Saturday 22 August 2015

The Young & The Penniless: How To Make Everything from Nothing

I'm sat on the floor of our apartment in Brooklyn, an open Kilner jar in front of me.

With a tinkling crash I upend the contents of the jar onto the varnish wood floorboards and begin slowly and meticulously sifting through it into separate jars for quarters, dimes & nickels, and pennies. 

With the change sorted I move on to counting out those little green notes into corresponding piles, before coming to our final total.

Having both become runaways from slave labour under tyrannical bosses, we'd banded together the last remnants of our savings to escape to New York City's creative heart, Bushwick.

But now having just departed with the lump sum of our rent, whatever money we had left over had to see us through paying bills and living in New York City for the rest of the month until we flew back to the London again in September.

We'd both completely emptied our bank accounts so we could see exactly how much physical money we had, so with a series of berating zeros to our digital names, our entire lives laid in the contents of that Kilner jar.

"Greg... we have $150" I whispered, a wave of hot sticky sickness rushing over me, his expression falling in horror.

We were  fucked.

But then he smiled.

And I smiled back.

And then I dropped my head in my hands and we both started laughing.

Because we were well and truly fucked. 

But if there's one thing I've learnt from my near three years of living silver, is that fate always rewards those who prove that they're not just sitting still. They're not just wallowing, waiting for life to happen.

Greg once said something to me which perfectly summarised all of my sentiments about the correlation between fateful circumstance and living wildly -

We were the poorest we'd ever been in our entire lives, stuck in the heart of the city of dreams, thousands of miles from home, having exhausted loans from our parents. 

This was down to us

And we were gonna be damned if we were just gonna call it a day, admit defeat, and come home early because we'd run out of money. If we had to live on the streets, we were gonna remain until the very last day of our visas.

We opened craigslist instantly and set about putting up ads offering whatever services we could - dog walking, house cleaning, helping those moving house, painting, redecorating, gardening, performing, babysitting, photographing, horse...whispering - ANYTHING.

"I am straight up prepared to do anything and everything apart from whore out my body or my blog." I proclaimed defiantly, jumping up in a shower of loose change.

"And I'm prepared to do... anything" Greg joined me and we laughed.

While we waited for people to get back to us who weren't asking us to star in their self-produced pornos, we set about organising our possessions and seeing what we could sell. 

There's one thing in particular in NYC which has been the greatest discovery that I could ever have dreamed of finding anywhere on earth.

Here, thrift stores don't just accept donations, some actually buy your clothes from you.

Specifically, two stores called Buffalo Exchange and Beacon's Closet.

Gazing into my hefty wardrobe, I knew that I'd already began entering a new period of being, and the next phase of my spiritual transition was to learn to sever that emotional connection between myself and the clothes I wear.

It was a deliberate assassination of ego, a profound declaration against the materialism I'd grown up with and which ran the world I inhabited.  

I reached in, and in one giant hug pulled out all of my clothes, and chucked them in a giant Bed, Bath and Beyond bag. My new style: Whatever didn't sell, I was allowed to wear. 

We carted that B B & B bag all across the city, visiting nearly every branch throughout the 5 boros to try and flog our possessions. 

$17, $24, $9, $28... gradually as our closet decreased our little change jar grew, so did our prospects of making it until September alive. 

A few days later we managed to borrow a guitar off a friend of ours and played an open mic, performing live in New York City, who then said we could also borrow it next week to busk on the subway.

Living off our music - the dream.

That's when we came up with our most ambitious and exciting plan of all. I'd attempted it at the start of summer, but under the wrath of the boat, I didn't have the resources or time to keep it up. 

Now not only did I have both, I had Greg too. 

It began, when fate served me a pretty wicked curveball, in the form of an email from a well-known condom brand, offering me £600 ($940) to write about their new lube.

I stared at that sum, then to my blog, then to the pennies strewn out on the floor next to me. 

I hesitated, but then I slowly put my fingers to the keyboard and replied with a declination. 

Is the sanctity of my blog really worth turning down nearly a thousand dollars when I couldn't even afford to eat? 

Yeah, actually. It is.

I've never made a penny from my blog itself. I've done freelance work with VICE and had the honour of becoming a H&M brand ambassador for A/W last year, but from the start I've never had adverts and never done reviews or sponsored posts.

It's just not what I'm about, and I'd NEVER want to rent out the generosity of the time of day readers give to my thoughts by bombarding them with shit, just so I can make a profit.

But... all I want in life is to become a professional writer.

So there's that endless creative dilemma - how do you financially support yourself with integrity by earning a living from your passion, without selling out or trying to 'make money' out of your audience?

That's when I realised what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. 

Forget blogging corporations, online talent agents and bullshit affiliate programs, I wanted to blogging back to its OG humble roots of being a writer, and I would offer up the words directly from my soul, for sale. 

Using the glory of Depop, I'd sell my writing, Greg would sell his artwork, and together, we'd create these completely unique and personalised capsules of New York City to share with people across the world. 

Yesterday, the first batch of letters we sent out arrived to their international keepers, and the response damn near bought a tear to my eye. We celebrated with 99c pizza in Manhattan.

Today, we sat in our local coffee shop for hours, Greg ardently sketching away in the corner, and me hand-writing sentiments to my overseas pals, both looking up every now and again to exchange an excited smile.

By the afternoon we were exhausted but SO full, and then, with a little sound, another order came in, followed by another.

We were actually doing it. 

We were poor, desperate, penniless British artists living in Brooklyn, bursting with passion in our souls and lights behind our eyes, making enough to live on from selling the art from our very fingertips.

If that's not the New York dream, then what is, right?

And now, we want to give a piece of the the city to you.

For a small price to cover international postage and one day of dollar slice pizza, each care package created with passion and heart will contain a handwritten, personalised letter and myriad of little gifts, hand crafted using completely unique and different materials each time. Each will be one of a kind and tailored to the person who purchases. Inside will be stories, thoughts and observations about living in the city, paired with beautiful sketches and drawings created by Greg and all other kinds of trinkets and keepsakes we have collected across this insane journey, all wrapped up in a copy of the New York Times & sealed with a wax stamp. 

It's a little slice of New York City, delivered to your front door, from us.

You can find us either through Depop (username: scarphelia) or shoot me over a tweet at @scarphelia if you don't have depop and we can iron out the deets there. 

And while we'd be enternally grateful and you'll have your own part of NYC to keep forever, you can also be safe in the knowledge that you are making two very humbled artists' lifelong dreams come true. 

You're all awesome and I fucking love you all,