Labor of love
Why writing for money never pays
Emails are the bane of my existence. I am always behind. But this one, from a vendor up in Moab who was selling my books and zines, caught my eye. The email informed me that because of “sluggish sales” they would no longer be selling my products. I was caught off guard – my books and zines had been selling decently there – so I fired back an email explaining my policy.
I don’t actually depend on the revenue at small independent shops – I make most of my money off internet sales – but it’s important for me to have my work available there. It’s about the love of sharing art and storytelling, not money.
The exchange didn’t go well. The owner of the shop didn’t switch gears and tell me I could still sell my goods at the shop, but the whole thing got me thinking about being a small business owner, and my relationship to money.
When I was younger, I considered money the root of all evil. I worked in the service industry saving my pennies and went climbing when the off season came. My plan was to climb forever. Well, forever is a long time, and eventually I learned there’s more to this modern life than our outdoor pursuits.
Eventually, I also got tired of toiling in the service industry and making money for someone else. I realized that if I made enough and managed my money wisely, I could have more freedom. Always, though, I promised myself I would make a business that valued art, stories and love over money.
This philosophy actually has made for good business. My competitors in the space of climbing publications are generally large corporations that can’t offer a personal touch to their customer service.
Plus, doing business with small, independent shops ensures that I have places to deliver presentations whenever a book or zine is released. The return on investment (ROI) is relatively low for these events – my events are always free – but it’s hard to place an ROI on what is inside one’s heart. If you win a person over with love, they are likely going to support your work for life. And that can be the foundation of a career.
I’ve been missing a lot of things over the last year, and these in-person events are at the top of the list. Fortunately, with the increase in COVID vaccinations, it appears I’ll be able to do some events this summer. (I will also be doing an online event with Maria’s Bookshop to celebrate the release of Volume 20 of The Climbing Zine on April 20.)
Over this last year, Durango has also seen some major changes to many small businesses and our overall economy. I know many restaurants have struggled, and several have even shut down. As someone whose livelihood depended on the restaurant industry, it is heart breaking to see this happen.
At the same time, the real estate game has become red hot; primarily due to remote working, low interest rates and the rise of urban flight. I was fortunate enough to buy a home with my fiancée, Amber, just before things got really crazy. Everyone around me has been telling me how lucky we were, and I do feel lucky, but I also feel conflicted.
Amber and I are both working-class people, and if we’d waited until now to buy a home, our options would be much more limited. I don’t know what the answer is to this issue – I’m a creative writer not an economist – but I do know that if Durango becomes a place only for the wealthy it will not be the Durango I’ve come to love over the last decade.
Thus, when I voted in our local elections, I voted for the candidates that said affordable housing was a main priority. I also voted against that lodging tax increase. Again, I’d like to see all types of tourists here, and not just wealthy visitors. Making lodging more expensive while also having most of the money go to marketing seems like an idea that was not well thought out at all. (If more money would have been allocated to the arts and to transportation, I perhaps would have considered voting for it.)
Over the years, I’ve learned that money is not the root of all evil. Perhaps the love of money, or greed and money, is the root of all evil, but paying close attention to your finances, and using your money wisely can lead to a better life.
In the big picture, it’s also pretty cool to see that the world’s richest man of my generation, Elon Musk, is a leader in the climate economy. In my mind, it doesn’t get closer to the American Dream than that. Plus, I can see myself actually enjoying hanging out with Elon around a campfire, talking about EVs, cryptocurrency and Mars.
I don’t know exactly what Durango will look like in the future, all I know is I don’t want our town to have that smell. Not the smell of burning coal, though I’m over that, too. Rather that smell of money. You know it when you smell it, and you know it when you see it.
I’ve lived long enough to know that having money does not make a person good or bad. But what they do with that money does in fact define them. I’m committed to this town, and to being a writer and small business owner here; trying my best to create my work with this motto: never for money, always for love.
– Luke Mehall
Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine and host of the Dirtbag State of Mind podcast. Volume 20 of The Zine drops this month, as does season two of the podcast! Find out more at: climbingzine.com.