Nearly two years ago, a friend told me of a novel being
written by a young woman about four generations of Jews.
The writer, Katie Singer, needed money to sustain her
while she concentrated on finishing it. I told my friend to have Katie send me an excerpt from her book, and
to specify her needs in a letter.
seeing the few pages she sent, I knew I needed to read
this book; therefore it had to be written. Katie found
a way of making my contribution tax deductible, and without
meeting her, I made the grant.
When a friend phoned to tell me that a man named Bob Levin
was contributing $6000 toward my writing project, I called
him up right away. "Why are you doing this?" I grilled
he said, "I'm interested in finding out about my Jewish
roots. Besides that, I have some resources beyond what
I need to sustain my retirement, and my children are financially
stable. I could give away my extra money to charity; but
this seems more fun."
I received the money, I got myself an apartment and basic
furnishings--I'd been housesitting before this--as a way
to support myself and write. After a couple months, I
invited Bob for lunch.
I first moved in here," I confessed, "I didn't write for
three weeks. I said to myself, 'Now Katie Singer, you
don't owe this man a thing. If you never write again,
that's perfectly okay.'" I looked up from a bite of the
gefilte fish I'd made (it'd come out disappointingly soggy)
to see his response.
exactly right," he said.
Knowing of my interest in her subject matter, Katie began
to introduce me to books and people, jumpstarting a quest
that has literally changed my life and acceptance of what
I find inside myself. Occasionally she shares parts of
her novel with me, and seems to welcome my response. Exactly
who is helping whom?
I sent Bob a draft of an article I'm working on about
how I'm funding the writing of my novel. I wrote,
keep my faith that I'll be supported while I write. The
process has taken me from caretaking to housesitting,
to a grant, to artist-patron relationships. The book could
take years more (my two favorite novels took the authors
eight and ten years to write). I don't know how I'll be
funded. Discovering how has become part of the fun of
writing. And meanwhile I maintain that Bob and my other
patrons are not the source of my well-being."
When Katie sent me a draft of an article she was working
on and called me her patron, I rebelled. I had to figure
out why. Patronage suggests a hierarchical relationship--but
I made my grant out of respect for her, not to patronize
her! My perception is she drew this money to herself.
She earned it, however unconventionally--and invited me
to participate in a creative process that supports my
growth as well. I might say we have a donor-recipient
symbiosis. According to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary,
symbiosis is "the intimate living together of two dissimilar
organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship; a cooperative
all of this, I feel there is much for anyone with extra
wealth to think about (whether the funds are modest like
mine or multimillion). Should we use our surplus resources
in conformity with America's
philanthropic structure, and participate in reinforcing
it? Or should we find ways to transfer the corpus of our
surplus wealth to empower others on their own terms, not
ours, thereby doing our little bit to get closer to equality?
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