Tuesday, February 6, 2007

What Have You Done For Your Art?

Barista. Stay-at-home Dad. Janitor. Graveyard Courier. Any of these jobs sound familiar? If you're a writer, I'll bet at least one. I'd also bet that, as a writer, you've said least one of the following lines to explain why.

"It's temporary." Or, "I'm just working this gig to make contacts in the industry". Or my personal favorite, "It pays the bills and leaves me time to write."

Load of crap!

Unless you're a young Quentin Tarantino sitting behind the counter at Video Archives, working a near-minimum-wage job so you can make contacts is like the alcoholic bartender who drinks his mistakes to help him perfect his craft.

So I'll ask the question again. What have you done for your art? I'll tell you what I did for mine.

I quit.

First, I quit my low-pay, make-no-contacts night job. I got a real job. A day job.

I hated it. I got over it. I mean, even Bukowski had a real job. And I'm pretty sure he wasn't making industry contacts while sorting mail for the U.S.Postal Service.

Next, I quit my art. If you count writing two unsold screenplays as art. Months passed. I forgot about writing. I moved on. The job had become my life. It got to the point where not only did I believe that what I had done was right, I also began to believe it was good.

But like some of us know, writing is a lot like herpes. You can ignore it, but just when you think it's forgotten about you, WHAM! It's back, worse than ever. Something buried so deep inside you doesn't go away just because you lie to yourself and say it isn't there.

Brendan Behan, the Irish playwright and poet, once explained that, "He was a drinker with a writing problem". And he's right. I've never heard of a twelve-step program for writing.

It's hard. You have to be harder.

Since we're on a theme, years ago, a friend told me about someone close to her who was an alcoholic. He was also a Roman Catholic priest. Now at first glance you might think, "Okay, Isn't A.A. all about turning it over to some 'Higher Power' to get you clean and sober?" At least that's what I thought at first. Until my friend explained to me that, as a Roman Catholic priest her friend was bound by vows to administer AND RECEIVE the Sacrament of Holy Communion. With wine. Daily. She explained that from his perspective, Holy Communion was the way he was brought into communion with God. It was a non-negotiable.

Every day, sometimes several times a day, this man had to submit himself to that which he believed could both kill him and make him stronger.

Now, I'm not a Roman Catholic or an alcoholic. But I think I got the point. How crazy must it be to willingly do something that you know you can't live with, and you know you can't live without?

So... I'm writing again.

Copyright © 2007 Bill Friday