I finished reading A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut a couple of days ago and found it a little disappointing. The book felt like Kurt dropped a box of post-it notes at my feet and said “well, I’m out to lunch.” Being the observant reader, I was able to take home a few nuggets of value away from the text though. First and foremost is his quote about the arts. This has been circling social media outlets for some time but I enjoy repeating it.
If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding [his way of making sure the reader knows he’s not being sarcastic from earlier in the book]. The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something. (p. 24, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York)
How can I argue with that? It dovetails into my quote from watching Press.Pause.Play. The arts aren’t about money, anyway. Really. Sure, we’d all like to roll around on a bed full of money a la Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal, but how many of us will really cash in on that? How many of us have the real support of the people around us and others who know how to make stuff happen for writers, actors, comedians, etc.? We can’t all be professional writers. We all can’t be baseball players. We all can’t be Hollywood-types.
There’s just too many of us, and some of us have friends in very high places. It’s a game to some, but not me. It’s only a game when you make it about money. At this point in my minute existence, all I want is to leave something behind much like a slug that leaves a trail over a sidewalk. You may get the same sense of discomfort or disgust while reading my work, too. Good on you.
The current book I’m reading is Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin, and he would say it’s not a matter of technical ability or money. To him, it’s a matter of creating an idea to circulate material to as many people as possible. This kinetic, wide-eyed thinking is the amusement I miss in my economics classes back in the day. It totally misses the point, the one I just told you in the last paragraph. This is not to be confused with an “it’ll sell itself” attitude, because that’s not what’s being discussed.
Vonnegut also spoke of how he was regarded at English departments. “Critics feel,” he writes, “that a person cannot be a serious artist and also have a technical education, which I had.” (p.15) This is very meaningful to me, as I’ve found myself in the same boat. What I have to ask myself is “do I want to be recognized as a ‘serious artist’?” It’s a legit question, and I suppose I couldn’t say at this point. Maybe if I were younger I’d be gung-ho about the idea. Now, I’m not so sure.
At any rate, I’m still here. I’m still breathing, writing, and working. Maybe someday I can look back and laugh at this? I certainly hope so, because it’s pretty damned depressing.
I truly sympathize with the agony of considering the art we each leave in our own wake. There is a certain bit of immortality we all hope to squeeze out of our best and brightest creations, whether it be a book, a poem, a painting, a home, or a child who looks somewhat like me… Definitely anyone I taught who talks and sounds even a little bit like me…Some of what we leave behind seems insipid, stupid, dull, or pointless. But it all has meaning in the swirling course of the ever-flowing universe. Dang! See what I mean about insipid?
In the spirit of Vonnegut, even if it’s insipid it was worth the effort.
It’s a proposition extremely difficult to argue with on a blogging platform like WordPress, really, given that the site is (at least for the people who haven’t let their blogs go fallow) pretty much tens of thousands of people committing to do artwork with little but hope that it’ll turn into a paying prospect.
That’s the impression I get. I even wrote a flash fiction piece about that notion. If it does pan out for them, then there’s kudos in that. For me though, my focus shouldn’t towards the idea of financial gain. That doesn’t feel like the right idea.
We can all follow our passions. But we don’t. Because we make other things about money, things that suck out our souls and make us miserable and leave us wasted. At this point, I’m too old to keep living that way. I may make nothing writing, but I’m putting it out there. I’m giving it my all, and that’s the best place to start.
What other choices do writers have? Either write a piece, or let it drift away. I don’t want to say money’s of little consequence, because it’s not. We have to eat, sleep, be clothed, protected from the elements, etc. That’s pretty important, and it isn’t free. We’d also like to have a drink, see a movie, watch a sports game, etc. Those make life a little less boring. What it can’t end up being is made a game. Many people lose at that game, and it wrecks a lot of lives. It’s like drug abuse, or a gambling addiction.
To create or not create? I’d have to say create, always. What have I got to lose? Time? People waste time every day. It has been overvalued by a delusional public.
I think that one of the keystones of art is artlessness.
The raw honesty of art pierces deep, and guile or pomp wears that point down to a nub.
Nice: “All I want is to leave something behind much like a slug that leaves a trail over a sidewalk.” Just hope no one steps on you. All I want is to feel this way, to be this close, to feel the same. Sorry, you know how my brain works… But hey, I am not motivated by money at all. Just creating, having fun, making life worth living, and making friends. I changed my major from art to English, and clearly both cause one to roll in the dough, like Demi, as you say. If that’s the only nugget you gleaned from the book, it’s enough.
There have been plenty to step on me. I suppose that’s “life,” ironically. I figure that since I’m rather isolated, in a true connection way, I might as well occupy my time with something that will make it more bearable.