Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sheer madness

Ah yes, you must be mad to get into the publishing racket, it's such a tangle of uncertainties, and, if you're lucky, maybe you make two percent profit in a good year. A whole bunch of creative people to deal with, meaning impossible people really, needy, smart, stubborn, and coming at you from all sides, authors, agents, designers, editors, even your assistant will have opinions, if you can afford an assistant, so you'll be surrounded by these wonderful people who so badly believe in words, the power of words, the permanence of books. They will break your heart. People you'd love to have a drink with, but pure murder to deal with at work every day. You must be mad, and able to sustain a broken heart, and still you've got to love what you do, passionately, really believe in it too, with all of your broken heart, otherwise why would you do it? Publishing you can't fake. How could these Free Market Boys ever think otherwise?

But even before that, I see another madness spreading among the Smart Set, that is the madness of pursuing a career in writing, in the arts, of seeking authorship, of becoming a professional creative person. It is craziness, pure and simple, all that hard work for so little pay, barely enough to afford your own bed in New York, and so little recognition, perhaps from a small group of peers, maybe. So many creative people swallowed by obscurity, caught in a system, yes, of course it's a system, trapped even, in a system that rewards pandering and conventionality, and ignores the radical work of truth-telling. And then they say to themselves, and this is sincere, what they say, that they're not doing it for the money. Of course, they're not doing it for the money --
there is no money! Even so, they want to be published, to have their writing accessible and distributed, so others can stoke their fantasy that they've done it, that is, become a writer. Gotten published against all the odds. After all, everyone has something to write in this word-drunk culture, don't they?

This madness is contagious, young girls and boys, retirees, students, former garbage collectors, actors, small business people, Big Business Executives, farmers, clerks, they're all out there writing away, about themselves mostly, of course -- what else does one think about all the time in this culture? -- making it up as they go along. It's a compulsion -- the world is their scab and they pick at it, to paraphrase Snodgrass, who died this year, his poems fading. Each
self refracted through the pop culture it lights upon, music, food, sports, celebrity, money, fashion, the gamut. It's delirious, you've got to admit that, delirious and, in the end, so very poignant, to have all these words, millions, billions, of words floating about out here, attached to real people, selves asserting themselves in a system that doesn't want to know, really.

Quist said, "All these words, it's a sickness. But you can't blame people for wanting to be recognized as individuals. It's part of what they call the human condition, or at least the way I remember it from school. Go ahead, keep writing, and think about how it feels when someone says, hey Poot, that was a good one -- you took the words right out of my mouth."

You must be mad to stand on a ledge, way up, say twenty, thirty stories, and look down, down upon the world of ants in their anthills, and sway in the breeze, letting go just a little bit, and allow yourself to totter. You must be mad. Go ahead and close your eyes and let the words roll out of you into the cold, empty air. You will be caught if you fall. In some other world.

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