Acres of Perhaps #13 - June 2, 2021
Close Enough with Will and Aimee
This past Memorial Day weekend was supposed to be one of writing, taking a bike ride, napping, and contemplating the heroic sacrifices of our veterans. Instead, we tore out the carpet in our upstairs room, discovered heart pine flooring, and spent the weekend sanding and applying polyurethane to it.
I blame HGTV. When Aimee and I watched more true crime, she didn’t plan murders (as far as I know). But now that we’ve watched a thousand home transformations, we’re somehow hooked on creating our own.
If we had an HGTV show, we’d call it Close Enough with Will and Aimee and the narration at the start would be:
“I’m Aimee! And I’m Will! Neither one of us knows what the fuck we’re doing with home improvement to an almost legally dangerous extent, but we somehow make it work by covering our mistakes and pretending we meant them!”
Five Interesting Things
Writing: I surpassed twenty thousand words on a work of fiction, my longest since my mother’s passing. I’m in the home stretch of the touchdown basket now with at most another ten thousand words to go. I’m not saying much about the story, but I’ll reveal that it takes place in Massachusetts in the 1960s.
Posting: As the school year ended, I posted some advice for a wunderkind returning from her first semester in college.
Reading: I just finished a trifecta of required reading for writers. The first, The Death of the Artist by William Deresiewicz, I’ll talk about later. The second, Swimming in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, is a master class where he dissects several classic Russian short stories not like a literary professor but like a shade tree mechanic taking apart an engine. The third, The Cynical Writer’s Guide to the Publishing Industry by my Clarion classmate Naomi Kanakia, is like sitting down with a writing friend at a bar to hear the real scoop on how the publishing thresher operates…with the tiniest glimmer of hope on how you still might not get your arm ripped off by it.
Watching: Aimee and I have been watching a show on HGTV called Rehab Addict with the world’s most family-driven and restoration-conscious home flipper, Nicole Curtis. She doesn’t fix up houses as much as resurrect them with their original grandeur. It’s fun to watch how excited and emotional she gets, unlike those robot Property Brothers.
Injuring: In the space of about a week, I fainted while running in the park and then a few days later severed the end of my thumb slicing tomatoes for a salad. The first was weird, waking up on the ground feeling oddly like I’d taken a surprise nap but with blood streaming from my knees. The second was just gruesome and resulted in five stitches. Everything’s good now, but I’m not as durable as I used to be.
Art: Why Bother?
As I mentioned earlier, I recently finished reading The Death of the Artist by William Deresiewicz, and I feel weird saying I enjoyed(?) the book.
It’s nice to have my nagging suspicion that more people want to create art than consume it confirmed with actual data, and it’s nicer still to find someone else calling bullshit on the whole “The Internet is an unmitigated boon to artists because all art wants to be free” idiocy that technophiles like to spout.
The basic premise of the book is that online content churned out with a nearly mechanical efficiency is undermining any feeble hope artists used to have for making a living at their work. It’s not impossible to do, but the expectation of free content in exchange for clicks isn’t helping. Many of the artists you envy for their fame and success are eating more canned beans for dinner than you’d expect.
(Read the book yourself for a deeper understanding beyond my half-assed synopsis.)
The title is obviously hyperbole; it might be better to call it The Death of Any Hope for Middle Class Income for Artists. Which wasn’t that great to begin with.
For years, I thought that the greatest hope I had for a life of artistic freedom was to escape working in an office so I could write full time. Never mind that I’ve never written for more than three hours at a single stretch in my entire life, and never mind that making a living as a freelancer requires a kind of hustling adaptability and assertiveness that I could never manage.
(Isn’t it funny how many of our dreams all involve escaping participation in the economy? Whether you want to prop up your jiffy feet on the gunwale of a fishing boat or draw cartoons about bunnies, your ambition is pretty much to avoid having to earn money.)
The irony is that my eightish-hour-a-day job offers me more artistic freedom than I’d have as a full-time writer because I don’t have to write fake miracle stories for Guideposts so I can keep myself alive. I’m not USING that artistic freedom particularly well, it’s true, but that’s more my failing than that of the basic principle.
If I could go back and talk to the Will who used to sit in the stairwell at work twenty years ago wondering if he could live another ten minutes in an office, I’d say:
Remember how you used to think that people would be smarter in Gainesville and then in Jacksonville and then in DC, only to discover that people are dumb everywhere? There are at least as many idiots in publishing as there are in mortgage software/health insurance/government contracting…and the only difference is that they answer emails a LOT more slowly and feel more comfortable showing their neuroses because they’re “artistes.”
Just like you did with your father and just like you did in school, you need to learn how to play the game and then sneak around the edges to do your real work in this world. You can do both, believe me.
Now, when a job sucks, you should leave. But the basic idea of a job is what will spare you the life of truly quiet desperation that you only think you’re living now.
(I have a lot of plans for things to tell myself back in time.)
If you’re an artist — or, perhaps better, someone who engages in the arts with the hope of selling your work — you should absolutely read The Death of the Artist to face your fears head-on.
Then you should keep working anyway because what the hell else would you be doing with the time you’re creating your art? Watch more TV? Plant a garden? Cook meth?
You might as well write. Or paint. Or film. Or sculpt. Or play your music.
At best, you might get lucky. At worst, you’re living a little more vividly and perceptively than everyone else.
Oscar thinks this will do for now.
Thank you for your continued interest in my work! I’m deeply grateful for it.