaf. Hedgebrook. Clarion West. And a personal holy grail Vona. We’re going to pretend I’m applying for all of them.

So all in, just to apply I’d need to have available:

105$. (+if after an early deadline an extra 25$ for Clarion)

Now because I’m a practical kind of potato, I’d also only rest easy if I had the deposits available for potential acceptances:

I could only find deposit info for Vona which would be another $200.

Now. In terms of work for me that is almost half a weeks worth of wages. At a total of 330$ is more than a month of groceries for my family so it is a significant chunk of change.

Now let’s say I get in in the same order as above here are my fees:

$3,395 BL

$0 for H for a residency.

$4,200 for CW

$1100. V.

Except for Hedgebrook each of these is more than my two week take home pay paychecks. So for a base just me getting to do the thing, is in general about a month of wages.

This doesn’t include transportation. Hedgebrook is in WA but, to get there I would spend at least another 100-200$. Getting a Lyft from my front door to where I work costs me about 30$ not including a tip and that is ten miles. Hedgebrook in Freeland WA is more than 40 miles from where I live. To take buses that far north (I know from experience) can take up to six hours. It is 3-4 in a car.

If we calculate travel for things not in WA, it’s going to be at least $300-400 bucks.

Now I’ve been told in the past that great success requires great sacrifice. I have also been told that to get myself to these things, presuming I got accepted I should do the things, fundraise, save money, side hustle. The community will have my back.

In reality, not so much.

Let’s use my trip to AWP2016 as an example. That year, I was named as being part of some bully squad because I loudly and frequently objected to AWP giving primacy and promotion to racist poets. I was supported in this. A lot of people really wanted me there. About 9 months prior I started fundraising. As is my habit i was very clear about needing help and support. In almost a year I raised about 200$. The ONLY reason I was there was because of donated membership and a lot of scrambling and debt.

The fact of it is, even to move I’ve been fundraising for over a year and just recently got to about the quarter mark. My side hustles including things like dollar stories, sold nothing. My merch shop sold nothing. The community does not support me or my work in a material way historically. There is a very small number of people who do, including folks at Patreon. This number has remained the same for about five years or so regardless of what I’m offering or why.

So I’d have to rely on my day job.

To go to let’s pick the most expensive and say Clarion West, that would be more than 2 months of my wages. That is without paying rent, buying food, providing my partner his medication, not buying my own medication just straight paychecks.

if you’re new, I am the breadwinner in my tiny famfam. My partner is completely disabled and gets the least amount of assistance available. I make less than 25K a year take home including my side hustles. I am a working poor person.

Now in order for me to attend a few weeks of something I would have to be able to save vacation time for more than two years. However, only 40 hours carries over yearly where I work. So I’d be able to use that to pay for 5 days. My sick time accrues more slowly and this instant, because I got sick in January and had to miss a couple of days, that would give me another 8.42 hours.

So five days and 8 hours.

So I would have to go without pay or income for the time of the workshop entirely. I would also have spent about 2 months of income to do this.

Even with a scholarship to cover tuition, that would not change missing time off of work for which I could lose my job. I would still go without income.

Some folks say, do the one day workshops. These cost $150. Let’s say I want to go to the one Nisi Shawl is doing. April 8, 2018, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. So it would cost me, 8 hours of vacation time, the equivalent of about 9 hours of wages. In transportation the location is approximately a 2.5 hour (first part during rush hour) ride for me.

Outside of the initial layout of cash, let’s estimate that the real life cost would be about 3 times the cost of just paying to put my ass in the seat.

I say all of this because this is the reality of telling folks that these programs are radical and accessible. Financial accessibility is a thing. This is why, I don’t enter chapbook contests, why I closed my etsy store, why when I say I can’t/won’t do this stuff.

On one hand, fuck yes shit like Vona is amazing. I know alums, many of whom have gone on to huge success and that is fucking awesome.

Unfortunately, banking on a future maybe success is not enough for me to starve my family. I’ve said before, poverty ain’t romantic. Food insecurity, not romantic. I have fiscal responsibilities that mean, I can’t in good conscious put a maybe success ahead of putting food on the table.

There you go.

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