Professionalized within an inch of your life
Note: This post might be a bit of a dog’s breakfast, a haphazard salmagundi of random observations. Hopefully, all roads will converge towards the end however.
First, I wanted to thank everyone for the kind comments on my last post and apologize for not responding to any of them. I have been working harder than usual at my job as well as moving to a new apartment with a brand new roommate. Life intervened as they say, like it always does. But this brings up two areas of bewilderment for me as of late: work and writing. Let’s say I’m having trouble seeing the trees for the forest. This is as good a platform for the perplexed as any, so permit me to sift through some thoughts.
The first issue is work. I live in a blue collar town, which is to say that everyone I know works all the time at jobs they generally dislike in order to pay bills. This, of course, is not much different from the lot of the middle class, but the ideology surrounding it is entirely different. Having cleaned a thousand offices, I notice the professional class is swaddled in ideas of doing what you love and finding success and fulfillment at work. They read books on Having the Courage to Create your own Career Satisfaction and similar notions that sound grandiose to a working class reader. Most of my cohorts were raised with the belief that work is a duty, something you have to do in order to support the things you want to be doing. Very few have any notion of building a “career”. When a musician friend is asked “What do you do?” he responds “Do you mean what do I do that makes me happy, or what do I do for money?” The two only rarely overlap.
At the same time, our dirty old town is “gentrifying”, which is essentially a process of generating wealth by displacing the working poor. It’s happening due to a housing crisis in nearby Toronto, fueled by population growth and real estate speculation, which is in turn driving up housing prices here. Nevertheless, the narrative being spun to promote our city is something like the colonial myth: Hamilton was terra incognita- a real estate developer recently called it a “blank canvas”- until visionaries and entrepreneurs from Toronto saw its potential as a “creative hub” and made it hip at last.
Most of this is drivel, but what is interesting is how our longstanding arts and music scene has been pressed into the service of selling real estate at the expense of our artists and musicians who, hip or not, work day jobs and live hand-to-mouth existences. The carpetbaggers have moved in and they’ve copywritten what we created in their own names. Meanwhile, we remain strangely even more invisible and silent and will eventually be pushed out, unless the market crashes (God willing).
I write in order to be heard. My mother likes to say that I’ve “always” been writing. It’s just something I do. It is by this strange compulsion that we write our way into the world, like strangers in pitch black darkness trying to make out the contours of an unknown room. I think of writers as the ones who gash their shins on the corner of a coffee table and have to describe the pain in exquisite detail.
Lately, I have been reading my stories in public, at small gatherings and punk rock shows. The response has been positive; there really is no feeling to compare with having someone come up to you in tears after hearing something you wrote. Yet, even with all the talk around town about “professionalizing” the local literary scene, I have no notion that I’ll ever do this for money. I feel comfortable with my abilities as a writer