Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dreams and Logistics

A kindly family friend once said to me, when I was already over 30, "I wish you'd been my kid. I would have knocked that art shit right out of you."

I thanked her for the thought, but we both realized it was too late. Even though I was trying to convince myself I hopelessly lacked talent and should get a real job, the real world seemed to have less use for me than the creative one had.

As Joyce Carey's protagonist Gulley Jimson pointed out in The Horse's Mouth, the sufferer from art doesn't really have a choice in the matter. It has nothing to do with talent. It's basically an infection.

I use the term art loosely here, since cartooning is not considered art by the artistic, and writing, while it may be creative, is damned by that "thousand words to one picture" ratio.

Well sit back. I can bury you in about 17 pictures' worth while you're still squinting down your thumb at the canvas.

Cartooning is often a very verbal form, and merges well with writing. Look at Thurber.

The problem is that "art shit" takes time. So I've been working a minimum of two jobs since I started having jobs. When times were really tough and I worked seven days a week, my schedule was pretty full. Fortunately, that was also the time when I felt that life wasn't worth a fuck anyway, so the sooner I died and let my wife collect my insurance, the better for all concerned.

It was true at the time. Since then I have sprouted some redeeming social value, so matters get a bit more complicated. Some good causes find me occasionally helpful. A few nice people would miss me.

In order to set aside the time to create, you have to feel you're worth it. That's why so many successful creators seem like stuck-up schmucks. And successful or not, to stake out the time to create one must forego a great deal of social contact, especially when you live your real life in your spare time.

Published or not, that cartoon you scan and laugh at in 30 seconds probably took at least a couple of hours to conceive, sketch and finalize. That glib little essay through which your eyes flowed so smoothly probably took a number of revisions to seem so effortless.

You only see work from people who found the time to produce it.

Meanwhile, life goes on. What seemed like just an okay place to live is, in fact, a beautiful little piece of forest, guaranteed to be mowed down as soon as I relinquish it. All the plants, animals and birds by which I've marked my seasons here can just go to hell. Some fatass needs a house. If I have to leave here, I will never want to come back.

We moved often when I was a child. I learned to let go of everything, the places, the people, because it was easier that way. They were going to let go of me. And while we lived in developed places, the changes, though cancerous, often took place on the fringes. Annapolis, of course, is now one giant, festering malignancy. But I saw that coming and moved here, beyond the battle lines, to stake out what I could.

I have dreamed of skidders and bulldozers almost constantly since I moved into the house I have managed to inhabit for 16 years. And now they're coming. Empty lot values have gone from about $3000 an acre to about $14,000, and that's just on my street. So even though I could technically pursue my ambitions anywhere I could set up a little studio and office, I would be leaving things I care about.

Meanwhile, my wife has discovered that she won't really do whatever she has to do to stay here. She won't teach general music or English, or work as a cashier. So she's off to greener pastures, to find a good orchestra job. New Hampshire spits out another one. She has too much invested in her career,and she's too good at it, to stay here and starve, despite the fact that she has produced a neat little youth orchestra from nothing at all in about five years. Logistics. There's just no money.

We discussed her chances before she made the leap. We knew it would be tough, but we hoped gaps would align and she would slip through them.

It didn't happen. This is the real world, where most success is fractional and dreamers need to give it up or die off. Or live apart so that some small gains may be kept and some small forests protected against that day when they might be more universally valued.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I DIDN'T leave for greener pastures. I just wanted to look at them. They're not greener, they're just
OVER THERE. It's what the saying really means--the grass SEEMS greener on the other side. But when you get to the other side you see that some of that green grass is dandelions. And there are rocks under the grass that you can's see until you start digging.
So I'll dig in my own back yard and make dandelion wine and rock gardens.

cafiend said...
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cafiend said...

I love her so much.