I have a few great stories to share.
First, I'm excited to announce my second corporate gig Tuesday, writing for finance folks at a fancy schmancy hotel. The other entertainment is a cigar roller and a women's synchronized swimming team. So there. Does anyone feel like helping me put together a back-able business plan in the next two days to present to the 1%? Hah. I actually expect to make less tips with this crowd, since I imagine they will expect the entertainment to be free, but time will tell. If I come up short, the organizer said he will cover the gap.
Cash cows aside, the most amazing thing happened at the Frogtown ArtWalk. I was graciously invited to by my friend Helen of LA Mas, an experimental urban design firm. At my Poetry Store, whenever there is a lull in customers and kids come up to the typewriter, I try not to hound them to BUY like the grubby little consumers they must become. Instead, I like to show them how the typewriter works and offer them a go on it.
Well, as I was getting ready to pack up, the most adorable toothless 9-year-old girl came up and wanted to write. She got really into it, and as she was banging away folks started coming up and wanting poems from her! If a 9-year-old ever decides to set up as competition, I'm hosed. There's no way I can compete with that cuteness factor. She wrote two poems in about 30 minutes, got really proficient at using the typewriter, and made $8.
A little way through, her mother, who didn't speak any English, came up to ensure her daughter was in good hands and left her to it when she saw her typing away. I imagine it will be an interesting conversation in what I (presumptuously, I know) imagine to be a low-income family when the girl shows her earnings from a few minutes of writing. I hope it will be a loving, 'yes, do well in school and go to college please' conversation.
What was particularly interesting was the way the kids, always intrigued when I write, became totally enraptured when it was one of their peers behind the typewriter. Suddenly they all wanted a go, and I actually had to close shop on a little army of would-be child poets. Dreams of becoming an Oliver Twist Fagan figure with a crew of urchin-y street poets flitted through my head.
But there was also something more exciting going on here. Something about the potential of democratized, accessible writing creating new generations of literacy. In a sense, it's already happening. As much as we'd like to bemoan the rise of Snapchat and Twitter as the death of literacy, the fact remains that MORE people are writing regularly now than at any point previously in human history. The typewriter on the street is a drop in the bucket, but speaks volumes to the ability of the arts to engage people not in stuffy formalized education but in real, skills-based, interactive learning. Stolen from my buddy's urban planning thinktank LURN, here's the Stanford Innovation Review saying this, and Steve Powers making democratically-sourced street art, and The National Endowment for the Arts starting to invest in creative placemaking. I am so happy to be part of this movement and this tradition. Whenever people bemoan the obsolescence of the arts I laugh and laugh and ask, "Whose arts? And where?"
On my mind muchly as we approach the halfway point of this project is, "Oh snap, what next?" It has been a glorious experiment that is set to successfully run its course. But I'm not sure what to turn the momentum I've built into. The community support has been outstanding - does that mean keep doing it? Grow it somehow, formalize it into a business? Move on to the next art project with the people I've met doing this? Face the reality that, no, I don't want to be doing this on the street when I'm 50 and get a real job again already?
What do you think?