Why Art Will Not Get Better in the Next Four Years

These are dark days, everybody. Like, literally dark–there’s a thunderstorm going on outside, it feels like the middle of the night at eleven am, and I live in Los Angeles, so before I sat down to write I checked to make sure I had a three-day supply of emergency rations and that my flare gun is still operational.

What I’m saying is, things are bad.

Not everyone is as pessimistic as I am, though. Recent national events that have left many people in a panic, or in outright despair, have caused others to look for whatever rays of light might be shining through the clouds of greed, racism, oppression, and general meanness, to help the rest of us face the next four years with anything other than the certainty of death and societal collapse. Here’s the big thing I keep hearing:

“Under political oppression, art will fight back and flourish.”

We’re going to get some great songs out of this, you guys!

NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT HOW THAT’S THE DUMBEST BULLSHIT I EVER DID HEAR.

Just a few short months ago, a lovely book agent read a novel I showed her, which I myself had written. She liked it, and agreed to help me sell it to publishers and hopefully receive some money in return. I was thrilled. I’m still thrilled. It’s a thrilling situation to be in.

The novel I wrote took me several years to write, partly because it was my first book and I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. But mostly it took a long time because I also work full time. Believe it or not, people won’t just give you money if you tell them you want to write a book–you have to do it first, and then they have to like it. So you have to spend forty hours a week doing something that will give you enough money to pay your rent, and you have to sleep at night to have strength to go to your job, and if you’re lucky you have friends and loved ones who will occasionally want your attention. The book you’re working on will get an hour here, an afternoon there. You’ll have a good week when you write every single night as soon as you get home, and then you get sick and you won’t write for two or three weeks, and when you sit down again you won’t remember what’s happening in the story and it’ll take another day or two to sort that out. It isn’t just hard, it’s hard in the weirdest, most intangible way.

Writing a book is a ridiculous way to spend your time.

But eventually, you succeed. And an agent likes your book, and a publisher likes your book, and they give you some money. And it might even be enough money to buy a little more time with, so when you want to write another book, about, oh I don’t know, corruption in our political system, it doesn’t take as long, and you get the money sooner, and there’s a little more of it, and you can write the next book even faster, and earn even more money!

Except you can’t.

Because you still have a job that takes forty hours of your week, every week. And if you’re there less than thirty-five hours per week, you no longer qualify for the company-provided health insurance that’s taking a pretty big chunk out of your check anyway. You only get four sick days and ten vacation days per year, and even if you manage to line those up with weekends, that’s only three weeks total, which is not enough to write a whole book. Hell, I can’t even do NanoWrimo.

You could quit your job, but what if you get sick? Or in a car accident? Even if you don’t, that book advance for your first little book was nice but it won’t support you for a whole year.

You’re staying at work, bucko.

You don’t have time to write.

You don’t have time to paint.

You don’t have time for band practice.

You don’t have time for auditions.

Somebody does, but it isn’t you.

And the person who does have the time, the beautiful luxurious time and money and security and safety to make their art, even on a deadline?

I wonder if that person will make something that speaks out against the evils of our government, and risk ending up in the same place that you are. Do you think they will, or do you think they’ll be too afraid?

 

 

 

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