Down and Out in Paris and London. Goodbye to Berlin. A Moveable Feast. My fascination with the meager lifestyle of a struggling artist has been long and enduring. It has been my secret fantasy to join the ranks of those before me, slaving away in dingy bars and coffee shops and attic apartments, pen to paper sustaining me — but just barely. The glamor, for me, was in just how unglamorous it was. Orwell, Isherwood, and Hemingway did it. They were gritty. They were bohemian. They were cool.
Writing was always a hobby for me up until a few years ago when I got my first paid commission. While I continued to make money for pieces over the subsequent years, it was never enough to quit my day job. The idea of being a writer by vocation seemed unattainable. Until suddenly, it wasn’t.
I quite literally and figuratively quit my day job as a language assistant at the end of November. A myriad of factors led me to the decision. Above all, I was deeply unhappy and it began to affect my health. Although it was a risky move financially, I resigned and hoped for the best. Earlier that month, I had gotten a contractual job with an educational website writing articles about degree programs. Despite the pay equaling out, per word, to way less than any self-respecting freelancer should agree to, I took it. It was a location-independent gig and such jobs aren’t easy to come by. I figured that combined with my monthly commissions from Go Overseas I’d be alright for money. Maybe even be doing well for myself given Spain’s low cost of living.
I never was good at math, though. My calculations did not, in fact, add up and after my final paycheck from the school, I began the monthly struggle to set aside enough money for the rent. I chose between my asthma medication and groceries. I ate a lot of canned beans. I forced myself to write the mind-numbingly boring articles for pennies per word. But I had arrived. I was finally living the bohemian dream. On those days I had two euros to rub together and slipped out for drinks, I could tell new people I met, with a certain air of effortless cool, that I was a writer. All of the strife and struggle felt validated in that moment.
Then the moment would pass and I would realize something that seems like the oldest no-brainer of all time: poverty isn’t cool. No matter what the greats of the Lost Generation would try to tell me, wondering how you’ll pay for your next meal is terrible. Perishing of TB, alone and penniless, isn’t exactly a classy way to go, even if you do produce something the likes of Jane Eyre before you wither away.
But here I still am, grinding out cookie-cutter, soulless articles everyday. In the age of Covid, remote positions are a commodity and the never-ending stream of job applications I’ve sent have been met with rejection or worse: silence. With my (now thankfully resolved) legal limbo, getting a job in Madrid until recently was an impossibility. So, through my flimsy paychecks, combined with help from friends, family, and the US government, I’ve managed to continue paying rent and eating beans.
Even though this experience has pushed me to the edge on numerous occasions, I’m strangely thankful for it. It has taught me important lessons about prioritization and the true value of a handful of change. It has made me realize just how many amazing, supportive, and loving people I’m blessed to be surrounded by. It has shown me that I can make it as a writer even when it’s hard.
I came back to the blog tonight to several unmoderated comments from strangers. They all told me to write despite the odds. They didn’t know it, but their words were timely and deeply motivational. The past few months I’ve written for others and not for myself to make ends meet. For financial gain and not for creative expression. I’ve let the odds bring me down and hold me captive. But I can have it all. I can live the bohemian dream. I can have my cake and eat it, too.
I was getting tired of beans, anyway.