Hi everyone. Welcome back to Money Talks. I hope you’ve been following along with the column. We’ve had the chance to hear from visual artists, writers, teachers, a marbler, and an actor. This column runs the second and fourth Friday of every month. If you missed one along the way, simply scroll down to read previous interviews. Every person who participates adds new angles to the conversation of making a creative life and making money.
Today Amy Tingle explores money’s role in her life. There is so much good stuff in what she had to say, but this really struck me: “I guess my feeling is that I want people to value my work, but they won’t value my work if I don’t put a value on it that I feel is fair.”
I never really thought about this before: that we need to teach people the value of our work. If we don’t value it ourselves — or price it ourselves— perhaps people don’t have the chance to experience its value? Amy not only asks this question, but she also shares about a firsthand experience in finding out the answer to it. Read on to find out what she saw.
We’d love to hear your own experiences of valuing/pricing your work. Or any other aspect of how money talks in your life. Please comment below.
Amy Tingle, is the co-founder of Food for the Soul Train (a mobile creativity company based in Nutley, NJ and inside a 1965 caravan nicknamed Maude). She is also a human being; a mother of two teenage boys; an artist; and a lover of words, magic, kindness, and a ninja poetess named Maya Rachel Stein. food4thesoultrain.com • tingle97.wix.com/amytingle
1. Are you earning what you’re worth? Perfect timing for this question, as Maya (Stein — my business and life partner) and I are heading to the New York City Poetry Festival this weekend on Governors Island. We’ll be writing Tandem Poetry, which entails strangers giving us a word or short phrase and in return, we each write them a unique, one-of-a-kind poem on the spot. Two for the price of one — although the word “price” is inaccurate because to date, we’ve accepted donations rather than charging people a specific amount, thereby leaving it up to them to decide what our poetry is worth.
This can sometimes be problematic because people don’t always have cash with them (maybe just a crumpled dollar bill or two) or they might view us as more of a gimmick and not value the poetry in the way we hope they will. So tonight we are asking ourselves, “Do we let go of the outcome completely and keep our sign up that says, ‘Tandem Poetry: Give us one word, choose a donation amount, and we’ll give you two poems. How much is our poetry worth to you?’ or do we start charging a set amount in hopes that the people who understand the value of our creativity will still wait in line for a poem?”
I guess my feeling is that I want people to value my work, but they won’t value my work if I don’t put a value on it that I feel is fair.
1b. [Amy submitted this follow up to her response.]
On Sunday morning, day two of the poetry festival, we put up a sign that said the price for our Tandem Poetry was $10. (Still 2-poems-for-1-word, so two for $10). And we sat. And we sat. And we sat. For an hour and a half.
I got more and more uncomfortable with the sitting and waiting— watching people walk by and look at our sign and keep walking— so at my urging, we finally took the sticker off of the poster and went back to just simply, “Pick your price.”
Within three minutes we had our first customer who threw $20 in our tip box. And the line didn’t stop all day. At the end of the day, there were a couple more twenties, a few ten dollar bills, a bunch of fives, a whole lot of ones, and eight quarters. We wrote poetry all day long without a break until we packed up exhausted at 5pm. We chatted and interacted and after a few hours even invited some other people waiting in line to borrow our extra typewriter and join in. The next few patrons received THREE poems for one word. One woman jokingly decided we had “interns.” We had fun and we made money.
For me, joy was back in the mix and the whole experience seemed lighter and brighter, more worthy of our time and effort. So I stand by my statement: we have to value ourselves if we want others to value us, but sometimes someone is trying to give us everything they have, their heart might be wrapped up in that crumpled dollar bill or fistful of pennies. And that is an incredibly valuable lesson for me to understand.
2. What does the expression starving artist bring up for you? Some really old-fashioned idea of a painter living on the Left Bank in Paris, barely scraping together two francs for a hunk of bread and a few sips of water. It’s a myth. It’s a fairy tale and one that has been perpetuated and put on a pedestal to some degree — like if you’re not struggling, you’re not really an artist. Bullshit. Maybe some people want to live like that, dumpster diving and scrounging pennies for paint, but I don’t want to struggle that hard. I want to do what I love and do it in a way where I inspire others to love it and want a piece of it. I don’t have to get filthy rich, I just have to be able to take care of my family and myself and be comfortable and happy.
3. Do you have any childhood money stories that have to do with making a living from work you love? Not really. That concept didn’t become clear to me until I was an adult. I wouldn’t say that I was aware of any family member who was passionate about their job. They had jobs. They lived to work, sort of a paycheck to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, but not the other way around. I got the message that if I wanted to pursue art, it would have to be a hobby, not a career.
It probably wasn’t until I went to college when I got an inkling that there was another way. I lived in Ireland my junior year and the culture there was so different. People were more often living within their means but doing things they loved. The other students in my program were pursuing things they were passionate about like art and writing.
I met a keyboard player in a band and began to follow them around the city of Dublin watching them enjoy their life to a degree that seemed attainable. They loved music. They weren’t making a lot of money but they were getting fed (and having their beers bought for them!) and making music for people to dance to and enjoy. I wanted a piece of that life.
Then I got married and had children and put it all on hold. It’s been a long road from Dublin to where I am now. But I’m a maker now — making a creative life.
4. What’s your biggest money story currently? The question of what our work is worth. It’s intangible to some degree. We know people crave it and they want more of it in their lives. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “I want to come to your classes; I love what you’re doing; I wish I could pursue my dreams like you have” then I really would be rich. But that doesn’t always translate to sales.
We are always working to figure out how to reach more people, get more students to sign up for our classes, market and sell our poetry, make our business sustainable and profitable. Another problem may be that we are both incredibly curious and we enjoy variety. Sometimes it might come across as haphazard and confuse people to the point that they don’t get what we’re doing. We are working on making our business streamlined and easier to access.
5. Do you think the expression, “Do what you love and the money will follow” is accurate? (Would you add anything to it?) Not exactly. I think that expression is a bit of false advertising. It won’t grow on trees. It won’t fall in your lap. It won’t chase you down the block. Money may follow, but you will work your ass off to earn it. You will work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life and you will be disappointed often, but what I think might follow more than money is joy.
It also requires taking enormous leaps. I was talking to a friend recently and she told me that people often say she is so lucky because she’s doing what she loves and she’s so obviously joyful. We cracked up. We both agreed that the answer to those people is, “I have brass balls. I took leaps without a safety net. I could still fall flat on my face at any moment. But I have the courage to live without all the answers. But it’s worth it. The risk is totally worth it.”