how much money I made this year
I’m sitting in my favourite café in Liverpool on a Sunday afternoon. It’s very misty outside, just a bit shit and wet. Everyone has their hoods up and a cob on. But inside the café — which is Tsujiri by the way — the staff have stuck those plastic foil bows you put on top of Christmas presents directly on the walls. I have a matcha latte and a slice of matcha Basque cheesecake. The combination might give me heart palpitations because I have a heart-related chronic illness and also because they aren’t cheap, but I have what I want and I’m happy.
Ever since I got such bad health news (hahaha), I have been giving myself permission to do what I want. Today, that is consuming matcha-based products. Yesterday, it was walking very, very slowly around a haberdashery. Maybe this is something other people are very used to, but I don’t remember the last time I thought about what I actually want to do, because I have been on auto-pilot checking off all the things I have to do. Do you know what, I am stupid for that, because it’s not like I live a very nice life for having been so well-behaved.
I thought my wants and needs were aligned, because I got to be a full-time writer. But the equation isn’t that simple, or the scales are tipping, because whilst I have the one thing I want the most — writing — I don’t earn nearly enough money. The negative effect that has on my quality of life is kiiinda cancelling out the joy of getting to write every day (and limiting how much I get to write, because my health is also pushed to the edge by not being able to afford a more comfortable heating-on save-your-energy-by-getting-taxis-and-takeout lifestyle; I dream of buying an intensive air con system for the summer, but imagine the running costs ha).
In 2023, I made 23K. My costs are usually around 7K, so I will pay taxes on roughly 16K. For context, the living wage works out at around 24K for people outside of London. I can feel the edge. I can’t be generous with presents. I haven’t figured out buying a Christmas tree and decorations because I’d rather buy food. A few months ago, my computer broke and it just so happened to be the same time we did the job with Nando’s, otherwise I think I would have tried to live a life without a desktop computer – which would have been a nightmare body-wise, because my computer chair is the only chair in the house that doesn’t hurt. My sense of resilience is absolutely changed by chronic illness. But so are my desires.
It’s hard to parse. Writing is a privilege but it is also a massive compromise that I am made conscious of when I visit other people’s houses and see how they live — or when I think about how they spend their evenings, and go on holiday once a year to a place that should seem attainable to me but isn’t. The crazy thing is that of all the creative practitioners I know, I am one of the very, very few people doing this full-time. You might think I’d be making more money but it’s just that I have put my one big Want in front of my basic needs. I write at the expense of everything else. Or that was the case, but now writing appears to be the only thing I can do.
I’m in a support group for people with Long Covid and every week, it’s just people panicking about money. They’ve had to quit their job or their about to have. Their boss doesn’t get it. They just about manage to make it to work but that means all evenings and weekends are spent in bed recuperating until it is time to go back to work. I used to be stressed out that I had no sick pay in self-employment, but now I thank my lucky stars I have a system to make money from without having to leave the house. Writing is something I can do in the moments I’m well enough, even if that means 3AM. I can call in sick whenever, because I am my own employer. I save energy by not using it on the outside world, energy I put back into writing. I’m not even doing that well, but I think, god, I could be doing so much worse.
Of the 23K I made this year, 7 of it came from Patreon and Paypal donations – thank you – and 16 came from our book advance, a few bits of freelance work, and some remnants of last year’s DYCP grant. The book advance runs out next month, as done DYCP, so next year is looking like 7 grand and… I don’t know yet. I keep saying the words ‘I need to find a job’ but again, what job will accept someone who cannot be there for 9AM meetings? Someone who might have to call in sick quite regularly, who has lost the cognitive ability to do numbers, gained a bad memory, and can really only edit and write. Freelance editor? I did some mentorship over the past two years but taking money for mentorship always feels a little off to me, because really, I wish I was in a position to mentor from the promised land (for free).
I think, ‘well, I hope the book that we’re publishing next year sells well’ but what if it doesn’t? Book sales go towards paying back the advance, and only once that number is met, do you see royalties. That will be in 2025, if it ever happens. What if it doesn’t! Maybe that’s the end of that. End of The White Pube years. We’re almost at an even decade, so maybe I should give it up then. (I’m being dramatic and also, not really. Because as we’ve established, what else can I even do through the storm of chronic fatigue? I have no idea).
