In our cash/fame/stuff-oriented society, it seems that the only true rebellion left is to do something society neither particularly values, nor supports. Better yet, something that society simply yawns at.
Writing, for example.
I get way more money and social adulation from going to my job every day than I do from selling my writing.
At my job, I get cash for every hour that I’m in the office (even including the minutes that I may spend going to the john, making a fresh cup of tea, and chatting with other staffers). I get a certain amount of social respect thanks to my job title, and every day I get thanks and appreciation from my co-workers for solving problems for them.
Today, I made a couple phone calls, signed my name on some payment approvals, chatted about my job goals for the coming six months while drinking a cup of Irish Breakfast tea, and altered a couple bits of text and html on a website. Some days are more difficult, complex and knotty, but really, plenty of them aren’t. Some are even easier.
Basically, at my job, I get big rewards just for showing up.
Even with my current astounding author’s stature (cough of laughter) I make less money per hour than the lowest fast-food worker or migrant farm hand. I can pick cherries and apples for more per hour than I get from writing an award-winning story.
I get more appreciation from my wife if I show up and take the kid off her hands so she can go to a yoga class than I do for sitting down and writing 2000 words. Don’t get me wrong, Anjula is incredibly supportive of my writing. She let me travel in SE Asia for a month doing research for a book. She’s a genuine saint. But when push comes to shove, she appreciates the childcare help a heck of a lot more than the daily writing work. Childcare is tangible, immediate, useful. It helps out, now. It produces a result, now. It makes our life better, now.
I feel like a thief and a rebel every time I carve out time to write. As though I’m doing something truly subversive, simply by spending so many hours of my day on projects which are likely to lead nowhere or to return almost nothing. Insanity! Stupidity! I could have been an investment banker. I could have been a consultant. I could have been a migrant farmworker.
And yet here I sit in my little office, tap-tap-tapping away, stealing money from my son’s future education, stealing a larger house from over my family’s head, stealing time from my son’s upbringing, stealing retirement security from my wife. There’s no justification for this absurdity, this childish whimsy.
Maybe this is different for authors who have proven themselves in the commercial marketplace, who can point to their writing work and say “Job.” or even better, “Breadwinner.” With cash comes respect. But for the rest of us?
Sometimes, the only thing that helps me show up and get my words down on paper is the sense of rebellion that comes from doing something as absurd as this. The perverse satisfaction of doing something that will pay off in such a way that my professional triumphs can be scoffed at by a Starbucks barrista. The sheer stupidity of it carries its own attraction.
Today, I turn on my office lights, crank up the music, and revel in the plain orneriness of creating something that society will value at pennies a word.