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.