My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Mailbox- You're a Mean One....Mr. Chris

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer them each Thursday as long as I have enough to do.  (If not, I'll stockpile questions until I do, and do something else in the interim Thursdays.)  Until/unless I have more questions than I can handle, I'll answer anything that has anything to do with writing.  And don't forget that I'm a hell of a lot nicer if you don't write me snippy anonymous letters, just so you know.]  

Anonymous Writes:

Bro, how can you be such a hypocrite?  In everyother [sic] article you have some stupid advice about giving up materialism or some shit, but I've seen you talk about your new computer and you have ads all over your page, and your [sic] always talking about "how to help" by giving donations and shit, and im [sic] pretty sure you have an ipad.  How is that avoiding materialism, bro?  

My reply:

I'm going to tell you a story....bro.  There was this Sufi--that's like a Muslim mystic--who travelled to another Sufi's house to ask the second to journey with him.  He notices the second Sufi lives in this HUGE, decadent house with all kinds of lavish luxury.  Well the first Sufi is feeling a little nervous, like maybe this guy isn't a good ascetic and won't make for a suitable traveling companion.  He seems too attached to the world.  Considering that all the first Sufi has to his name is the clothes on his back and a begging bowl--as it should be for a proper ascetic.  However, the second Sufi agrees to travel with the first readily enough, so the first thinks maybe there is hope after all, and so they set out together.

After an hour or so, the first Sufi realizes he left his begging bowl back at the second Sufi's house.  He needs it to be able to beg for food from the people every day so he tells the second Sufi he left his bowl back at the mansion, and could they go back to get it?  The second Sufi becomes irritated: "I left my decadent mansion behind to travel with you.  You can't even leave your stupid bowl?  You're not a suitable travelling companion!  You're too attached to the world"  And he stalks off.

Or, as Tyler Durden said much more succinctly in Fight Club: "The things you own, end up owning you."

Best if watched 3-4 times annually for maximum perspective.
You probably don't get this, but since we're bros, I'll explain it.  Materialism isn't about how much you have.  It's about how attached you are to it.  The more shit you feel like you need, the harder it's going to be to dedicate a meaningful chunk of your life to writing (or art) or anything BUT work.  If you believe you need stuff, you will be fettered to jobs that pay lots of money and you will probably never be sated.  There's a reason we have in our culture people making $250,000 dollars who are in danger of having their taxes raised four percent and are very genuinely and honestly making a case for why they are barely getting by.  I don't think these people are all particularly greedy or lying.  I think they really do honestly believe that they're scraping by. I'm not going to go all privilege denying dude and say that poverty is a choice, but living paycheck to paycheck once you're starting to clear a certain income does involve lifestyle choices.  If you are constantly moving into the best apartment your salary can afford and driving the best car you can afford and going out as often as your means permit, you will forever feel that you are on the edge of a precipice and a single paycheck from disaster and that there's no possible way you could make decisions to give yourself more time to write.  I'm not going to say that those choices are wrong--some are as non-controversial as getting kids into better schooling--but they are choices.  And one of the reasons being a working artist is so hard in our culture is because everything in our society screams at us to live just at the edge of our means (beyond even).

The number of artists who make enough money to support themselves solely on their art is minuscule.  Perhaps a hundredth of a percent of self-identified artists have no day job, side job, freelance job, or something they do to make sure the heat stays on and they don't starve. The number of artists who get to that point without an intermediary period of struggle is so close to zero that it is not really worth mentioning.  This "struggle" may happen when it is financially easy--like people who marry rich or kids who are allowed to stay with their parents rent-free for a few years past graduation.  But almost no artist ever really springs upon the scene without thousands of hours of hard work first.  The rest of us make choices about how much we work and how much we give to our art and we adjust the "air/fuel mixture" based on our priorities.  It surely helps make a more-toward-art choice easier if the bills in question are as modest as we can possibly make them.

I can't tell you how much is "materialistic" in some absolute number--some people living in San Francisco genuinely feel impoverished on six figure salaries, and some people below the poverty line feel like Midas.  It's not my place to judge either of them as right or wrong.  Personally, I cleared about $7000 last year (legally), so on paper, I make absurdly little income.  But my situation involves househusbanding for a wonderful family and only working for a paycheck to get some spending cash. That leaves me time to write, and that's a choice I've made. No kids. No house. No car. No "my own place."I wear Costco sneakers ($20) until they wear through. If I buy something over a hundred bucks, it usually involves weeks of consideration. (The laptop to which you accusingly refer was purchased only after a month of contemplation and comparison shopping and was also essentially my graduation gift from my mom.) I don't know that everyone cares about their art enough to live that way, but the willingness sure does help when making the decisions to pursue the art.

