Columnist Chelsea Kline: Pleasure, creativity matter, even if they often don’t come with money

  • CHELSEA KLINE SUBMITTED

Published: 6/3/2019 3:07:50 PM

Years ago, I let a friend convince me to try an African dance class. I’m a good sport so I showed up and gave it a try.

I had no idea that I would be required to move my body from one end of a long room to the other in some attempt at being rhythmic and synchronized (and graceful? Ha!), while a row of beautiful and muscled drummers watched as I approached.

I never felt like a whiter, flabbier goofball in my whole life (and I am indeed a white flabby goofball). I did my best to imitate the precise and athletic movements of the teacher and more experienced dancers in the room, and by the time my turn ended, I was practically doubled over, sweating and panting, realizing that I probably danced as though I was Jerry Lewis in a sports bra.

But even still, I had a blast. I was challenged, engaged, inspired. I learned new rhythms, met cool new people, and had an unbelievable amount of fun. I quickly decided that although I fell in love with dancing, the movement and music brought me tremendous joy, I wouldn’t be returning. Spending money on a creative and pleasurable outlet felt frivolous and selfish if it wasn’t going to eventually allow me to support my kid and myself.

In other words, I had fully adsorbed the pervasive and insidious whispers straight from the mouth of capitalism itself that creativity and pleasure only matter if you’re rich, highly skilled, or paid for your talents. I was none of those things, so I didn’t go back.

Many years later, I found myself in an office in Manhattan with #HUSTLEHARDER emblazoned across the walls, and I thought back to the many times I heard people shrug off their creative endeavors as hobbies, time wasters, or “side hustles.” As if the only thing that really ever matters is earning money, and anything else is selfish, pointless, and impractical.

Just work harder, longer, more efficiently, and bring in that cash — because anything that earns money is what’s truly worth doing, so just hustle harder! But I stopped for a moment, and thought of all the talented, creative, brilliant people I’d known who never earned a cent for their work.

This realization gave me the audacity to push back on capitalism’s tight grip on my very soul. The ever elusive “American Dream” that is just out of reach for so many of us won’t finally materialize if we simply grind ever harder.

We’re being lied to, and forgoing our creative pursuits to prioritize earning money won’t make us any happier or richer. The problem isn’t us, it is our systems. Hustling harder won’t solve anything, it will just isolate us from each other and burn us out faster.

I thought back to my African dance class, and realized that although I was thoroughly humbled, I was alight with a newfound creative passion because I was participating in a conversation, albeit a sweaty, rhythmic, well-organized conversation. It was a full body, all-five-senses call and response. The dancers responding to the drummers, the drummers responding to the dancers, around and around, a glorious feedback loop that was bigger than any single participant;

Am I alone?

No, we’re here with you!

Can you hear me?

Yes, we can hear you!

Can you see me?

Yes, we can see you!

You’re not alone.

These are some of the existential questions that are asked and answered when we are creative, when we make art of any kind, when we allow ourselves pleasure. These exchanges are grander and more important than grabbing those dollars (not that we can simply step off the capitalist treadmill just yet, obviously). These are primal, human conversations that are beyond just language, and far more important than hustling.

Pleasure and creativity matter, regardless of your income level. Your time spent on creative work isn’t wasted simply because you’re not earning money.

There are relentless messages all around us that only the wealthy white people deserve pleasure or the time to be creative. These messages are so aggressive that it can be near impossible even to decipher them, let alone push back. So while we still need to earn our bread, I implore you to carve out just a slice of time for your creativity and pleasure. If you are able, empower others to do so.

For instance, when you refer to your own creative work or the work of others, remove the words “just” or “only.” “I just dabble with my painting,” or, “I only paint on the weekends.”

Instead: “I paint.”

The difference is stark. The way that we frame creative work is important, but it’s only a tiny portion of the battle.

We must demand that schools make more time for the arts, both exposure and practice for students of all ages. Our children deserve to flex their creative muscles in school, even if standardized tests have no use for it!

We must work for true income equality, because when people are paid fairly for their time, then their creativity is more accessible to them. It’s essentially impossible to even conjure the energy, let alone the inspiration, to create when you’re working multiple jobs and still barely surviving.

It’s beyond time to pay people a living wage, provide free public higher education, finally implement Medicare for All, and while we’re at it, let’s just destroy the prison industrial complex, shall we? Yes, our collective and individual humanity is far more important than any profits, full stop.

We can continue to point out the blaring classism and racism that’s inherent in the distinctions between which art and artists are considered fine, and which are considered folk, primitive, tribal, outsider, or what is even permitted to be considered within the spectrum at all!

We can begin to reject the noxious idea that just because someone isn’t earning money with their creative endeavors doesn’t mean they aren’t talented, or that earning money with art is the ultimate goal. In fact, what if we collectively elevated creative work above the realm of money making?

Please don’t let being broke trick you into thinking that your voice and creative perspective aren’t needed — in fact I stress the opposite. Working class and low-income people have the tremendously important perspectives that are often lost, overlooked, or inaccessible.

Please don’t allow your privilege to fool you into thinking that your perspective matters more, or if someone is willing to pay you for your creativity, then it’s better or finer than other work that isn’t economically valued.

We must be asking ourselves about how to keep our creative conversations going. Whose voices are louder, and whose are missing? Whose do we want to hear more of, and how can we invite them in? How can we allow for more creative time and appreciation for ourselves and our neighbors? How can we turn down the blaring, blinding blast of capitalism and elevate our creative human exchanges and conversations above and way beyond simple and crude monetization? Because really, money can’t ever answer back when we ask profound human questions.

Only humans can reassure you that you are not alone — we see you, we hear you.

Chelsea Kline is a women’s leadership-focused life coach whose early experiences as a Jewish, queer, low-income, single teen mom influenced her 25-plus years as a progressive reproductive rights and social justice activist.


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