Extreme Modes of Being

I was at a reading in an artbook store a while back. The reader was an art critic to these people, reading from her latest novel. She is a novelist to me, well, a documentarian with words maybe. One of the smartest writers. A woman who made me understand literary theory for the first time, too far out of undergrad to be of use. Because of her I read more, I understood more, and I thought I could go back with all these new skills and take that master's . The universities laughed at me. The thing is, I get the words now. Until the art gallery where they spoke in a language that the book nerds know nothing of. (And where credit is due, the woman understands both. Seamlessness. She knows.) I asked a stupid question, about the book, and the answer was delivered with a smile (because she is lovely, always) but short. The last time I'd seen her I'd asked a question, that she validated in this book, but at the time was stupid. At that time the audience kind of laughed at me. This time there wasn't a single person in the room I knew, and they looked at me, at this interloper with a lexicon so different from their own, like I was some kind of  scumbag. Are you not, like us, committed to Art? Holy Art.

The night before I had that conversation that starts “I have a useless degree too...” Well, it started when we talked about what we do for a living. The bio section of all my webspaces has a joke in it, because I have no definition. Not a natural redhead, you can stop asking. Moz so hard motherfuckers wanna fine me. Not because I consciously refuse, but because I haven't one. “I'm a nothing,” I said. With my spreadsheets, 9-5, balanced diet with occasional treats, mommy-track fitness without the kids. I had to stop when I said my degree was useless, because I do use it now, occasionally. Other people ask me to write for them, and that's something.

Of course in the art room, it was nothing. I told the woman what I was writing next. The woman told me she remembered meeting me at another event months earlier. Thrilling.  “So are you a writer?” In the Q&A one of the art people had said “You've talked about extreme modes of being, can you talk more about that?” And the woman said that if you work a 9-5, have a balanced diet with occasional treats, you're living a non-extreme mode of being. “No, I'm not a writer,” I said. “I have one of those balanced lives.” She laughed.

Fake it till you make it. People declare themselves poets simply because they wrote broken lines. Applying the signifier like a magic spell. Being is insisting. I couldn't ever play this game because I do not use words so lightly. I'm a reader first, and I think because of that I'm very protective of who should be called a writer.  Titles have meaning, and to misuse them is to deny them power. If everyone is special, no one is. I always feel like I need to provide some definition, reach some currently undefined peak before I'm really allowed to exist. How did I get to 36 and still have to say “I'm nothing”? Why did I look that woman in the face, that woman who was never a writer until the day she was and say “I'm trying” not “Yes, I am a writer.” And when you want to live, how'd you start, where'd you go, who'd you need to know?

The Art Kids nodded so knowingly when it was suggested that one must dedicate oneself entirely to an art. That one must have an extreme mode of being, one must give up all the trappings of a comfortable life, risk it all. They nodded, wearing their small boutique bought clothes, their Fleuvogs.  It made me doubt any of them were lacking a safety net, should it all fall apart. So much art is privilege. I asked the woman if her book's character, middle-aged and comfortable, was tempted to hand over all her money because she had the guilt of privilege. If a comfortable writer, interested in social justice, who hasn't always been comfortable, sometimes wants to level themselves down again. Or if it's just all easier to fall back into a bourgeois hole? The safety nets for women are so often their men, and if I deny myself that (a safe man) to be on my own, and 9-5 on my own, and make my own balanced meals, is this any less of an extreme mode of being? Isn't being a fully independent female pretty god damn extreme? I'm not sorry if I don't spend 9-5 thinking about my art, because I'm paying my bills, extremely. Pardon me, Art Kids. I'm just trying to live in the world.


Anonymous said...

Wow. You don't sound like a bitter failed artist at all.

So much of art isn't privilege. It's tenacity and doing it anyway.

You could do it too, just start believing you can, and stop lashing out at the people who remind you that you haven't yet.

Panic said...

It's very odd how I get that comment, that if I take issue with something I must be a failure at it.

The last part of your comment is so lovely, it's a shame you had to begin with such snark.