You realize, of course, that there is no hope. Let’s start there, and accept the fact before going any further. Nothing will change. Everything will continue on as it has been, long after you are dead. Everything stays the same, decaying. Let’s get that out of the way.
I’m a cashier. That’s how I can define myself, if questioned. People give me money, and I scan their products and coupons and slide them down into clinging plastic bags. This is what I do. Somebody pays me to do it, and so that is what I am. I used to be a librarian. I suppose I’ll be something else later. I will never, however, be a writer.
I am afraid that if I call myself that than I will be beholden to commerce. I do not want to be monetarily entwined. I do not want to make a living at this. I do not want to depend on it, to make a trade of it. I am afraid, terribly afraid, of losing the intrinsic value of the thing.
I ponder sometimes whether I should give away my book(s) for free. Three bucks hardly seems enough to bother with. Why put up that barrier? Why not divorce myself completely from the economic aspect of the thing? I was born and raised a capitalist. Money rules everything, money is the worth of the thing. Strange to think of the sliding scale of value. Penny candy costs a dollar now.
Digital books. Christ, what is the value of a digital object? Nothing, only data. Bites and Bytes. You can’t touch it, can’t taste it, can’t hold it up to the light and see the flaw running through like a vein of precious metal.
If I give it away than I am admitting that the thing is worthless. If I sell it for any significant price than I am putting myself at the edge of dependance. I’ve no illusions. I don’t expect to get rich from this. I expect to die poor and unloved. That’s not self pity. I am content. I don’t expect success. A part of me knows that I should give it away, the same part of myself which says I really should be a vegetarian. Fine, I won’t sell it for very much. And I won’t eat at McDonald’s anymore. Are you happy? Happiness is the ability to compromise yourself.
* * *
Whatever happened to the independent writer? How is it that the artistic form most suited to independence has become so beholden to the tug of industry? It couldn’t be easier to self publish. Thousands of people do it. Maybe it’s too easy, though of course it’s not easy at all. But why can’t they (we) get any respect? It’s still a mark of shame, an admission of failure. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve decided to self-publish, even though I truly believe it to be the better choice, the choice true to myself as a person and as an artist. So why is it so embarrassing?
I’ll tell you. The critics, the awards, the talk shows, the book tours, it’s all of it a snatch for your (our) money. Do not believe those who position themselves as the gatekeepers of art. Art is not decided by one person’s will, art is not decided by financial concern. Art, loved or ignored, is more tenuous and ephemeral. Art is tougher, and more fragile, than that.
So why are we so willing to accept this?
Literature capital L is killing books. Nobody wants to read anymore. Dull, interior work, batting at the cages. Banging of the head. Don’t take me wrong, the authors I love are all in the system – there’s no good way to find those writers who stay outside of it. But publishers now are looking for two things: “New Yorker” bullshit lit, churned out by over-privileged children on the one hand. And on the other hand, the zeitgeist chasing “next big thing” Harry Potter, Twilight, 50 Shades yadda yadda rip-offs. It’s killing books dead as an artistic medium. Soon there won’t be much left of it.
We need a strong independent scene. Look at film and music. The real quality work, practically the only quality work of any significance, comes from the independents. Swans could not exist on a major label. Eraserhead could not have been made by a big studio. Independence, thresher though it be, dangerous though it be, is the true breeding ground of art.
That’s why I’ve decided not to chase the drug of recognition, to strike it out on my own. For better or more probably for worse. It’s time for a change. This is our chance.
But of course it’s all nonsense anyway. Nobody’s listening.