Carless in LA, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #12: Cash for Clunkers?

July 28th, 2009 → 7 Comments

Watch out world! I’m throwing down 62 clams in the month of August to buy my first LA Metro bus pass. I’m thinking I’ll wear it around my neck in a plastic laminated necklace like the abuelitas do and push my granny cart filled with groceries up and down Sunset Blvd. I actually don’t know that I ride the bus enough to warrant owning a bus pass. I have to ride the bus 49 times next month to make the “bus ride buffet” ticket worthwhile but I’m home for a full month (for once) so I thought I’d live it up.

Things are getting super busy here very fast. Summers tend to be “downtime” for me. I’m seeing crazy things happen in my line of work. I was in talks with New World Theater at UMass Amherst to bring Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 2010. Then just a month later, New World Theater had their funding completely cut off by the university! This is pretty ugly as this institution has been around for 30+ years.

I did get a very huge break a few months ago with a MAPFUND grant to develop my new “CAT LADY” show but I haven’t been able to secure a premiere venue or NPN co-commissioner. It’s not that the interest isn’t there, it’s just that every theater on earth is watching their budget. There’s a definite and palpable slowdown in the arts.

So I’ve decided that rather than wail and flail in panic, I’m going to use the money that I had set aside for a car to invest in a new computer and a video camera. And I’m thinking of turning part of the living room in my new Silverlake House into a set that I can shoot different shows in. I’m long overdue for a tech upgrade, I’ve been using the same laptop for five years! And it’s really hot and slow. So look out world, not only will this lady be rocking a bus pass but also a video blog!

I will admit that I’ve been looking at ads for cars. It’s really tempting to buy one. To be able to get to West LA in one hour as opposed to two. These ads are misleading though… this “Cash for Clunkers” thing is so dumb. How is it a 5 year old car can qualify as a clunker but my Mercedes that caught on fire on the 405 couldn’t? Bleh, forget it.

Quite a few of my creative friends are complaining about going broke this summer and I’ve mentioned several times in my blogs how it’s hard to not get sucked into poverty mentality when the news and all your friends are dragging the sky down around you. I find myself having days where I’m like, “Oh god! It’s over! I give up!”

I’m losing sympathy for my friends going who complain of being broke. Their standards of broke are “first world broke.” I have a friend who is a sex worker and says she’s having “survival sex” for money and yet owns a laptop, cell phone, and car. I have another friend who owes me $500 and he’s had months to pay me back, and he calls me from his cell phone to tell me he has run off to New York City (for a vacation).

If you are broke, suck it up, grow up, and deal with it. Because nobody with an IPhone is a victim of anything.

People keep asking me for help with getting money to do their art. The requests were at first flattering because it really felt as if they regard me as successful. But now theses requests have become kind of irritating, like I’m some kind of magic fairy that can say three things to make things happen. If you go way back into my very first blogs, you’ll know, I’ve been at this game for YEARS and only started to make a full time living at it in the last four years. And if you know me well enough, you know it was REALLY REALLY UGLY when I was first at this.

I see people I haven’t seen in a while and the first thing they say is, “Hi Kristina! Can you help me get grant money?”

(“Yeah. Nice to see you too.”)

Is there a sign on my head that says: “My name is Kristina Wong and I can show you how easy it is to get money because I have nothing better to do?” I mean I try to be supportive of people but I feel like that generosity gets taken advantage of.


People asking me to lead them to “magic grant money” irritates me one three levels:

First, I spend 20 hours (if not more) a week doing work related to generating income for my art (that is not my actual art) and most people aren’t willing to put up the BS of arts admin. Even when I’ve taken the time to explain to people how it all works, they either don’t apply for the grant that I just walked them through or ask me to repeat the information to them as if the explanation will become somehow easier. My biggest pet peeve is when they ask me to send copies of my grants so they can play mad libs with them, as if we weren’t doing completely different projects.

Second, I probably make the same amount as many of my artist friends “who are always broke”– the difference is that I manage my finances differently. A lot of my broke friends would not be broke if they just learned to not spend money on stuff they don’t need or buy so much stuff on credit. So it’s not that I have more money than other people, I just allocate my money differently when I get it.

And third, there is no “magic grant money.” Like any other thing that’s earned in this world. Money for your art is also earned, not thrown around to random people like a sweepstakes prize.

So my artist friends going broke but texting away on your iphone… do you need a bail out? Here it is!

NINE Cash for Clunkers Tips for Creatives going Broke who keep asking me to help them with money:

1. Run Away
If you can’t get a job and your career is not going anywhere, sublet your place, give up your apartment, sell your things, and run off to an artist’s retreat where you can live for free. Unfortunately, most of them don’t pay you to be there or accommodate kids. If you can’t get into an artist’s retreat, move in with your parents and be their “loser” 30-something kid who writes screenplays in the basement. Nobody will judge you if they can’t see you! Yay! You just freed up $400-1000 a month in rent!

2. Get someone to burn you a bootleg copy of The Secret and watch it over and over again until you sound possessed.
I am critical of The Secret (ie “The Unofficial Orientation Video for New Angelinos”) because it does place much too much emphasis on material wealth. But hey, it’s Metaphysics for Dummies! There is a critical third step to the process of the Secret that people often forget– ACTION. So stop complaining that nobody sent you $100 after you watched The Secret and start taking action. (And taking action does asking me to lead you through the short cut to money. Because I only know the long route.)

3. Sell your car and get a bus pass.
If you really need money that badly, get over your “I need my car” bullshit and get rid of your car. Cancel your insurance. Cancel your AAA membership. Cancel your gym membership (because the city streets just turned into your gym). Yay! You just freed up $500 a month plus whatever you got for your car.

