I think i have this grandiose vision of the literary world as it used to be.
It could be that I’m so far removed from the modern version, that I can’t see how similar it really is. I fantasize about the way writers and artists used to get together and fight and hang out and discuss their masterpieces in confidence knowing the others in the group were just as insecure and mentally unstable.
Does that exist anymore? Does being an artists boil down to nothing more than one’s activity on twittershits and fac(ebook)? Does anybody care about writing or introspection or literary aesthetics anymore? Are we so afraid of getting a peek at our real selves through art that we skirt it by degrading it with subtle epithets? Books for snobs are called “literature”, everyone else reads "fiction".
Music has its snob-class too called “classical”, a genre its thrown into regardless of the composition date. Modern culture is now looking down on things we once elevated as the highest human acheivements. All because we’d prefer books as entertainment, our music as “something to dance to”; even if you don’t dance.
Maybe the life of the artist is around here somewhere, but I can’t break into to it. Maybe I can’t break into it precisely because Im’ trying to break into it.
Or maybe it never existed.
And what do I think of when talking about that former literary world?
I’m not sure. I imagine it as a state of deep poverty, self-imposed isolation, and lots of random sex. I’ve got a hold on two of those. The third, unfortunately, eludes me.
The Artist's Lifestyle
Listen, I’m sure it’s all a fantasy anyway, the way I think of those old-timey writers and poets. My wanting to act out the part of Hemingway reading his new work in a swank Parisian apartment while Gertrude and Pablo listen politely. that has to be a fantasy, right? That only happens in Woody Allen movies.
My fantasy, within which I have written an early version of 'A Farewell to Arms', goes something like this:
“I’m sending it in to the publisher,” I say as Dan Hemingway.
“Well,” says Pablo, “the world will love it cause it’s Dan Hemingway, but maybe you can do better. I don’t like when the woman dies at the end. It’s not enough."
Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, who have just now materialized in my farce, shift around in their seats because they've had a fight about having to listen to me read before we all go out for the night.
Scotty says to me, “Hold on now, tough shit. Don’t send that garbage in just yet. Pablo’s right, the ending’s not working. The baby needs to die too.’
“Horrid!” Zelda says.
“Maybe they all die in a fire,” Pablo says. “I can paint the cover for you. I already have it in my head.”
“That’s an awful way to die,” Zelda says lighting a cigarette.
Maybe you’re right, Scotty,” I say. “I’m not going deep enough. I’ll rework it and see what comes of it. Who wants to fight!”
But I’m not Dan Hemingway. In a very general way, I’m not anything. I’m just looking for something I always thought existed, but doesn’t. I guess.
See, those cats in the room, Gertrude and the rest, they existed on another level, in my imagination anyway. They were not afraid to tell each other that the work was bad. And maybe they didn’t tell each other the work was good either, but they could always tell when it was when the others got irate and jealous.
Here’s what bothers me most about the whole artist’s lifestyle: it’s nothing but a sham. One played on me, by me. The truth is, if I’m creating, I’m doing exactly what they were doing and to no lesser degree than they did it. Talent is not measured in this equation. You are either a commited writer (painter, musician, filmmaker, etc.) or you aren't. The lifestyle is only that. It is the act of creation.
Artistry in the Modern World
There is no doubt that the world is different now. The distance between each one of us is far great than it ever has been. Voices are disembodied over the phone. Most of the time we don’t even hear voices, we read their texts, emails, and comment sections. We read people's snide responses to articles and we laugh and degrade and condescend and find ways to take massive shits on the works of others.
What an advanced society we live in! Oh what power this technology gives us, where everyone is a miniature Zeus with lighting bolts made of shat (shatning bolts) and we strike others down when they’ve stuck their necks out to do something creative.
The part of life where we get to know people has been disrupted. Empathy has shat stains all over it because it's born of human proximity and the lack of one is the rape of the other and it is driving art into the shadows.
Not too long ago. the desire for another's intamacy was cultivated by the simple act of eating together. Now, before a single word is uttered, we tinderly swipe them out of our lives and they’re gone forever.
We meet each other without hearing the other’s voice. We read only planned-out responses, which makes those shatning bolts far more egregious than something blurted out in conversation.
We read texts and emails, and we have no true sense of what’s being said because we can’t see their face crinkle just so, and the pitch of their voice is smashed out by stark black letters on the screen. We've forgotten that a voice can tell you more than words it forms.
So in this modern world populated only by little Zeuses, where does the artist fit? Is there any such thing as an artist’s life anymore? Where do we find it? Are we experiencing the extent of it as we market our books? Is it hidden in the billboards and movie trailers and top 100 radio? Is the life of an artist simply the life of a network marketer?
I don't have answers.
What do We Do Now?
Listen, I’m willing to believe the premise of this entire rant is all “grass is always greener” bullshit, but I can’t shake the feeling that art is dying.
It’s dying because we are becoming robots.
If there is any truth to that, even in the smallest measure, then we must assume *something* is doing the programming. Someone is issuing the orders.
Well, it’s a little anticlimactic and it reeks of cliche, but it’s soylent, it’s green and it’s people. It’s us. We are issuing commands to ourselves and the command is to become popular, make ourselves known, insert ourselves into the zeitgeist lest we die forgotten, or worse yet, never known.
See, the constant pursuit of recognition forces us to hide the ugliest parts of ourselves from ourselves; that is, it buries our humanity deep within. But if humanity loses its humanity, what will we call ourselves?
I look for comfort int the past (I think) because the future looks like a place where I’ll be forgotten, and I don’t want to go through with it because it sounds like a terrible idea. Someone could get hurt. This line of thinking is paralyzing and it cannot go on.
The fantasies have to stop.
We only live now and comfort, ironically, is the act of making continual adjustments.
What would these adjustments look like? What can I do to bring myself closer to the artist’s lifestyle?
No more being a robot. Or, at least, reconfigure command prompt order. (Is that even a real thing?) If the television has been on for more than an hour, shut it off. If I’ve been at the computer too long, whether its writing, promoting, hustling, shut it down and...
Be still …………………….
Yeah, that’s it. We need silence in a world that is constantly trying to get our attention. We’ll get what we want out of life as long as what we want is not simply to make ourselves known.
In this spirit, I have some rules:
First: Write. Everyday.
Third: Take pleasure
Fourth: Seize quiet moments. (This is as important as the others. Lasting pleasure occurs as much in retrospect as it does in the moment of it’s creation.)
Fifth: Look up.
Look up from the phone. Look up from the computer, from the woes, from writing. Look up, hold your children. Look up, make eye contact with a beautiful woman. Look up, take notice, and see if the grass doesn’t get browner on the other side.
But first you must look up.