My Mum was talking to me about retiring soon. She’s worked in the same place for years, so her workplace pension plus the state one is going to be equivalent of her current wage. She’ll be getting paid to live — she’ll be getting paid to do what she wants! How sad that the window in which /some of us/ can have such freedom only comes so late in life. These are not new thoughts in the grand scheme of things but they are thoughts that are starting to scare me. I feel a bit naive, even though I also often feel as though I have robbed a bank. When I write something I’m really proud of, I think, ha ha ha ha, I did it even though the growing damp in this rented house is depressing me and I am in pain and I wake up feeling like I haven’t slept and I did it, I wrote The Bingo Review anyway! Big ups and downs. Artistic fulfilment and a pensionless future.
So, why am I buying matcha lattes?
Well, I figure I might get Covid a third time and my vascular system might just give up the fight and my heart might go boom and I’ll die and you know when you get to the end of a game and you have loads of in-game currency and all these special items in your inventory that you were saving incase your back was ever up against the wall but you’ve already beat the boss and you never got to have the joy of spending the coins and using all of those potions?
Here is a list of things that I want:
Money. Driving lessons. A car. I want to stop renting. I want my own house with lots of light. I want to build Coco a cat superhighway around the house. I want to take Spanish lessons.* I want to go to Chile to see if I can find anyone I’m related to. I want energy to do that. I want energy to do nothing. I want a day without pain. No, think bigger. A whole life without pain. I want to go back to university to do an MA in Creative Writing. I want to be able to afford to ask the hairdresser to cut my fringe whenever it’s too long instead of messing it up myself in the damp bathroom of doom. I want space where I can leave my sewing machine out so I can use it more often and therefore satisfying the feeling of wanting new clothes. I also want the Shure microphone that all the podcast people use because it sounds so good. *I actually want to do more languages than Spanish but I’m worried about how much energy even one language is going to use. Is there such thing as a buffet day where you can try the sounds of multiple different languages in your mouth before choosing something to learn. Because what about Arabic? Imagine if I could speak Arabic? I would love the version of myself that could speak Arabic. I want another cat but our house isn’t big enough for two. I want to go to Norway again. I want to do more stuff so I have an excuse to film and edit because editing is something I love to do. I want to go to New York with my boyfriend. I want to go to Japan with my best friend. I want to be part of a knitting group who meet up and knit together. I don’t really want things, just experiences and time and more space to be breathe. More comfort.
It’s just like… the avocado thing. Until then, I’ll accept matcha.
There is this feeling deep in me but also like a horrible rash over every thought that: even if I live to an excellent and terrifying old age, that’s not that long, and there is only one go at life, and I don’t want my life to be shit and I don’t want the people around me to lead shit lives, and I can feel how bad things are getting for all of us. I don’t want to be alone in a house in pain and tired, I want to see the world, even if it leaves me in more pain and with worse fatigue, because otherwise what’s the point?
I think if a Professional Expert Person looked at The White Pube business, they would say, you should put adverts on the website, and you should get people to sponsor the podcast, and you should absolutely take away from the joy of experiencing art by pushing capitalism in everybody’s faces instead. No one wants to even sponsor us so this isn’t a problem!!! (It is).
I want to end this splurge by sharing a video that has had a big impact on this thinking, at least the matcha-end of things. In Elliot Sang’s essay, ‘Nowhere to Go: The Loss of Third Places,’ he talks about the social spaces older generations were enriched by, and how impossible it is to access the same enrichment, hence the generational sadness:
In the café I’m in with all the bows stuck on the walls and the matcha and the light and the warmth, the girl at the counter said ‘I like your look’ and that’s very Third Place isn’t it? There’s someone crocheting and I have knitting in my bag I could pull out and the sourness in the cheesecake has such a soft effect and there’s a song playing and it sounds like Japanese Bayside and I’m shazaming them and it feels good to do these things, and to let myself have them, and to take myself there, and to pretend I’m not sick for an hour, and to be in public even though I risk Covid doing me in, RIP, the end. the weather is still bad and I’m going to have to leave eventually and then I will have spent money when I could have spent none inside the house drinking tap water and 23K isn’t as low as some people but it doesn’t feel good, and I haven’t given myself anything I want, only the things I need. Until now. Until I watched the Third Place essay, and I thought, what I want is community. I want to be a regular at these places and I want to make new friends. The fact that is now a luxury!
I just —
The music that was playing in Tsujiri.