4. Find something less expensive to replace your drug habit.
Get money. Get stoned. Can’t remember where your money went. Get money. Get stoned. Can’t remember where your money went. Why do broke people still have money for pot? Here’s a suggestion of how to get high instead. Put on a Bob Marley cd, then run around really fast backwards in the hot sun without water, then try to recite poetry, then get a friend to say “whoa, that’s brilliant” at every line. Yay! You just freed up $50-300 a month.

5. Don’t be a bottom feeder.
If you ever done movie background work, you’ve probably met “background lifers.” The people who only talk about doing extra work and getting more extra work, and yet, still think this will lead to something bigger. If you get too obsessed with the stones lining the walkway, you’ll never get to see the inside of the house. Sometimes the “hunting and gathering” way of the artist life prevents us from thinking about the big picture. So think from the top down. Think beyond survival.

6. Drop your $$$ scene study class and take creative classes at TeAda Camp instead. I’m teaching and am a student in at TeAda’s summer camp for adults that’s super affordable for creative people who want to expand their skillset on a budget. You can take classes in movement, voice, acting, improv, yoga and writing for as low as $10 a class. They are drop-in classes so you don’t have to commit to months and months of training. The classes are cheap as hell and a good alternative to that overpriced overhyped stuff offered all over LA. Yay! You just freed up $200-400 a month (depending on what pyramid scheme acting school you were previously enrolled in.)

7. Kick the deadbeat to the curb. (Several times in the head if necessary.)
Are you in a shitty relationship and giving the guy/girl money/ free rent/ food on top of it? Say good- bye! This one is especially for my creative lady friends who are with men who can’t take care of themselves and freeload off your generosity. You deserve a partner who can take care of him or herself and therefore, can support you when you need it. You are not a rescuer. You are not a social worker. You will find better. I’ve kicked a few deadbeats to the curb myself and never looked back. Yay! You’ve just freed up 200 lbs of dead weight!

8. Manage your money between several different checking accounts.
If you are an artist working for yourself, the worst financial thing you can do is pile up all your income into one checking account. You should not pay your rent and your director out of the same account. You should not deposit your big grant check in the same account that you pay for food. I recommend two accounts– a business account and personal account. And have two separate credit cards for business and personal expenses.

Figure out what your personal budget is each month to live. This amount should be your salary and every month write yourself a check from the business account to the personal account in this amount. Even if this means you have several checking accounts with a $0 balance, you will at least get into the habit of managing your money and treating the work you do as a professional.

Ideally, you should have several accounts. (This is something I am still trying to organize in my own life.) You should have a business account, a personal account, an education account (for paying for things to further your learning and growth), a splurge account, an investments fund. There are other methods for breaking these accounts up. When you get money, get in the habit of dividing money in each of these accounts. Yay! You are saving towards retirement!

9. Stop buying shit.
Use the library, wear things twice, make new things out of old things. Make presents for your friends. Our economy is a mess and we’re told to save money by not buying things, but the only way the economy will move is if we buy things. What gives? Run away from the need to buy stuff that can be borrowed, bartered or made! I was going to buy a VHS to DVD converter to convert my analog archives to 0′s and 1′s but found out there was one I could use at the SAG Foundation for free. Yay! I just saved $150!


Presents I made for my friends’ kids.

There! Now stop asking me to help you get money. Or at least have a real conversation with me before you ask. I just helped you get lots of money. If you need more help, I’ll be at the bus stop waiting for you to give me a ride to the next big thing!

Category: artist life., kristina is so bitchy this week, losing my mind in los angeles, property mogul, the secret, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles, veggie oil car, vision

7 Responses to “Carless in LA, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #12: Cash for Clunkers?”

  1. Narinda says:

    I loved having a pass just because I didn't have to worry about being stranded without fare and because it motivated me to actually get out and use it (instead of sitting in my underwear on a lovely Sunday afternoon reading your blog…)

  2. niesha says:

    Hey Kristina, do you think you could write a blog about how you ended up being a performance artist? Did you produce your first show on your own and then start to get work? As an aspiring artist I'm interested in learning more about you artistic background if possible. Also, do you ever work in new york? thank-

  3. kristina wong says:

    hi niesha,

    thanks for reading my blog! yes! i perform in NYC a few times a year. In fact, I'll be there in October doing a performative panel series called "APACUNT." I'd love for you to come. If you want, please send over your email address (you can add it through the site) or email me with it.

    And yes, to address your question of how I ended up becoming an artist, you can read about 6 years of field notes on the whole process on this site by going through old blogs. I've been doing this full time for about four years, and part time the years before. It's a miracle.

    I will try to create a blog about it for you in the next few weeks. It'll be a good reflection exercise!

  4. cornflower23 says:

    oh my god, I want, DESPERATELY, to forward this blog to several of my friends. You hit the nail on the head over and over. Esp. the iPhone /DSL/Cable/Massive TV/DVD collection owning friends. What gives? Yet, no car insurance, no health insurance, nothing to fall back on, just stuff. And when a big break comes their way, they have no money to invest. I have a friend who has a large, dusty collection of teddy bears. TEDDY BEARS that she won't part with, yet she sometimes can't afford food!
    I love you, girl and I'm proud we went to the same high school, even if it kinda sucked for you.

  5. kristina wong says:

    hey cornflower, who are you? thanks for the feedback.
    k

  6. k. terumi shorb says:

    nice. harsh but helpful. i miss you too much, wonger!

  7. philpalm says:

    Some people who ask for favors can embarass you. My brother gave his friend some free passes to the movies and the management had to offer refund to customers because of technical difficulties. The management knew the friend had gotten a free pass and refused to offer them any monetary refund (since they didn't pay) The nerve of the friend to hassle management even though they were using a free pass.

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