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Advice on Having a Social Life When You Are an Artist (i.e. Broke)

Jenny Owen Youngs breaks down what to do when you have friends but no money.

In “Any Questions? With Jenny Owen Youngs,” our favorite Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/excellent human takes some of your questions., big or small. So if you’ve got a problem, yo, she’ll solve it. Check out these questions while JOY, uh… solves them, we guess. Let's get this mail bag open…

Any sage words of wisdom for the artsy 20-something human (read: broke) who deals with the struggle of paying for life's bills while trying not to feel left out amongst traditional nine-to-fiver friends (read: financially superior)?

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Well hello there, young art-minded human! I know your pain! You’re just trying to get by while making music or stories or paintings or what-have-you, just the sorts of material that FEEDS THE SOULS of your fellow humans, but dang is it hard to make a dollar doing what you do! And all your pals went to school for engineering or medicine or lawerly activities, so they have “real jobs.” Let me give you (and myself) my first piece of advice right here and now: YOU TOO HAVE A REAL JOB. At the very very VERY least, please take that piece of knowledge, memorize it, fold it up, and tuck it into the front pocket of your heart for safekeeping. You have a purpose, you have a function, you are a meaningful part of the big picture!

Now I realize the fact that you are a valid human being who deserves to walk the earth and is contributing to the world around you 1) may have already occurred to you and 2) doesn’t pay any bills—not even eight bucks a month for membership privileges from your favored streaming video provider! HOWEVER it seemed like the best place to start because if you are strong in the knowledge that what you do has value, it will sting a little less when “…but I’m pretty broke” crops up here and there in your internal monologue (and also external dialogue).

Concepts like MORE IS MORE and STUFF = HAPPINESS are deeply ingrained in our minds and reinforced countless times a day by advertising, magazines, and television. The more personal fibers of this Cloak of Less-Than (the most insidious of all cloaks!) can make us feel even worse: if your friends can all afford $50 tickets to go see Skrillex (I’m definitely guessing here, no offense intended if I’m off in either direction, Skrillex) but you can’t, that sucks. If your friends can afford to eat dinner at organic restaurants five nights a week but you can’t afford to join them, that also sucks. The sting is two-fold: it’s a pain to have to budget your money responsibly at the expense of having a blast, and it’s also a pain to be separated from your friends by financial limitations.
FYI 30% of Google’s results for an image search of “cloak” involve an otherwise-naked lady mannequin. GAH.

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My advice involves compromise. Maybe you have the kind of relationships with your friends that allow you to speak frankly about this kind of thing—if you can, then do. If not, then I say finesse and finagle. Trick your friends into having less expensive fun. Do you like themes? Do you like food? What good movie is stream-able right now? Goodfellas, perhaps? Invite your pals over and instruct them to each bring one component of lasagna: Ed brings the flat noodles, Sally brings some sauce, and so on and so forth. You all work together assembling the lasagna while drinking the wine that James and Elizabeth brought, toss it in the oven, fire up Goodfellas, and by the time Lorraine Bracco has a gun pointed at Ray Liotta you’re ready for TV trays for that delicious pasta dish! BONUS TIP: If you can’t swing the cost of a streaming video membership, you can get a library card for FREE and libraries have DVDs you can borrow!

“I’d like THIS MUCH lasagna, please.”

Maybe you and your friends enjoy some physical activity now and again! You could play some soccer or volleyball at your community park or gym—all you need is a ball and a little organization. If going out drinking/dancing/to rock shows is the way y’all get down, maybe have a drink at home before you head out, to minimize the damage of your bar bill. Your town or city may have a host of free or cheap activities to offer (concert series, film screenings, poker nights?). Two great assets to have in lieu of a wallet full of cash are creativity and paying attention to what’s going on in the world around you.

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My girlfriend and I have slowly become homebodies. We stay home a lot, watch a whole lot of Netflix, and have a healthy supply of board games to keep us busy. I could totally be content hanging around the house all day, but I know she would like to walk out the front door every now and again. We live in NYC, and while there is so much to do, sometimes leaving Queens feels like a chore. Any cool ideas to prevent me from becoming an old lady too soon?

Listen, friend: There is nothing wrong with you and your ladylove spending some quality time with your mutual pal, Netflix. It’s completely natural! Netflix has a lot to offer—Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, and maybe even some TV shows that Joss Whedon didn’t create (…Probably? Who can say for sure? Why would you watch anything other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, unless Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t available, but it IS available, so… you get what I’m saying here, right?).

The Chosen One, modeling The Chosen Sweater, near The Chosen Candle.

I know it’s really easy to slide down the eternal slippery slope of The ’Flix. (Sorry for saying “The ’Flix.”) BUT! There are compelling reasons to limit your viewing time. Moderation, balance, and whatnot! If you keep staring at that glowing box all day every day, mom-logic predicts that you yourself will eventually become a glowing box… or at least you stand a pretty good chance of losing your ability to talk about anything that isn’t a TV show. If that’s not enough for you, then consider it a fiscal imperative! You’re paying NYC-sized rent, so for the love of pizza, PLEASE take advantage of some of the rad things that the city has to offer!

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Now that you’re (I can only assume) all revved up and motivated to LIVE NYC LIFE TO THE FULLEST, here are some totally fun things to do in our big beautiful city:

First up: MY FAVORITE THING TO DO IN NYC: VISIT THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY!

OK I feel like I am just one long-winded, two-legged advertisement for this museum, but I truly believe it is a magical place with something for everyone. Dinosaurs! Space! Geology! Fluffy mammals! The reptile section! Some stuff about human history (zzzz)! Ocean life! What a DELIGHTFUL place for an adventure with your GF! When you’re all done learning about caribou and sea lions and geodes, step out of the museum and you’re pretty much standing right on top Central Park, which is similar to nature, but with amenities—various tours, rentable rowboats, human performers (like hula-hoopers and jugglers doing their thing all the time). Hooray!

Don’t want to leave Queens? How about packing a picnic and hitting the Socrates Sculpture Park? Aside from being (you guessed it) a park full of sculptures, the SSP hosts a weekly farmer’s market, an annual Halloween festival, and in the summer months, free weekly film screenings and KAYAKING! Whaaaaaat! You also share a borough with the Museum of the Moving Image, which houses things like a creepy statue of the possessed girl from The Exorcist, and the model of Harrison Ford’s apartment building used in Blade Runner! Movie magic right here in New York!

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Commit to doing one thing you haven’t done before (!) once a week for three months. I also highly recommend coming up with a fun name for the weekly event (Crazy D8-Nite? Wheel of Morality? Spring Break?) Giving something a name, even a goofy name, always makes me feel like that thing is somehow more “official,” which can be motivational, especially if you’re trying to break out of an existing behavior pattern.

This is kind of a one-sided conversation, so I need you to do some soul-searching and think about what you and your girlfriend are into, and plan accordingly! Do you love to see live music? There’s plenty of that in The Big Apple! Do you enjoy eating delicious food together? There are AT LEAST five or six restaurants in Manhattan alone! There are flea markets to browse through, half-marathons to run, and botanical gardens to visit!

If all else fails, you can always go out for a walk around the block.

Jenny Owen Youngs is a Brooklyn-based musician and SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT has a new EP, 'Slack Tide' coming out soon. Follow her on Twitter - @jennyowenyoungs