People often ask me the standard question, “What do you do?” I’ve been told by well-meaning career folks to have a quick elevator pitch, never to pause or say, “Um,” or blurt, “What do you think I do, dude? I’m a human being. I live on earth.”
My issue with the quick elevator pitch is this: I’m a writer AND a musician AND a poet, mainly, and also, I’m a journalist at the moment, too. I don’t belong to one easy pitch of a world. I straddle three worlds, more if you count everything I do.
Many of the people I know have one specific main world. They are a writer. Or an artist. Or a painter. Or a musician first and foremost. Nothing else competes for their time, anything extra merely compliments it.
I’ve had this quandary as far back as single digit age, though I don’t remember it ever being a dilemma before I entered the working world and had to pick a single career to appease the masses.
I’ve thought about making my life easier by choosing one–I’ve even experimented with focusing on one for extended periods of time. Trouble is, if I work only on music, I start craving pen and paper, and not only for writing lyrics: I want prose, long articles, stories. If I focus predominately on writing, the same thing happens. I start itching to compose on a guitar, to sing or play piano, to collaborate with peers, to play in front of people, to go into the studio.
I never feel like I completely belong to any one world, never have. I’m a visitor at lit events, I’m not immersed in the local music scene, preferring to collaborate with a few like-minded folks and record in the studio, playing out when I feel like it. Sometimes, it seems like people expect me to pick either music OR writing—there is certainly a voice in my head going, “You can’t have two masters, you can’t succeed in multiple interests. You’ll be a jack of all trades, master of none. Pick your poison or suffer.”
I’ve never really been a joiner. I’m too empathetic to too many different causes. I’m a fringe person, but not the kind of fringe person that makes friends with other fringe people and creates my own clique.
I have an inability to understand how people can separate themselves into these imaginary circles whose boundaries I simply can’t perceive. And I don’t care about these lines. I’ve never been much for the secret handshake, not if I don’t respect or know your work, and even then, if you’re not a nice person, I’d rather miss that connection. Life is too short, success so arbitrary.
I volunteered for Litquake once, while I was finishing up my degree in the Creative Writing program at San Francisco State. I volunteered because my best friend at the time told me the event would be awesome, and she had met Jerry Stahl and Chuck Palahniuk, gone out to dinner with the latter. (She did have a book on her shelf called The Art of Lying, with almost every passage highlighted, but I took her on her word. I do like to believe people first until it’s proven I’m too gullible.)
I figured if I was getting this degree and taking my writing seriously, in order to continue to be a struggling artist among many in my lovely city of San Francisco I might as well get involved in a “local scene.”
I was disappointed. I’d thought the organizers would appreciate having volunteers.
I’d been to many a concert for a famous musician where people had acted like asses in line of sight of celebrity, this was no different. Dave Eggers was speaking and the energy in the venue went all hostile and sucky.
I was asked to guard a back door, and people kept sneaking through the back door up to the roof to drink or smoke pot and watch the reading from above. I wasn’t allowed to watch any of the readings, had to stand outside a door like a mini bodyguard while people dogged me right and left and the general organizers of the event pretended I didn’t exist in order to make way for the lit stars, most of whom I’d never heard of before.
It doesn’t matter what circle you move in. There are “celebrities” among hamster owners, I’m sure.
The next day, I was to volunteer at another Lit event, this time poetry, at the San Francisco Public Library. My outlandish platform shoe broke on the way there, and I hobbled through the event, manning the tables. At one point, I went into the room to see the poets read, and Bucky Sinister was reading a poem about a bear claw donut, his hand making a claw at his chest for emphasis. I don’t remember the poem, but I remember a sentiment he was sharing, something about love, loss and food. Daphne Gottlieb, whose work I wasn’t familiar with until I worked at Seal Press and got free copies of Fucking Daphne and Kissing Dead Girls, was standing in the audience nodding. Bucky was supported. He had peers backing him up. Maybe confessional poet was a better group to belong too? Still haven’t figured that out, but most of the confessional poets I know are anything but assholes. Can’t afford to be.
After the reading was over, he came out to the merch table and I commented on his Smorking Labbit shirt, from Kid Robot. He gave me his card, was super nice, no attitude whatsoever. I left with a better feeling, one of being treated like a human being by a fellow poet, one who didn’t ask me to prove myself or bow at their feet in order to prove my worth.
I have no patience for pretentious poetry, literature or music, the kind that seeks to exclude the majority of people from access. I appreciate a well-crafted sentence, a new word I haven’t heard before, but spill your heart on the pages of your book before sending it out where I can find it. That’s the part I care about, the part you put in there that bled you, the part you couldn’t not share because it’s your truth. An obtuse attempt at being better than, your obsession with your success does nothing for me.
I don’t have patience for ass-kissing and hand-holding. I don’t care about your celebrity, your fame. Be a good person to me and I’ll be one to you. Tell me a good story, a personal story, and I’ll read it. Dog the avenues the lowly use to peddle their wares like famous Franzen does Twitter, and I’ll ignore you like all the other phobic, insecure Luddites out there.
My life is one of never quite belonging, but being a brief part of many different worlds. I grasp at straws. I do my best. The words need to come out through words and music, so I let them. I’m never sure where exactly I’ll fit, or if I will fit when I send stuff out.
This weekend, at the Lip Service West fundraiser, I bought Alan Kaufman’s book, Drunken Angel, because Joe suggested I get my own copy (probably didn’t want to loan out his! If you loan a book, you will never get it back. Guaranteed). I’d been wanting to read the book since it came out, I do some marketing for the library and specifically for our partner museum program, and had seen a clip of Kaufman speaking on the Beat Museum webpage, but there wasn’t a copy of his book available in my library.
I babbled something to Kaufman about being sober, and asked him to sign it. He asked me if I were a writer, too, and I nodded. Here’s what he wrote, “Keep writing. It’s the only thing that keeps us sane, right?”
Doesn’t matter which world I belong to within this main world we all belong to. I can’t let go of writing or music. They’re both my forte. My means of promotion leave much to be desired, as so many markets are so obscure I can’t find them, or so saturated it’s hard to bother, but I keep trying to get my work out there, however falteringly. Maybe, because I’m working so hard on both music AND writing, I’ll hit my stride later in life. I’m not going to give up before I find out, and if you struggle with the “which world do I belong to” quandary, like I do, I hope you don’t either.