I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets;
My overcoat too was becoming ideal;
I travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal;
Oh dear me! what marvellous loves I dreamed of!
My only pair of breeches had a big whole in them.
– Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way.
My tavern was at the Sign of the Great Bear.
– My stars in the sky rustled softly.
And I listened to them, sitting on the road-sides
On those pleasant September evenings while I felt drops
Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;
And while, rhyming among the fantastical shadows,
I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics
Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!
- Arthur Rimbaud, ”My Bohemian Life” (translated by Oliver Bernard)
I often descend into deep melancholic and profound existential crises that it takes somersaults of delusional reasoning to get out of. They usually, more often than not, focus around the only question that is really worth asking: What am I doing with my life? Why am I wasting 40 precious irrevocable hours a week (that’s 2,080 hours a year, 104,000 hrs in fifty years) on something that I do not like (and at the worst of times, hate)? What is the bloody point? So I can look back at my 401k, dingy possessions, the effort expended at “getting ahead,” and my safe, fungus-like life, and say what? That it made me happy? That I feel fulfilled? That I accomplished something? Right…
What sparked the crisis today was a review that appeared in NPR. The book reviewed was Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors by Andrew Shaffer. Here’s what Amazon says of the book:
“Rock stars, rappers, and actors haven’t always had a monopoly on misbehaving. There was a time when authors fought with both words and fists, a time when poets were the ones living fast and dying young. This witty, insightful, and wildly entertaining narrative profiles the literary greats who wrote generation-defining classics such as The Great Gatsby and On the Road while living and loving like hedonistic rock icons, who were as likely to go on epic benders as they were to hit the bestseller lists. Literary Rogues turns back the clock to consider these historical (and, in some cases, living) legends, including Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson, and Bret Easton Ellis. Brimming with fascinating research, Literary Rogues is part nostalgia, part literary analysis, and a wholly raucous celebration of brilliant writers and their occasionally troubled legacies.”
What most made me livid were the descriptions in the review that went over some anecdotes of authors’ lives. Unlike myself, they had lived vagabond and epicurean lives–based almost solely on their art. Yes, many were poor, but they lived for their writing. Not taking the societal path of security and stability at the expense of harming their art, but instead putting all their waking energy into it.
I straddle the point between. One foot in the world of “careers,” “investments,” “job-security,” and all around institutionalized bollox that we pretend constitutes a real and fulfilling life, and the other foot tenuously in the world of creation and, simply, not giving a damn about the supposed “important” things. So I wake up 3 hours before my job to do my real work; I spend my evenings (when most are out having dinner with friends or enjoying the latest brainless television show) doing more of my own work until I collapse into my bed. Everyday living with intimate knowledge that there is a large gaping chasm in my life, passing right through the middle of my days, from 9am to 5pm.
A block of time that would otherwise be fulfilling and rather productive is spent in a semi-zombified state either becoming stupid and passing ever further into the realm of the vegetable, or whoring out my talents and feeling like a charlatan and dickwad.
People say our society is progressing by leaps and bounds. But when an artist feels that they either have to surrender their autonomy and, quite literally, their soul for bread or be homeless, I’m not so sure how that society is doing.
The taste of disgust in my mouth is too much to bear so I think I’ll stop this depressing rant for now. And, after all, I have “work” to do…