This letter —a part our national dialogue— dated June 11, 2018, was signed by numerous members of the creative community and sent to our Senators and Representatives.
Dear Senators King and Collins and Representatives Pingree and Poliquin,
By now I’m no stranger to you, and you know my story. However, I’m not here today to talk about kidney disease. I’m here today to talk about one of the downstream effects of the cannibalization of the ACA and the latest assault on the protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. I’m joined in my appeal by many of my colleagues and friends.
I am a writer and an editor. I came to Maine to raise my children and do my work because, like so many other creative people, I dreamed of having a modest life that would inspire my art. I needed to live in a place I cared deeply about; that is intensely beautiful; that has some space where one can think. In doing so, I joined a community of people that wanted the same and who have performed feats of amazing financial and artistic gymnastics to stay here. Much is being made these days of Maine’s “creative economy;” but have you stopped for a moment to think about what it takes for an artist to actually live here: the true cost of being one of those creatives in a state that offers very little in terms of grants, sponsorship, incentives, and regular work?
My definition of artists includes those of us who get up everyday to generate new and exciting ideas and projects: they are painters and poets, chefs and gardeners, writers and directors, musicians, craftspeople, actors, ceramicists, curators, publishers, designers, printmakers, playwrights, dancers, journalists, architects, and photographers We move into run-down neighborhoods (the only ones we can afford) and transform them with our ingenuity and “can-do” spirit—the same optimism that keeps us here when larger population centers offer a greater audience and more pay—and we love it, because making things is what we do. And making them in Maine is important to us. There is a long history of artistic endeavor in this state and to be a part of that continuum is an honor. As devalued as creative work often is here, especially at the emerging and mid-levels, we stay because we know what E.B. White (who suffered his whole life from Generalized
Anxiety Disorder, a pre-existing condition) says is true: “I’d rather feel bad in Maine, than feel good anywhere else.”
But staying is increasingly harder. It’s one thing to watch our project fees and book advances dwindle, to compete for fewer and fewer jobs, to watch with a stomach ache as the current administration reduces funding to the arts and letters. It’s a whole other thing to be helpless as Congress sits back and allows this current administration to gut access to affordable healthcare and challenge over and over again the protections for pre-existing conditions. Disease does not care if you are Republican or Democrat, a grandparent, parent or a child, a banker or a bread maker. It crosses all constructs and it kills. Allowing this administration to run roughshod over the people of this nation, and in particular your old, sick, opioid-addicted, depressed state, is a cynical move that will bankrupt the creative economy in Maine and its future. I, like many others with life-threatening diseases and genetic conditions, will not be able to stay. The luckier ones will take their skills and tax dollars and join the flight of our young people to states that are less punitive. The less lucky will go broke or choose to forgo treatment and suffer or die. You will end up representing a state on life-support.
Creative people rely on non-traditional career paths—the same paths that led many of us to Maine. We often do not have employer-based healthcare plans. Those of us who do have day jobs are frequently found in media and small businesses that don’t offer benefits; but more often than not, we are gig people: the freelancers, the self-employed. Maine has the highest rate of unincorporated self-employed workers in the country, at 11.2% at a median salary of $21,196 per year. And we, the gig workers, are the ones with the genius to create the spaces, the technology, the restaurants, the magazines, the festivals, the plays, the movies, the exhibits, the concerts, the books, the songs, the creative writing centers, the artisanal products, and the fine art and crafts that have historically made Maine a cultural place where people want to live and raise their families. We are what makes Maine more than lobsters and lighthouses.
If you want us to be able to live here and do our jobs, please do yours. Oppose in every way possible, every single time, the efforts of the current administration to gut the ACA and the protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Genevieve (G.A.) Morgan, writer and editor