An Honest Living

This past week the Halifax International Buskers Festival has been going on.  After the past couple years of being at times awed, enthralled, engaged – but mostly bored and somewhat annoyed at the cause of my boredom, I had decided I would give myself a year off from it.  With my niece visiting, however, I ended up going three times.  And again – some of it was fabulous.  I saw one show that from start to finish was exciting, energetic, and just plain fun.  For many of the shows, however, the ratio of solid entertainment to filler was more like 5:1.  Now, I fully understand that some of the shows are extremely physical and you couldn’t expect a person to be able to do acrobatics or break dancing for an hour straight.  It’s a logistical problem that could perhaps be solved by making the time slots shorter.  But for the moment that’s besides the point.

A lot of the performers spend a good 15 – 25 minutes talking about the fact that this is their only form of income.  They mention that they have to pay for their travel to get to Halifax. Though they don’t mention it, I also imagine they cover their own insurance, health coverage, retirement savings, etc.

They also talk about the fact that their way of earning a living is one of the most honest ways out there.  We are allowed to watch their shows free of charge and then at the end of the show we can pay based on how much we feel the experience was worth.  It’s definitely an interesting way to make a living as far as that is concerned and although sometimes the incessant pandering and guilt-tripping of some buskers for money may not be altogether admirable, when it comes down to it the fact is that despite all of the training and effort that goes into putting on a show they can do their best to entertain, even succeed fabulously, and if the crowds decides not to we have the freedom to not give them a penny.

As a freelancer, I see a few similarities to being a busker.  Covering my own expenses is definitely one of them. Another is the fact that I’m sure a lot of people don’t see or realize the time and effort that goes into being able to put together a solid piece of writing.  I’m not going to lie – there have been a few times when I’ve made almost a 100 dollars an hour for a piece of work (not counting of course the hours of education and personal study it took to hone my writing and editing skills),, but there have also been a number of times when excessive phone calling to get that needed quote, researching beyond what was expected, and oodles of transcribing have made my actual hourly rate for a contracted piece of work closer to $2 or $3.

Unlike a busker, for most of the writing I do now I have to determine a rate of pay before the client receives the finished product.  When someone asks me for a quote it’s one of the most uncomfortable experiences ever – It’s a balance between not selling myself short, trying to estimate what the client is actually capable of paying, and recognizing that, like a busker – I get no vacation pay, no health benefits, no insurance, no job security and what my hourly rate equates to needs to take that into consideration.  And, just like no one has to watch a busker’s show, I need to remember that no one has to use my services or the services of any other writer or editor.  They could do it themselves, though the results may not be as good.

There were times when the buskers were doing their money spiel that I found myself thinking – yeah, okay, this may be your only form of income but you choose to make it your only form of income . . . of course, I imagine most of them make that choice because they love what they do.  Same thing for me.  I know I could be making more consistent money if I used my degrees to secure a “regular” job but I don’t because I love writing and I appreciate the fact that the things I do that are only related to writing – editing, workplace facilitation, etc. – are flexible/inconsistent enough that they allow me time for creative writing.  With these thoughts in mind, I’ve probably been more generous this year at the buskers than ever before.

I wonder – how many busking writers are out there?  I saw it in a movie once – a ‘street writer’ who would ask people for a topic or a series of words, write them a poem on the spot, then ask people to pay him what they felt it was worth.

So how about it? Not sure if I’m ready to take it to the street but anyone want to give me the experience of busking? haha – send me a topic or series of words for a story or poem, I’ll deliver, and if you think it’s worth something to you – ‘drop me’ your change or bills! (No guarantees I’ll try this more than a few times!)

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