Money and Craft : a childhood background

There have been a number of conversations around the blogosphere about the issue of charging money in magical and ritual settings recently, and it both got me thinking and reminded me of a bit of my background that I take for granted, and forget not everyone has. Before I go on and talk (in a later post) about my own take on charging for Craft, I want to talk about that.

See, I grew up assuming everyone knew that there are ways to combine a secure financial future with major creative pursuits. Not that it’s easy, mind you – but that it’s fundamentally possible. It’s as much a part of my psyche as the idea that knowledge is the one thing that can’t be taken away from me, or that reading is just the thing you do all the time, in some form.

My adult self, of course, knows that these things are not the way everyone else moves in the world, and no longer expects people to put their values on the same things. But my subconscious self, the one that kicks in first, sometimes forgets.

My father

My father grew up at a time in British education where, if you were intelligent enough to do Classics, you did Classics. Not engineering, not medicine. Classics. And my father was very bright – bright enough to get all the way through a Ph.D, including international travel for research, by scholarship and winning various prizes with monetary pay-offs. Thing is, along the way, he fell in love with the theatre. Which has, as most people know,  pretty abysmal track record of actually providing a living for an individual, let alone a family. A few people get lucky, but a whole lot more don’t.

What he did, ended up being three things:

He became a professor of theatre history,

specialising in ancient Greek and Roman theatre. He was a passionate teacher, much adored by both undergraduates and graduate students. Working as a theatre professor rather than a Classics professor also meant that he directed one main stage production at the university a year, letting him experiment with a wide range of different approaches and ideas.

He wrote.

30+ books worth – almost a book a year every year of his post-Ph.D life. Most are academic works of theatre history (though very readable ones), but his bibliography includes a novel, and a number of translations of Greek plays. There’s also more than a small smattering of articles and other works in there.

He came up with something truly unique.

While working on his dissertation, he realised that the amount of detail that people in your traditional Greek amphitheatre would see was roughly the same as you’d see using marionettes in a modern college auditorium. So, he put together a one-man show of his own translations of classic plays – Oedipus Rex, Antigone, The Bacchae, Medea – most commonly, and would travel two weekends most months, doing a lecture Friday night, and a performance on Saturday, coming home on Sunday.

This also gave him the chance, in the pre-Internet world, to keep a truly deep and wide-ranging friendship with colleagues and peers across the US and Canada in a way I think very few people did. Yes, the traveling could be tiring – but it also gave him a lot of opportunities to see new things and have different conversations that continued to feed his own work.

And before I was born, when my older siblings were young, my parents managed a summer stock theatre: giving him a great deal of hands-on experience and skill in all parts of the theatre, even the ones they didn’t continue with.(Which apparently made him a director others really enjoyed working with, because he knew which things were really not feasible, and which ones might be if you got creative.)

None of these things are simple – they took a particular combination of native skill, good fortune, and careful planning. But many of the basic concepts – a day job that provides the stable support for you to do the other things you love, or to share what you know in other ways – can be applied to a lot of different kinds of lives.

The end result

This takes a lot of careful coordination, and couldn’t have been done without my mother (who both typed his manuscripts and handled all his business arrangements, and I’ll come back to that in my next post). The school year allowed him substantial time to think and write without outside scheduling. It meant we could go on vacation to a summer cabin for months at a time, when he could recharge and combine things in new ways and just think.

You’d think that all of these things would also mean that I’d have felt like he wasn’t around. Really, it’s the opposite: as an adult, I add up the time, and realise he wasn’t around a number of points due to rehearsals or travel. But what I actually remember was that he was almost always there. He’d plan around major events in my calendar, but more than that, he was there to walk me to school and pick me up almost every day. We’d go on long dog walks on leisurely afternoons, when he’d tell me stories of Greek myths (with a side of Lovecraft and Bram Stoker), and when I went off to do homework or go to bed, he’d go off and write or plan or rehearse.

When I started having after school activities – and especially when I got passionate about riding – he’d bring his grading with him, and people around us got used to the sight of him sitting on a chair in my music school or in the tack room at the barn or even just sitting in the car waiting for me to appear from school with a pile of blue books next to him. (He had TAs for his major survey courses, as one does in that setting, but he always graded his own share of the class, plus reviewing any exams where people got Fs or As.)


I grew up with the idea that one really could combine things that one loves into a life that has multiple supports.

But I also grew up with the idea that while money and financial security has its uses and should be attended to, it is not the only thing in the equation: all the money in the world is useless if you can’t use it to spend with the people and things you love.

So, my parents looked at how to find that combination that allowed for time for extended creative work (writing and performing) and a lot of family time. Some of this is, naturally, much easier if you’re passionate about the things that earn you money in the first place: my father was a natural teacher.

But part of it was planning. My parents were really clear he’d do about two performances or trips a month, not more – and only very rarely over school vacations. And they priced accordingly – being away from your family for the weekend after a week of teaching has a cost that isn’t just measured in dollars, but pricing a certain way can keep the requests at about the level you’d like.

However, he also sometimes made exceptions. The Vermont Council for the Humanities used to have a deal to help bring interesting artists and educators to Vermont (and often to relatively small towns and school districts that could not have afforded it.) They’d pay the lecture and performance fee, and the town would cover the rest – but it could be done in kind.

Since my father was coming from Massachusetts, the main travel cost was gas (much cheaper than a plane ticket). And instead of a hotel, he was perfectly glad to be put up in someone’s guest room and be fed at their home. It turns out he really loved those weekends staying in a whole range of small farms or old houses, talking to people who were passionate about what they were doing, but living in a truly gorgeous bit of the world. For him, the enjoyment of the weekend (and the fact he didn’t have to get on a plane) lead him to do more performances, proportionately, up there, than he might otherwise have done.

Individual responsibility:

One of the last things I learned was that while others can help you out, you are the one who is fundamentally responsible for your own well-being. My mother gave up a lot of possible income by not working (or working only part-time): it was thus very important to my father that he make sure he provide for her and for his children if anything happened. He was a little obsessive about life insurance that .. well, made sense when he died just before turning 59.

He also recognised that while he deeply enjoyed some things – performing, directing, doing his one-man shows – that those things weren’t enough to tend to a family on. Combining them with other things that had a more reliable income (and additional benefits, like health care) was a much better choice. As was choosing to emigrate in the first place, because in the late 50s, academic salaries in the UK were still often designed merely to support a bachelor living in college rooms, rather than someone with a family. But it was his responsibility to figure that out, not the world’s responsibility to support him.

And finally:

When he was dying, we all got reminded that there are some things that go far beyond money. One work friend of my mother’s asked what she could do, ended up driving me to the barn once a week and fell in love all over again with horses and riding (something she never expected). My father’s graduate students rallied around, helped handle many details, and several of them continued to be family friends. (One would come and stay with me when Mom needed to be out of town, and I wasn’t quite old enough to be on my own, in part because I couldn’t drive myself places.)

There’s no way to put a price on that particular relationship – and no one tried. That’s part of family and friends and chosen community that each person has to negotiate for themselves.

All of these things mix in my brain when I start thinking about the Craft and money, along with many others. But since they’re not directly relevant, I wanted to get them out there first, before I go into that.

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