June 6th, 2002

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True Vocation

Tonight someone used the "ask seller a question" function on ebay to ask me if it is "really worth it" to sell my bad chess poetry book on line for an auction minimum of two cents. Leaving aside the ebay phenomenon that microscopic auction minimums can stimulate bidding and actually drive up price sometimes, I felt that my correpondent was making a good point. Is it ever really worth it to put one's creative work on sale?

I believe strongly that people can and should sell their art, music and literature, and that such sales ideally should take place in a small-business model independent of the corporate megaliths. I have no trouble with people wanting to be paid for sharing their work. As an owner of a small law firm, I certainly believe in the determined though ethical pursuit of profit.

The problem for me comes, though, when we define
the value of all our artistic activities in terms of *profit*. This takes two forms, both dangerous. One is the "I'm gonna be discovered and this big publishing company/well-connected gallery/record label will make me famous". The other, a bit less pernicious, runs something like "this cold, cruel, uncaring world has no real appreciation of the arts, otherwise talented people like me could make a living". In either case, one becomes a slave to the market, a slave to profit. Hell forbid that we create art as absurd acts of random joy. I may have been a free man in Paris, but now I need to be stroked by the starmaker machinery, or I am nothing.

That's why I feel that the arts should be avocational, hobby businesses and side pursuits. It's not that they aren't important--it's that they're too important to be tied to market forces and people who care only about profit. It's not worth it. It's worth far too much. I want to see more singing welders, novelizing horticulturalists, and nurses who read poetry at the Friday night open mike. This sort of thing is not merely a means to an end--a way to fame and profit. This is the end in and of itself: the destination is in the travel itself.

It's not that it's immoral to earn one's living from one's art. I know artists and writers I wish were marketers as well. It's just that the construct is fraught with peril that we will "get" what we have now--mega-corporate controlled media, artists punch pressed into the lowest common denominator, and this dynamic of the market v. the creator of art. A better construct, the artist as small business person, the Ani DiFranco or Trout Fishing in America construct, is alive but not as well as it should be.

The fault is not with the artists per se. The fault is how we all act as audiences. I buy major label and major press, and will always do so. But now I try to buy as much self-produced work by independent producers in the genres I like as I can find and enjoy.

Although marketing and small business are fun, it goes beyond merely "let's start smaller companies and put on a show!" thinking. I believe that we've got to break the whole construct and start pouring in new molds. That's why the 'net, including especially LiveJournal, media exchange such as postcardx, print on demand publishing, and cheap recording technology are so important. Ultimately, we have to earn our livings in other ways, and figure out ways to get our artistic expression(s) in the hands of others and get others' expressions in our own hands. This is the way of liberation from profit. The love of fame and
mammon may indeed be the root of all evil; for certain, though, the beginning of our destruction of this poisonous way of looking at the arts is to liberate ourselves from our fear of the self-published and self-promoted and try to exchange around the megalithic marketplace. It's not that I fear capitalism, in the way those misguided 60s theorists did. I just fear handcuffs upon our dreams.

I am not a "real" artist, and I'm not even sure I am "velveteen". I write bad poetry which I then enjoy marketing with kitschy ad copy on line. But all the fun in who I am and what I do would be gone if my work had to conform to some economic expectation and model, other than perhaps the model of spend little, have fun, and try to break even.

I'm not a particularly original thinker on all this, but I keep wanting people to realize that their true vocation is to write, and not to *write for profit*. What profits a person to fit a mold in order to publish her book, and lose her soul? Better 15 of the right readers, and artistic satisfaction, than 15,000, and "publishing expectations". I have a job, I do it well. But my dreams, however slight they are, are not owned by the daemons of profit. We are not called to lose our souls to gain a profit. We are called to lose our lives to gain our souls. If that means we are to hold jobs and write on the weekend, but write what we wish to say, then show me the clock to punch. The other way, lost in fitting expectations, that's the true hell.
  • Current Music
    ambient sound of the computer humming
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and the two record collections shall become one

One of the advantages of marrying after 30:
sorting through the twin music collections to glean all the best music. Translation: "Hey, that's not your Lene Lovich! Yours is in the other box! That's *my* Lene Lovich".

The latest 60s hits half hour informercials, with all the videos of folks swaggering around mike stands, prompted my wife to point out that the real day the music died was the day they invented the cordless microphone.

I listened to Lene Lovich's "Lucky Number" twice today, on my cassette, which was in the *other* box.
  • Current Music
    Lene Lovich, "Say When"
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Pilgrimmy Progress

One thing that interests me is the creative potential which continual self-expression can spawn. Whenever I hear phrases such as "creative potential", I look for the place on the form that says this "human growth seminar" will cost only $ 499.99. Still and all, I've noticed since I began keeping this journal that I am much more oriented to getting things done. I write more, I try to volunteer more time, and I have interactions with strangers that do not take the form of demand letters.

I always like that Amelia Earheart (or is it Helen Keller? All quotes are misattributed in the Cliffs' Notes of my mind) tag about life being a grand adventure or it is nothing. I also like that Michael McClure "Meat Science" poem I read in Paris Review when I was the sort of young many who regularly bought Paris Review (and nonetheless sat in the stands at football games yelling "wooo, pig soooie") about how all sorts of lives half-lived "are suicide".

As pleased as I've been with the positive effects of keeping a personal journal--score one for the Puritans, who were big journal fans--this week I am focused on transmuting (or transmogrifying, which I always think is a cooler word) this personal progress into progress on even mundane fronts. Today was an enormously productive day, so I hope that the effort is succeeding.

As I sit here, an affidavit just completed,
resisting mightily the temptation to write about the two big trials in November that marked the onset of a mild period of exhaustion (hey, maybe my personal community could be alled "lawwarstories", a place for recovering litigators to tell about trials), I'm ready to slay dragons and learn sensitivity and trade all my paperbacks in for other paperbacks and even find the missing CDs.

I'd settle for just getting my tasks all done.
My wife left for her weekend Nebraska farm trip today. Maybe I can use the time alone to focus on getting things done.
  • Current Music
    Chicago, "25 or 6 to 4"