I have been tied up today with bread and butter writing. It might not please me in an artistic way, but it earns a little money and might even do a little good out in the world. There are worst things to do than write about things which society could do with thinking more about. It takes time to put together the research, write the articles and proof read them before they go off, but I am pretty fast once I get into what I am doing and am into a groove. All I need is a good playlist, a cup of tea, and paper in the printer. I can never really see what a piece looks like whilst it is living only on a screen. I need to see it on paper, feel it, for me to have a hope of properly editing it. The only trouble is I am highly allergic to both bread and butter. My celiac self who can’t tolerate diary in the slightest is about as capable of eating up bread and butter as I am rat poison. It is a good job I can make myself cope with the world around long enough to dip my toe into journalistic bread and butter waters now and again, even if it does leave me feeling sick.
Of course my printer stopped working today. It needed its drivers updating, but once that was done, we were off to the races. A few hours later I was the proud owner of a finished piece of writing, all researched, fact checked and ready to launch into the world. I suppose it is a craft of sorts. Dylan Thomas wrote a poem called In My Craft or Sullen Art. Thomas decided that he didn’t write for the money or the kudos in those dead of night writing escapades, but instead for the humanity of it, for the lovers, for those living, breathing expressions of everything we poets write about. I am not such a noble soul. I want the fame and the money, the fortune and the accolades. Thomas is a better servant of the muse than I am, or perhaps less au fait with the sad fact that a writer cannot write when they are cold, hungry, scared, destitute and homeless. Writing is deadened by luxury, it cannot develop in happiness, but like Burroughs observed, he could only write once he had cleaned up from his heroin habit, and therefore settled his life down. Writing can’t happen while we are simply surviving, though that is the crucible where it is formed.
Writing, poetry, is formed out of experience, indignation, lust, love, fury, destruction: all those things, good and bad that represent the extremes of human experience. It is the survival of the body and mind, the soul and the compassionate existence of the individual that interests me. I am interested in those who have lights that never get put out. I am interested in the survivors. I believe that in observing the worst, the most painful and unjust of actions, that we can find the best of each of us. I believe that the light can only be seen as it is, truly and without distortion, when we are in the midst of the darkest hour.
That kind of stuff is not bread and butter writing. That is the kind of stuff that Dylan Thomas was talk about when he waxed lyrical about how he wrote for the ‘lovers’. Within love there can be the deepest, darkest pit of pain. After all if we do not love, we do not care. If we do not care, we do not suffer. However, my friends, the agony of caring. The torture of loving. The tear inducing horror of wearing your heart outside of your body, within someone else’s chest, or else on your sleeve out there to be crushed or desiccated, bruised and mocked, is nothing to be trifled with. Once you give your heart away, pain is never far behind.
Of course, the writer embraces all that pain, or at least turns it into pages. There are good pages in pain. There are good words in hurt. There is milage to be made out of love. In the end love is whored out for words, for all it is worth. That painful separation, or this death, or that frustration, all grist to the writing mill, all ink for the well. I am not sure that writing for the lovers is very honorable after all. At least writing for money or for fame involves personal gain and defensible reasons for pimping out human experience and excavating emotion, laying it all bare for the eager culture vultures to have at. I might murmur a few words about comforting others, about entertaining, or even merely explaining, but in the end, it boils down to entertainment. Is it interesting? Does it amuse? Does it engage? To write for the lovers is to accept the writer’s role as merciless vendor of experience. The pimp of the written word.
A man stood on Polk today. He was playing Bowie’s Changes loudly from a boom box, and producing bubbles from a bucket of soapy water. He was not asking for money. He had no hat to collect cash. He was blowing gigantic and impressive bubbles using only a wire, a loop of rope and an old broken fishing rod. They bounced off down Polk, angering drivers with neatly polished paint jobs, and terrifying dogs. An irritated dalmatian grabbed my leg with his mouth. He didn’t break the skin or tear my jeans, he just held onto me, as if saying “what the heck is THAT? That bubble is terrifying!” His owner ran off looking sheepish. I wonder if he dog tried to herd him too?
The bubble manufacturer stood on the corner singing along to Bowie as if no one else was there, as if he could not be heard. He was singing as if he was in his own front room. He was clearly in the front room of his mind. Eyes like saucers looking up in wonder as the bubbles flew and burst or carried off on the wind. The man was tripping balls, or perhaps they should be bubbles.
There is a perfect openness about people who are tripping. They are so open to the world around them, that it permeates them. They have no defenses, they have no outer layer, their skin keeps the blood in, mostly, but does not keep the world out. I wondered if I could ask him about what made him lay awake at night. What terrified him. I wanted to ask him about his loves and his fears. I had no interest in whether the dude was actually ok standing on the corner, tripping and vulnerable. Sometimes writers are assholes. We have to be in order to remove the meat from the fat, the story from the person. The highly strung dalmatian grabbing onto me, and then licking me neurotically brought me round from my reverie.
Sometimes we have to walk past a story. Sometimes it doesn’t let us. Sometimes the only thing to do is keep looking up at the sky and wonder if anyone will ever believe we are doing this for the ‘lovers’ and not for our own curiosity, but you know what they say about being curious. This cat wouldn’t mind living long enough to see the fruits of my labor blossom. Perhaps one day the lovers might lie I wrote for them too.