“Either it’ll move me
or it’ll move right through me.”
- Gordon Downie
Lately, life dictates that I consider my creative avenues and where my priorities lie, like anyone who choses a creative life to pursue.
The “money” route is easier. Always is. Paying rent’s so rewarding, never mind buying food.
But I was raised Catholic. Religious allusions are never far from mind, especially where the proverbial root of all evil is concerned.
The devil I know — that of paying rent, taking an easy way out with a “Yes, master, and how low should I bend?” kind of agreeability — is hardly shameful. Better writers than me have sold their soul and ink blotter just to make it through another dry period.
Then there are pompous but admirable asshats who never figured out how to sell out, like James Joyce and his times sleeping on a cot in the back of the Parisian bookshop Shakespeare and Co. Poverty’s a suit a lot of writers have worn with pride.
I don’t know.
I really struggle with this, even though I’m pretty sure I know where I want to go, where I need to go — where I will go.
In my long and storied past, I’ve made the mistake of trying to sell out and capitalize on my writing, the bad way. I fucked that up. It messed with me creatively, it robbed me of excellent chances, and left me with creative scarring and a bruised ego.
As this opportunity approaches, I’m left considering my options. I’ve also got risky big projects in mind for proposing, but I need to wrap my head around each. And develop serious guts, say no to other things, and believe in my outcome.
I don’t think my creative dilemma comes down to a matter of soul or integrity, though. It’s not such a high-minded ideal, though artists over the centuries have made it seem as such.
I think it’s a really matter of pragmatism and/or individual work methods.
If you want to do something to the best of your ability, you must do it with the entirety of your focus. Spreading yourself thin and making yourself a jack of all trades is great if you’re content to be well-spread over life, but for those of us who have ONE goal, ONE dream, doesn’t it make more sense to pursue it 100%, rather than diverting efforts?
I don’t want to live out my days writing ad copy or jingles. I have a journalism degree. I have a vision.
You may scoff at the idea of “journalism” today, but I sought my degree out of worship for everyone from HL Mencken to Samuel Clemens, all the way through Barry Farrell, Lester Bangs, Hunter Thompson, on up to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and anyone else who threw their voice into the social fabric that built our world.
I went to school out of belief that a single story or photo can change the world, like when the photo of a head on a stake in the Congo in 1880s became the catalyst for the first-ever worldwide human rights movement as the beginning of the Congo’s Rubber Genocide was establishing itself. (See Adam Hochschild’s brilliant King Leopold’s Ghosts to learn about this under-discussed attrocity.)
Fuck TMZ and every other site that denigrates that which I studied out of my own foolishly naive and youthful reasons.
I still believe in truth. My truth, your truth — whatever, so long as authenticity defines it.
The heart wants what the heart wants, and I know what I want to do now.
I just hope financial necessity doesn’t force my hand. At this point, it’s not.
In the end, I don’t have to prove or explain myself to anyone. I need to respect myself in the morning and feel like my life has a clear direction. That’s it. You want my shortlist for basic emotional needs? That’s where mine starts.
There is limit of compromise for anyone. You have yours, I have mine.
Creatively speaking, Gord Downie’s nailed it for me in The Tragically Hip’s song lyrics that opens this piece.
If it doesn’t move me, it will move right through me.
Creatively, I need to care. I can phone it in, I just find it hard to live with myself when I do.