The Inspired Light and the Furniture Polish Vie for the Dullard Silver – Who Shines Victorious? @VerbaVitae

I read a writer’s blog today that really got me thinking, and put my blood on the stove to simmer.  You can read it at ellyzee.com.  I’m constantly amazed, perplexed and disappointed at the hoops set up for the would-be published writer.  Like the primitive government’s tax collectors – at every pasture gate and village market, agents, publishers, and the layers of their institutions lie in wait to gobble and further bifurcate the dollars that may come to a published writer.  What is a writer to do?

I have been moved to self-identification by a few artists and their plights.  The first, a contemporary of mine, a brilliant visual artist whose mind’s goings-on exceeded the world of Alice.  She lived like a pauper, eating once a day.  Coffee and cigarettes made up the difference.  Her art world and the world-at-large collided when she acquired a tooth abscess that almost ended her life, and further warped her mind – a mind that her Art could no longer meet for tea.

And then, John Keats – the Poet of Choice for many critics as the man who wrote the best poem in English, ‘Autumn’.  John spent his life in financial limbo, watching his father’s wealth get gobbled up by his father-in-law – much like the book-deal family of writers today.  He found himself not marryable by social standards because of his poverty.  And then, as loyalty does, attended the death bed of his teenage brother, perhaps sealing his fate.  His death came later in his twenties, also of TB.  During his short life, he withdrew from a potential life in Medicine and sold but a few hundred volumes of his poetry.  Certainly, obscure in his own mind, and from the looks of it at the time, among the masses.

Finally, the life of Picasso, who only knew what he knew at any given moment.  And, in a cold winter of poor economy, he burned his finished canvases to keep him and his friend, who would otherwise be on the street, warm.  It was not until much later that his prosperity came.  But, by then, many of his works had seen the flame of necessity at the hands of their maker.

Financial conditions can dictate the rise and fall of lives – in critical and dire ways – the life of Keats – not to be married due to his impoverishedness; the survival until Spring of Picasso; and the mere breathing of my friend Zhenne, for as long as the oxygen would travel to her lungs…each sacrificing nearly everything just to be an artist, and sometimes sacrificing their art just to survive.

These people and their lives teach me something about the issue of being paid for my writing.  Yes, if I can be paid while avoiding the thieves, then Yes, I will do that.  If I need to burn my paintings to survive the Winter, then maybe I’ll do that too.  And, if I need to live a life where the money is more scarce than my finished works like my friend Zhenne, then perhaps I’ll live that too.  But, what I won’t do is sacrifice anything as dire for less.

So, if you’re an Agent, Publisher, or Self-Publishing Company, you better think twice before you reach for my money.  There are dire consequences for sacrificing my life, livelihood and artistic identity for anything less than the threat of death of myself or death of my art.  Namely, that I become obscure after I have published, and have a bank account of obscurity to show for it.  In my mind, better to tile the mansion of my creativity for invited guests, then sell my tiles to the Sultan where they will grace the presence of a commode.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. We Wanted 2B Writers
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 04:49:16

    The vendors of your last paragraph are rapidly becoming less relevant than they once were. They’re only as powerful as we make them. Close your office door, hunker down in front of your computer, and have confidence that good writing will find its audience—with or without them.

    Reply

  2. lynmidnight
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 15:29:04

    I’ve thought long and hard about the curse of the artist. I’ve noticed that lots of artists/writers have died young. I have also noticed that artists only achieve fame and appreciation after they’d passed on. But then again, could these tendencies be due to the harsh realities of the past?

    I agree with you on the money aspect completely, it’s very hard to make money out of art, yet many people manage that, you know? I think it’s those who hold their art too close that sometimes can’t see what they need to do to succeed in the real world, and those who do succeed have actually achieved some distance from it all, keeping their spirit calm. 🙂

    Hmm. This post made me think about a lot of stuff and that’s always nice in the middle of the day. Thanks, Katherine. I’ll spread the world around. It always amazes me how you find hope in the darkest of corners. Even though this post is darker than usual, it’s still insightful as hell.

    Reply

  3. skepperson
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 15:38:00

    So eloquent, Katherine. I’m happy to share from my experiences. As writers we tend to think of ourselves in singular terms and in every romantic connotation possible we exist for our art, live to breathe life into what we create. We crave the validation that an actual sale of that art, novel, poem, brings, but once that happens, once the anticipated sale is achieved, you are longer just you and your work is no longer entirely yours. Once you sign a contract you then enter the process of being ‘packaged’ as an author or artist, which can be a real shakeup from your former solitary existence. Today’s publishers count on people buying what they already know they like. This is why some agents encourage authors to write novels that can become series using the same characters. If publishers can’t ‘brand’ you, you present too much of a risk to actively promote and send on book tours so you’re left to market yourself, which is not easy, not without spending money on publicists and media machines. Getting that first novel published is by no means the end to your dilemmas as a writer or the fingers that dip into your share of the proceeds. In many cases it’s the beginning of the real nightmare (if you’re the hermit type who doesn’t do well at television and radio interviews) and comes with an entirely new set of problems and a new knowledge of yourself as part of the ‘it takes a publishing village’ to make a book. No longer quite as romantic to be sure and downright painful at times, but if you’re a writer you already know you have to write, a painter you have to paint. The compulsion to present what we create is as strong as the drive to do it, and every writer/artist will, in some form, have their own tortured experiences with the process of having not only their pockets picked but their creative wells dipped from by all who claim to have a stake.

    Reply

  4. Elly Zupko
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 23:30:32

    I love the passion with which you write, Katherine! I think you and I are of very much the same mindset. We have a drive to create above anything else, and that drive will not be compromised.

    Reply

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