10 July, 2011

Hack Life

[This bit has two very different dedications: to my wife, who believes I am brilliant in spite of me. And to the bozos, without whom my current ire would not exist].

Part of me is having trouble simply focusing today; I have moods like this, and they seem to be more frequent in the summer months than during any other time of the year. The dead of winter presents its own problems, of course. The winter wonderland is, after a point, not so wonderful. That's not to say there isn't beauty to be found here in the Driftless Zone; there is a lot beauty to be found in the rivers, streams, and lakes; around the Mississippi River, the great compass and latitudinal divider of this land called the United States. I call it that because any place I have traveled I tend to map it in my mind from two distinct points – the Mississippi River and the place I grew up, Bethel, Ohio. The river is a fixed point in my mind... an embodiment of all the romance, all the commerce, all the good and all the evil that goes on within the borders of this country. Bethel is less fixed in my mind; yes, it's the place I grew up, but other than that, it holds no real nostalgia or affection. I don't hate the place as much as I used to; but I don't really miss it much either; and I'm sure it can say the same about me.

I have stories to write, and I will write them. Articles for the paper. I enjoy my new role as a freelance journalist primarily because it's the sort of job that suits my temperament. I hate alarm clocks, I despise offices, and the only routines I put any energy into are my own. Straight work – that is, 9 to 5 (or 6-3:30, or 3:30 to 11:30) wage slavery – is full of routine. Dull, dull routine. That most people grow accustomed to routine doesn't make it any less vulgar.

As a freelance journalist, my schedule is determined by the story; and it's true that the schedule can, at times, be horribly predictable... politicians are hobgoblins for their officiousness and OCD consistency when it comes to meetings. Sometimes they meet simply because they have nothing better to do, because they nothing else to justify their existence on Earth, and because there's nothing worth watching on television. But dragging myself to public meetings is nothing compared to dragging myself to an office or a cubicle or an assembly line station. And yes, I've done those, too. The horrors that people subject themselves to for a paycheck are staggering when one begins to notice.

So why the problem focusing? I have notes for three articles, all of which will get written this week. I have notes for articles to come. This isn't the sort of occupation that really allows for days without focus; it's always jumping ahead, jumping ahead. I get one deadline down and the next is looming. And because I'm freelance, when I don't write, I don't get paid. That's the life of a hack, the life I've chosen. And I would not choose another, except to get paid for the books and poetry I write. Sadly, though, no one reads books, and only poets read poetry – and while I am college educated, I lack the appropriate pedigree to be taken seriously by academic journals. They like craft over style and substance. Then there's a whole cadre of non-academic journals and presses, but they prefer style over craft and substance. Editors are a notorious lot, and few of them deserve the title – which is, of course, why they have it. At least in journalism – another one of those dying businesses, like education and DVD rental stores – I get to see something of the life around me, put it into words – some of them falling on the profoundly and purposely illiterate – and get a little scratch to pay my penance for life in the aftermath of the American Dream... rent, utilities, and the various bills one is expected to pay is one is to be welcomed as an adult.

Sometimes the articles are less than interesting, and it's difficult for me to move myself forward into the writing. That's not so much the case today; two of them are good, one a potential barn burner. The other is little more than a re-editing of copiously written meeting minutes written by someone else. So it's not really the content of the articles themselves that are driving me to distraction.

But recently, I've been besieged by bozos.

Or, to be more specific, I've been preoccupied with them more lately. I've always known they were there. I first noticed them when I was very young. Bozos always always seem to have or presume to have power over other people. The sole purpose bozos have for living, the occupation that justifies the precious oxygen they use up, is to maintain to maintain this illusion of control. They've built their entire lives on it, this illusion. This illusion is the thing that gets bozos out of bed in the morning; they feed off the compliments of others, they exist only if they are recognized as “being in charge.” They live their lives thinking only about how their obituaries will read. And in the process, they actively work to destroy all that is good and noble in the world, simply to maintain a ridiculous point of view... because they can't suffer honesty, and they can't cope with their own fear and mediocrity. Because fear breeds mediocrity, kids. That's as true as true can get.

My problem with bozos has been that they are not attacking me. When bozos attack me, I dispatch them quickly, and without much thought. Life and energy are too precious to spend on them, and I do not believe in wasting either of mine. But lately, the bozos have been after my wife... one of the rare souls who is good and true and noble in a world that has gone to hell. She loves with her all, and she loves honestly, and she gives more of herself than most people are able to give. And while some might think me biased, keep in mind that I have, in my time, been in company of saints, sinners, murderers and angels. I have met and continue to meet the best minds of this generation. I have a basis for comparisons, and I tell you all quite honestly, most … including myself … don't measure up to her. I wake up every day knowing I don't deserve her, and the days when I don't measure up in some sense leave me feeling miserable. She is one of those rare people who loves unconditionally. She puts all of herself into the things that matter and into the things she cares about.

And then... and then... there are the bozos. The mediocre middle-managers of the world. The forgotten and disgraced (justifiably) idjits of history. I would name some of them, but she would prefer that I not. The truth... another truth that is as true as truth can be... is that she and I walk through the world differently. I can only be myself when I am brutally honest, and she... she knows how to temper her anger with love and with laughter. She is peaceful by nature, whereas I am peaceful by choice. People that meet her first are often surprised that she is married to me. I have given up disabusing people of their ridiculous notions; the only thing that matters is that the life she and I lead is not defined by the shortcomings of others.

Fear leads to mediocrity.