I am of an age and at the point where I can honestly suggest the government initiate a program titled Writers Anonymous. It would function in the same manner as it does to treat alcoholics and gamblers, except it would offer assistance to those of us who have fallen off the tracks and are in desperate need of help. After all, isn’t the mindless pursuit of writing (or Art, in general, for that matter) a serious form of affliction and addiction and doesn’t it invariably carry with it the attendant symptoms: loneliness, despair, depression, divorce, anti-social behaviour, mania, anger management issues, aloofness, sedentary lifestyle, substance abuse, madness, carpal tunnel disease, sexually transmitted diseases, stomach cancer, constipation, blindness, back pain, loss of limbs, loss of job, heart ache, heart break, death by misadventure, death by suicide… The list goes on and all one need do is check the obituaries: David Foster Wallace, Anne Sexton, Richard Brautigan, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Jerzy Kosinski, Virginia Woolf... And let’s face it—these were the lucky ones. They made it to the top and so their special demises are recorded. What of the rest who remain cloistered in darkened rooms, huddled over blue computer screens or poised with pencils over pads of lined paper hammering out words, words, words until one day they pull out pappy’s old thirty aught six Springfield and blow their brains out? A sobering thought.
Though, not sobering enough, apparently.
After all, what sane and healthy person would set themselves up day after day to face constant and continual rejection, little hope of success or remuneration of any sort and the strong possibility that life will be harsh, brutish and short? Well, many of us apparently, and the question is why? Or, at least why continue after lengthy experience has proven that the light at the end of the tunnel is just another goddamn express train and you are simply another annoying bug meant to be rammed, squashed and discarded without so much as a by-your-leave?
There is, of course, Freud’s famous tenet that people become artists to secure fame, fortune and beautiful lovers. I’ve already pointed out that the fame and fortune is a pipe dream except for a blessed few and it’s also well established that the beautiful lovers disappear rather quickly once the initial thrill of the ‘writer-as-romantic-figure’ wears thin and they wake one fine morning to be met by the basic and true ‘writer-as-fucked-up-and-totally-annoying-asshole-figure.’ Not a pretty sight, and the lover (if smart enough or lucky enough) packs a bag and moves on. The writer, meanwhile, knocks off a crappy poem or two to sum up the affair, then goes back to hitting the bottle, the needle, the prescription meds, the sex toys, God or whatever other crutch, wailing alas and alack; woe is me, woe is me!
Not to sound totally negative, every so often work is sent out into the ether and somewhere down the line an acceptance letter appears from a small magazine saying a piece will manifest in an upcoming issue, along with a cheque for however much nominal payment. Or an entire manuscript is accepted, and—barring bankruptcy, acts of God, a polar vortex or death—a contract to follow, along with the promise of publication in the next two to three years. The carrot is dangled and the writer is only too happy to chase after, dragging bag and baggage along behind.
Speaking of carrots dangled, a certain writer who shall be known as S, recently blamed the amount of lousy writing and writers in Canada due to the fact that programs are government subsidized. I think any surface financial investigation will show that the amount of money invested by any level of Canadian government in either Literature or the Arts as a whole, is minimal, compared to the total wealth of this country and, certainly, the private sector has, forever, been responsible for producing and promoting more than it’s fair share of maudlin, inane, inept, hackneyed and downright talentless writers and artists. I only point to Hollywood blockbuster movies as one example, and Argo winning an Oscar for best picture recently. Or the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey. Or any Dan Brown piece of shit novel.
The worst we can say is that, with the ease and relatively low cost of self-publication these days, there are certain people who get together and create a small press in order to print themselves and their friends. Then, after a few years, they fold and move on. And maybe some of this material is questionable and some is outright awful, but the enterprise follows a long respected tradition, and occasionally through the dreck, a few writers appear who can be deemed talented and worthwhile and who might have gone forever ignored and unrecognized if not for such noble enterprise. In any case, no government subsidy and paid for by the participants out of pocket. Their credo? Don’t quit your day job!
And the bottom line is—the money doesn’t matter anyway, even if it was there. Not the fame nor the promise of lovers, beautiful or otherwise, neither. Why? Because the true writer is afflicted, addicted and irrevocably hooked. They don’t need any outside incentives because they are deranged and affected right through to their DNA. It’s an illness with no known cure. They are content in their misery. I admit, the monkey is on my back and the more it digs its claws into my back, and sinks its teeth into my neck, and scratches at my face, and screams into my ears that both me and my work are pieces of worthless bat guano, the more I say: fuck you and the horse you rode in on. Even knowing I’m the horse. I drag myself back into the basement, pour myself a glass of red, fire up the computer and go at it: bang the keys until I’ve beat some poor sonofabitch poem or story or play into a kind of reasonable shape that I can live with, and perhaps want to share with an audience.
Oh, and forget the bit about a government subsidized program for writers in distress. I was joking, sort of. Like any other addict, it’s deny, deny, deny and I know I’d have to be dragged off kicking and screaming if I was threatened with a cure. Why? Well, in the immortal words of Tom Waits: I’m afraid if I exorcise my devils, my angels may leave too.
And you can take that to the bank.
Stan Rogal resides in Toronto and writes from a small windowless room in the basement of a house. He definitely needs to get out more. His work has appeared in numerous magazines in Canada, the US and Europe. He is the author of 18 books: 4 novels, 3 story and 11 poetry collections. A new collection of stories will appear in the spring and a collection of poems in the fall, 2014. His two major qualities are unfathomable tenacity, blind determination and wrongheaded stubborness. Oh, wait a sec -- that's three. Note: his math skills are questionable.
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