More Than Money
Issue #10

Learning From Each Other

Table of Contents

“A Symbiotic Relationship”

Bob: 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.

After 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.

Katie: 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 him.

"Well," 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."

Once 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.

"When 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.

"That's exactly right," he said.

Bob: 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?

Katie: I sent Bob a draft of an article I'm working on about how I'm funding the writing of my novel. I wrote,

"I 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."

Bob: 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 relationship."

In 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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