A friend of mine is a musician, who plays at weddings, events, clubs, and in public street performances.
Today, she gave me a wake-up call. We were talking about some of her frustrations with work, and she said that she absolutely hates it when people video her, almost universally without permission. But also, she glares at those who, as she put it: “stop, and listen for a while, and then walk away, without putting anything in the hat.”
“Wow,” said one of my other friends. “I’ve done that!”
“Oh, what a relief!” I cried. “I do that all the time!”
She looked at us both, her eyes wide and almost wild. “Don’t you understand? You’re stealing music!“
Now, I have been thinking about this all night, and she is right, at least insofar as I should throw something in the hat. I would probably glare at someone photocopying my book in a library (though perhaps I should make a distinction between stopping for a minute to listen to part of a song, and stopping for several minutes before moving along). But my readers are separated enough from me that I am unlikely to ever come in direct face-to-face contact with them unless deliberately arranged.
In thinking on it, I realized that the main reason I walk away is because I never carry cash with me. If I have cash, it’s in the form of some change or a $20 bill. I spent my cash quickly, so all I usually have is receipts and lint in my wallet. Plus, I do not like taking my wallet out on the street. The cash and the “not taking my wallet out” both stem from fears about being mugged (and, frankly, having been assaulted, my fears are neither unfounded nor overly paranoid).
I mentioned this to my friend, and she said “then you should write a note. Or throw in a small something– a post-it, some gum, something. We just need the transaction to be complete, to feel like karma is served. I have a whole drawer of “stuff” that would probably have had no meaning or value if it wasn’t thrown into my hat during a performance, but which now is precious to me.”
Wow. I thought of all the free tchotchkees I’ve thrown away over the years, the trade show swag that ends up in my purse or bag and weighs down my post-conference luggage until I’m ready to cry. How powerful would it be to take the stupid “Taking the Stress Out of DITA” stress ball squeeze toy, and turn it into a treasured gift that a musician would appreciate and value solely because it was deemed an equal trade for the pleasure their playing brought to someone else.
I thought of all the stuff I carry in my purse– was there room for something more, some little special something I could share with whatever street performance I might encounter in my travels? We haven’t encountered any in a while, but surely that will change. Surely, if I carry a toothbrush in my purse for “just in case of dental emergency,” I can bring something to cover the price of admission to the “just in case musical performance.”
When I return home, I have a small sturdy plastic envelope of tiny origami papers that I’m willing to toss into one of the many pockets of my purse. It can stay there for a week or a year– it matters not to me, but when that moment comes and I find myself listening appreciatively to a violinist or a guitar or even the wacky guy who drags his piano out onto the street in Santa Cruz… I’ll be ready. It might not be legal tender, but I’m willing to trade a handmade origami bunny or crane for a sweet song and a smile.