Saturday, July 20, 2013

Man can survive on bread alone, but not on honorarium!

A few weeks ago, I did one of those things that I rarely do--went to a gathering of people at a couple's home.  I knew not the couple.  I knew one person, who was involved with the organizing.  The rest of the 15-20 and I were mutual strangers.

I opened the front door and walked in.  The host introduced herself and I did my part.  The usual blah-blah.

And then it was like in those Saturday morning cartoons when you see the light bulb switching on in the character's head.  "Oh, you are the guy who writes columns in the newspaper" she said.


"How does that work?"

I am used to this question now; it has been six years, I think, of regularly writing columns for this paper.  "I am a regular columnist for them, yes, but I am not one of their staff."

"Oh, so if they pay you, it is probably an honorarium, right? Perhaps just about enough to pay for a dinner for two?"

I smiled and nodded.  An irony that pretty much over those very years, it has not been dinner for two in my life.  Well, hey, the honorarium check goes a lot farther when it is for one!

At least I have a day job that pays.  Though, there are times when that also feels like an honorarium.  Writers rarely ever can sustain themselves by writing alone.

As I noted a while ago, it is humbling when I remind myself that the writers of the past had way worse struggles:

Worse not only in terms of earnings, but also in the nature of their daily work that was so far removed from their literary interests.

 In fact, I am glad I am not a full-time writer; the pressure to monetize the writing will be way too intense, as this writer humorously observes:
My experience at Hay was just one example of how I have effectively enslaved myself. I'm sure many fellow authors will identify with the occasion when I took two days to get to Durham and back, in order to talk to 14 people in a damp Scout Hut, three of whom bought a book. Or how about the major book prize which wanted me to be a judge and read some 35 books over the summer?
'Love to,' I said. 'What will you pay?'
'Pay? Oh. Well, we give an honorarium.'
I had to look it up. It's Latin. Apparently it means, 'You should be honoured to be asked, but if you insist, here's a groat and you won't get asked again.'
So, no complaints about the honorarium that I get from the paper.  I wonder if I will ever get a raise though after these six years--I mean, at least to adjust for inflation! ;)


Ramesh said...

Yeah - writing is not something that pays unless you are at the very top of the writing profession in which case a million or two flows in. And its a huge drag if that's the main profession - then the pressure of trying to put food on the table overwhelms the creative instinct, I guess.

You are in the best of situations. A "job" that you really like, irrespective of the pains associated with it. Its "safe" and therefore you don't have to look over the shoulder to see if the pink slip is coming. You write very well and many people enjoy your writing. Please save the honorarium - I am coming to claim it in the best restaurant in the great state of Oregon (the dinner for two :))

Sriram Khé said...

hmmm ... for the best restaurant in Oregon, you don't need any check to pay. it is on the house. well, it is in the house ;)

yes, in the big picture, i do have the best of all worlds ... this lack of pressure to create, and to thus support writers, is also why the royalty have patronized the arts, right? and in the modern world, we have private backers, foundations and, to some extent, governments too ... this is one area where the invisible hand of the market just can't deliver--a market failure ...

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