What do you do for a living?
I’ve sold houses, vacuum cleaners and drugs (the legal kind). I’ve been a hotel porter, a barman, and a butcher’s assistant. The latter still remains my favourite. I have many fond memories from my time in that role but particularly during the Christmas holidays. It was a small business with steady trade but during the festive period it was busy and electrifying. Customers, when receiving their turkeys and larger than normal cuts of meat, would tell me their plans for the food. I could feel their excitement.
I was young at the time and people would ask if I had a job. I’d state clearly, ‘Yes, I work in a butcher’s shop.’ It was a simpler time.
After finishing University my girlfriend and I decided we should go backpacking around Australia. It was a good idea in theory but within a couple of weeks we had put down roots. An apartment was leased and we both took on full time jobs in order to pay for it. So began my career as a door to door salesman. When I was asked what I did for a living I responded with reluctance and obfuscation. Slightly embarrassed that I was selling vacuum cleaners to strangers. I believed that revealing what I did for a living exposed everything you needed to know about me as a person.
Looking back with newfound knowledge I can see my actions were motivated by my attachment to status and where I fitted within the social hierarchy. I was a naive young man then, but now I’ve matured; or so I thought.
After all these years I still seem to be struggling with the question, ‘What do you do for a living?’
When I was writing the series ‘A Step Ahead of the Fall’ I would tell people who asked that I was ‘technically unemployed’, before going on to explain the task I was undertaking.
But as Aristotle correctly stated, you are what you repeatedly do. So, following that logic, I should have been able to say, ‘I’m a writer’ without equivocation. But I felt that because I wasn’t generating any income I didn’t qualify for that title. Does income make you a writer, of course not. It is, essentially, an activity not a profession.
More recently, after having completed the trilogy, I’d answer ‘I’m an aspiring author’. It seemed to make sense, with the books not yet released I thought I still didn’t fully qualify. However, with the release date only a few short days away what will I say on that day? And will I continue to hide away from the correct answer, that fundamentally, I am an Artist.
It doesn’t matter if you use words, your voice, an instrument, clay or paints you are an artist just the same. But to say it out loud sounds a little pretentious to me. Could that be the reason I recoil from using the term? Or could it be simpler than that. Could my shying away from the Artist title be spurred by the apprehension everyone feels when starting a new vocation. I’d say that is possible.
What is more likely is knowing that once I accept that I am an Artist, I must take on the responsibility that comes with it. Artists have the obligation to unearth truth and put them on display no matter the cost or personal sacrifice. Unfortunately, I am all too aware of how truth tellers in our society, past and present, get treated. Particularly if their truths contradict the current orthodoxy or threaten the status quo. Just ask Julian Assange.
In Scotland you can be given a criminal record for performing a joke. In Liverpool you’ll get an ankle tracking bracelet and a fine for reposting rap lyrics. On Twitch the content you stream will be taken off the platform if you voice the view that the human species has only two genders.
Modern day book burning occurs in the digital space with algorithms suppressing certain content and others being banned completely from the largest platforms around. Here in Australia we appear to be going down the same censorious route.
Free speech isn’t a right in Oz. But we are told by those in power that we do have free speech closely followed by a quick qualification, that it doesn’t include hate speech. But they fail to define what hate speech is or explain to us why an arbitrary authority can decide what is and isn’t acceptable for us to utter.
Calls for violence is unacceptable and fortunately we have laws against incitement. But that is where the line needs to be drawn, and no further. In this writer’s opinion that line has been purposefully blurred and has created a treacherous slippery slope.
I’m forced to wonder how my work will be interpreted by the political and cultural gatekeepers who currently police our speech and thoughts.
A fellow artist has already described my first novel as ‘problematic’, ‘offensive’ and ‘bordering on right wing propaganda’.
While at the same time another commented that ‘A Step Ahead of the Fall, Part I – Sanctuary is an intriguing story’ and ‘The author is a skilled storyteller with a natural writing ability, and the manuscript displays many strengths.’
This demonstrates that art is highly subjective and what is offensive to some is perfectly acceptable to others. The challenge that I now face, as do all other artists who wish to remain true to the principles of their profession, is how to react to the pressures exerted by the prevailing cultural winds.
I am well aware that people who say they will never sell out, seldom get offers to test that assertion. I hope I have the courage to continue to write what I believe and not bend. If I get flak for my artistry, I hope to take comfort in that fact that it probably means I’m over the right target.