I had a moment this morning.
I’m a writer.
I have always been a writer. Writing has always been an art to me, an act that is self-satisfying, that is fulfilling in a way that other actions have never been. The reward, the incentive lies in the act itself, in the process by which it is created. There was nothing beyond the act, art of creating through language to inspire it.
But now, I a writer in that my art has become my work – the means by which I financially support myself (sort of).
Yes, there are still the random acts of money-making, waiting tables, bartending, etc. But my primary job title is now: writer and editor.
With this understanding, this recognition of the path that I have created for myself, comes a new act, a new responsibility: learning how to balance the art of writing with the work of it.
In graduate school myself and my small class of Kerouac-soldiers were encouraged to focus solely on the craft of making language, on pressing against the perceived boundaries of fiction and poetry, on breaking the line and exploring new ways to compose and align a sentence. There was little to contemplate beyond the line, charting new territory in vocabulary. Every night resonated, slipped into morning frantically, on the whispers and scattered vowels of a dozen punch drunk poets pretending to write fiction. We dreamed of coffee and whiskey as we carved ourselves into sheets of printer paper.
To make money was to sell out – I remember those days of uninhibited artistic perfection! (sarcasm is obvious)
Reader? What reader? What critic? We were writing experience, living the dream as only a dream can be lived – desperately, at the very edge of what would seem to be possible, to be livable.
What I discovered, however, as I grew into my art, was that my art didn’t exist without a reader. To write, and to live as a writer, I needed to respond to, accept, and rejoice within my reader. Without a reader, I and my art didn’t exist.
My work, though still dependent slightly on finances, became a desperate mission to craft and compose my art in such a way that it was read. This meant marketing it, selling it, contemplating not only what I wanted to say or reveal, but contemplating how to say it. Who was my reader and what did he or she need from me?
My art grew and in the process of growing it became a part of something greater that itself. Art, I believe, is inherently selfish. There is something that I have experienced, an idea that I hold, that I must communicate at all costs.
This is selfish – that I feel that my thoughts, ideas and questions are ones that you NEED to experience.
But art as work, art with its eye fixated on the bigger picture, art that realizes the power and importance of its audience – art does not exist without one – this kind of art is work. It takes effort to explore those pre-work musings and craft them into a language and structure that will reach its audience. It’s difficult to bring so many voices into the conversation. Its traumatic to watch them change, alter, and transform what I had thought to be so perfect.
But art as work is more meaningful, more fulfilling than art alone. In this expanding community, my art works to connect with an audience, it grows and expands, becomes something beyond itself, lives beyond me, and works endlessly to narrate, to transform, to imagine itself over and over again.
My art is now my work. It’s a beautiful thing.