24 January, 2017

The (not so) fine art of living dangerously: recording the age of ignorance

People are always wondering if I am an artist or political activist or politician. Maybe I'll just clearly tell you: Whatever I do is not art. Let's say it is just objects or materials, movies or writing, but not art, OK?  -- Ai Weiwei

 Last Wednesday, while some people I know and one or two people I count as friends were protesting a meeting by Louisville's Chamber of Commerce -- I mean, by Greater Louisville, Inc* -- focused on helping businesses union free, I was a sitting in a half-day orientation meeting for people who met the minimum requirements to be a substitute teacher.

Most orientations could be completed in a 20 minute conversation and a decently composed email; but I understood what the reason was behind the orientation. It had nothing to do with me and everything to with the school system. Making me sit in a half a day long meeting** just so they could reiterate two main points is about them trying to avoid potential future litigation. And just in case you're wondering, Dear Readers, what the two main points were:

  1. Don't.***
  2. We're all in this together.^
I made it to this meeting after being up in Cincinnati the night before, where I read as part of the Writer's Night at the MOTR pub. I keep hoping to find open mics here in River City, but it seems that you either have to show up 6 hours early to get one of 5 open spots or hump the leg of a local literati to get a shot.

Originally, I had planned to go to the rally outside the GLI cabal, but I put in to be a substitute teacher before the holidays and I didn't want to take the chance of trying to reschedule.

There are times when I am at odds with my own life. I don't think I'm unique in this; I think many, if not most people, are. I'm at odds with my need to write, because the necessity to work almost always gets in the way, even when I have the greatest amount of schedule flexibility possible. I'm at odds with my desire be an active activist because I'm skeptical of other people's resolve. It's hard for me to trust people who aren't my friends to have my back. I could go into the reasons for this, but feel free to flip back and read about my experience with JCTC to get a reminder.

Although I realize there isn't much to be done about the past, it takes a little time for me to shake some of the negativity. Then there's the other problem.

Being a writer means, to some degree or another, being separated from the life going on around you. There is always an otherness when you give yourself over to writing, mostly because in order to write about life the writer has to, at some point, stop being around other people.  But more than that, being a writer means there is some part of you that you never share; that part of you that hangs back to record and remember.

This is probably the most crucial function that literature serves. Literature, like music and all the arts is cultural memory. And if there is ever a time that writer, musicians, painters, and other like us to spend time at our craft, it is now. It's true that art is not created in a vacuum. But it's also true that, even inside a community where we are all connected and all responsible for one another, we each have different tasks, different areas where our skills are best used for the common good. I applaud and support my friends and others who were able to go protest outside the Chamber of Commerce event in Louisville. I am looking forward to the songs and stories that will come from it and on that basis alone, I wish I could have been there. But the thing to remember is this: the most dangerous place for a writer to be is at the desk. That is where we do our work, putting it all down in stories and in verse so that as the barbarians overtake the gate^^, the most important part of it all will be saved, and hopefully passed on and preserved.
*The only thing a Chamber of Commerce meeting is good for is to get an idea of who is trying to screw you on the local level other than elected officials and bureaucrats.
**If you're unfamiliar with the education system, let me assure you... there are always meetings of some kind or another that could be reduced to a 20 minute conversation and an email. Seriously.
*** Don't. This covers a list of things that anyone smarter than a baked potato would know not to do. Then again, all my presence at the meeting meant was that I had met the "minimum requirements." 
^I rarely trust any institution that tries to create a sense of ownership in me by insisting that it takes a village to do anything. What this means in real life is: "We're all in this together, until you screw up. Then it's all on you, pal." 
^^By the time this blog goes live, Donald Trump will have been sworn in as President. He is making plans to get the National Endowment for the Arts, which will probably kill the Kentucky Arts Council and other organizations just like it. The argument will be made that art, like any other commodity, should be able to survive in "the market."   I disagree with this fundamentally, but if you're reading this you probably knew that already.  As the creators, collectors, curators, and keepers of cultural memory, we will have find our way forward. 

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
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