Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Milestones

This year I've smacked face-first into some hefty landmarks, most personal but some career-related. Some I've talked about here, and some I haven't, but everything 2004 could throw at me has been thrown, caught, and pretty much handled. It helps to live with three people who love me, and have friends ever-willing to stand with me.

In 1975, I earned my first check as a writer for a short story that I entered in a contest at a local community arts festival. The contest was for adults, so the judges were a little surprised when a fourteen-year-old me showed up at the awards ceremony. I wore my best church dress and held my mom's hand as I went up on stage. The check was for $25 -- the second place prize; a sixty-year-old man took first place -- and was more money than I had ever made at babysitting ($.50 an hour), even on New Year's Eve ($10 for the whole night.)

I still have the second place ribbon they pinned to my dress that day, as well as the winning story, tucked away in the filing cabinet. I signed over the $25 check to Mom, who was newly-divorced, terrible with money, and struggling to keep a roof over our heads. I can still remember how she looked when I gave her that money, which she used to buy groceries for us.

Twenty-three years would go by before I earned another dime as a writer.

Each year I keep track of my hours, and at the end of the year I figure out what would be my hourly wage. On average, I work about 84 hours per week. In my first years as a pro, I earned quite a bit less than minimum wage. This year my income moved over the six figures line; my first time there as a working writer. That's equal to about $25 an hour.

Does it sound like I'm gloating? Maybe I am. I do have to keep up my cold-blooded, non-artistic, mercenary bitch image, you know. And I have never forgotten that fourteen-year-old kid, or how often she handed over her babysitting money so that her mother could put food on the table, or how it felt to make that very first $25 from writing.

I will never forget that.

Today my mom is retired and on a fixed income, and she still struggles to keep a roof over her head. It would help if she didn't hand out money to anyone who needs it, but that's Mom: forever generous, loving, and terrible with money. One of the Christmas gifts I gave her this year was a gift certificate to Publix. She specifically asked me for it, and used it to buy groceries for her and Dad.

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