I’m a Freelance Diva Who Demands Payment Whenever Works for You

Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Jennifer Lopez are so-called divas you might’ve heard of, but what does it really mean to be a diva? Is a diva a difficult or egotistical woman, or one who knows the value of her talents and demands it be respected? As a freelance diva, I’m both: call me difficult, but I will ruthlessly request a paycheck until the moment someone arbitrarily decides to pay it.

Divas stick up for themselves, which is why I cautiously inquire about an unpaid invoice after a month. Sometimes the client will say, “Not sure what happened. Should show up soon,” and like a true diva I will reply, “Thanks so much, I’ll stay posted!”

It’s said that the term diva derives from the concept of a “prima donna,” a woman with extraordinary talent in theater or music who brings the demands to match. I am, without question, the prima donna of a stable of faceless outsourced shadow-laborers powering the so-called gig economy. Though my work is a little less dramatic than singing an aria in a 10-pound headdress, I live for hitting that submit button and imagining the round of applause I deserve. I only ever transform into a difficult diva when I run out of rice crackers, or when my electricity, Internet, medical, and gas bills arrive.

Divas, as any diva will tell you, pay their own bills, and can become disgruntled when funds are insufficient even though services have been rendered and rendered well. According to Beyoncé in her song “Diva,” “a diva is the female version of a hustler.” This is true, especially when payment trickles in via sporadic six-week bursts anywhere between $65 and $250. After months juggling as many tandem jobs as possible and without seeing payment for most of them, I lock into ultra-diva-licious mode, which entails avoiding all non-essential expenses and social interactions while occasionally fantasizing about a life of crime. As Beyoncé sings in “Diva”: “this is a stick up, stick up/ I need them bags of that money.” To me, this is a clear reference to the bureaucratic incompetence of countless payroll departments, an allusion Queen Bey makes all the clearer by setting a car full of mannequins on fire.

While some divas lick donuts, break furniture, or refuse to perform altogether, my chosen form of resistance is to email my supervisor:

“Hi there! Whenever you get a chance, would you please update me on the status of payments 39 and 40? That’d be so awesome! Thanks so much!”

This searing missive most always rouses clients to attention. They typically answer, “Ask Stan in accounting. In the meantime, can you do this one FAST?” As an anxious but optimistic female hustler, nine times out of ten I accept the additional assignment, then buoy my spirits by instructing a nonexistent fuck-boy to lick my boot heel. Four other imaginary greased-up fuck-boys emerge from a bubble bath dungeon and hoist my leopard-print sedan chair upward while chanting “di-va, di-va, di-va!”

Unreliable payments are often justified as inherent to freelance work. But as a humongous diva, I have to ask: why? Why can’t clients render payment more consistently as a means of respecting a work product of clear and immediate value, especially if freelancers don’t engage in any other benefits of formal employment? This is when my divadom bowls people over like a five-octave vocal range. They insist timely freelance payment is unreasonable; but they might also call lifting free weights in fishnets and five-inch heels unreasonable, and that is something Mariah Carey has already done and done without remorse. Divas exist to push boundaries, no matter how many mannequins, fishnets, or email chains with accounting disintegrate in the process.

Perhaps what’s most critical to being a diva is valuating one’s own skills and refusing to back down on that value. When payment finally appears in my account after months, I’ll sometimes receive a brief apology email: “Sorry for the delay!”

Diva to the end, I type back: “No worries! Hope it wasn’t too much of a pain!”

But, upon recalling the several items I threw around my apartment in frustrated rage, I delete “No worries.” It seems a true diva, even one among a disembodied collection of thirsty independent contractors, should not be about creating convenience for others. So, I revise to:

“Dear Stan,

This is a stick up, stick up, I need them bags of that money. Stick up, Stick up, you see ’em ask where that money.

Thank you so much!”

Just unreasonable enough to be reasonable.

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Originally published at deathstyleblog.wordpress.com on June 28, 2017.

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