I also get a lot of electronic gifts from my family. I'm not rich, but they are, so often there are pretty splendid gifts.

Look a lot of people have to work as much as they work, and no one gets to wag their fingers at them and tell them to just cut out ten hours a week to write or they're a materialist or some privilege denying shit like that. The point I sometimes make is that a material life can become a never sated maw. Everywhere you go, you see artists living in impoverished and weird circumstances in order to support their art that rank and file folks would probably wouldn't find agreeable to their social standing. Most people pushing forty want different things to show for it than a twenty hour work week so they can write.

But at the time of this writing, I make about five cents a day....Bro. If that makes me a hypocrite, then I guess I'll have to learn to cope.

Anonymous Writes:

You and a lot of other online bloggers are kind of mean about people who want to be authors but don't write as much as you dane [sic] to be mandetory [sic].  If I wanted writing to be an unpleasant job I wouldn't do it for fun.  Your [sic] stupid and mean for saying it an there stupid to [sic].

My reply:

If you're getting what you want out of art, more power to you (always). That's really the only rule.  Not every joy will remain a joy if done as a job, and not every enjoyable pastime needs to be thought of as a fledgling career or an eventual path to fame and fortune.  We do some things in our lives (many things.....perhaps even most things) simply because they bring us joy and pleasure.  We play games, watch movies, read books and enjoy social time without any thought of turning them into careers. Writing and art needn't ever go beyond this point.

But if we want to take our idea all the way to a finished project, if we want to share our work with anything but reluctant friends and family, if we want to be appreciated for it beyond those people in our social circles who want to sleep with us, and definitely if we have ambitions of making money or certainly of making writing into a career, then we have to do what anyone making a hobby into a career would have to do--whether that hobby was skydiving, sewing, dancing, cooking, or even writing.  We have to get really, really good at it and we have to do it a lot, in order to produce enough to sell.  Both of those things take a commitment of time and energy beyond the euphoria stage.

No one cares that you're going to write a book some day.
No really.  I promise.
People confuse "mean" for honest when it comes to the dedication a career in arts will demand from the artist.  Longer days and fewer days off than any clock-puncher is the most common feedback from any authors (or artists) with a name you might recognize.  If it's mean to deflate the casual fantasies of people idly diddling their sweet dreams of insta-bestseller first novels by pointing out what it actually takes to make a career in fiction, then I suppose I am, but I think it's crueler to let people imagine that they're going to get something like a full-fledged career as an author without somehow doing a day of unpleasant work.  "You're mean!" (or "your mean" in your case, Anon) is most often the cry of those who resent not being enabled in their fantasies.

You'll find such "mean" people in any activity, and you'll also find other people offering up nothing but excuses. People at the gym dream of a line of admirers who want to lick their junk, don't come often enough or work hard enough to really see results, but think their trainers are mean and unreasonable when they suggest a more frequent, lengthy, or rigorous workout.   People in sales dream of commissions huge enough to retire on, but think their bosses are mean and unreasonable when they insist on suggestive sales techniques.  People want to retire in style early enough to travel, but think it's mean and unreasonable when their accountants tell them they simply are not saving enough their income and they really need to cut another 10% off their budget.  This penchant for excuses and the "meanness" of those who point out the reality is almost as common as human ambition.

If you want art to be your livelihood, and not just a delightful hobby, it's going to take on job-like qualities.  You know....like, as if it were a JOB.  Even the best job has crummy days and parts you don't like and days you'd rather stay in bed but you go anyway.  And even if you end most Friday nights with a smile and sometimes cry to the sky "I love my fucking job!" you don't simply stop going during the sucky parts because that would sully your joy.

Honestly, you should probably write MORE than me if you're really, truly serious.  (I'm not even kidding--I'm kind of a lightweight.)

Also....not to put too fine a point on it, Anon, but statistically speaking, if you'd picked your homonyms through pure random fucking chance, you would have had fewer mistakes in this e-mail, so maybe suggesting that you need to be writing more is more helpful than you realize.


  1. Every published writer I've read says they write every day. Some say they tell interviewers that they take a day or two off a year, but then they admit that they've lied.