I love this and I hate it. I love it because the author performatively nails the paradox of the working artist. I hate it because I can't tell if she's self-aware.
Wild Milk, her first book of fiction, is recently out from Dorothy, a publishing project.
Of course it is. The Dorothy Project is one of those vanity presses we dare not call vanity presses because one doesn't pay one's way in, one signals appropriately and kisses the right asses.
“Dorothy books emerge each October like ringing endorsements of writers you’ve never heard of by a friend whose taste you can absolutely trust.”
- The Atlantic
This is the ecosystem that has evolved: nobody expects money anymore. Nobody really expects fame. What they've settled for is chin-stroking acceptance from the fellow failures, a salon of also-rans to help you gird your loins against the reality that no one has ever given a fuck about your poetry and nobody ever will but if you keep writing it for long enough, keep submitting it for long enough, keep hawking it for long enough, you will be accepted into the pantheon of "literary" writers that will never be U2, will never be Beyonce, but may have opened for The Velvet Underground back in the '70s and therefore must be mentioned in the occasional chin-stroking hipster reference.
My sons, my husband, and I are lucky. We have stayed healthy, and we have enough money and enough food to eat.
Of course she does. The elephant in the room of the cultural class is that patronage never went away it just grew ornate. Your ability to feed yourself depends on the generosity of others and it's gonna be your parents, your spouse or both. This allows whatever small pittance you can get from your works to be held up as validation because you're never going to make a real living at it. Certainly not one worthy of the expense you've sunk into it. And the lower your sales, the more highbrow your involvement, the more academic you must become:
Over the years I have applied for hundreds of professorships, and even received some interviews. I’ve wanted a job like this for so long, I barely even know why I want it anymore. I look at my hands. I can’t tell if they’re mine.
PLEASE GOD VALIDATE ME
If you can't get the money (because you can't get the money) and you can't get the prestige (because you won't get the prestige) at least you can get some academic clout. At least some shitty liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere has made you an adjunct professor of poems about chickens or some shit, the ultimate reward for the shitty liberal arts degree you spent too much for at some shitty liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. If you call yourself "author" someone is going to want to know what you've written. If you call yourself "professor" they'll know you're intelligentsia. Now - did you move here for the job, or did you get the job because you live here? We can erase that. We can make our students wonder. We can assume they'll know we warranted the gig. Know a guy. Wrote one episode of Hawaii Five-O back in the day. Last I heard he was teaching literature at a community college in Montana. BangPOW no longer a washed-up Hollywood hack, he's a fuckin' local scholar now.
But not anymore.
In fairy tales, form is your function and function is your form. If you don’t spin the straw into gold or inherit the kingdom or devour all the oxen or find the flour or get the professorship, you drop out of the fairy tale, and fall over its edge into an endless, blank forest where there is no other function for you, no alternative career. The future for the sons who don’t inherit the kingdom is vanishment. What happens when your skills are no longer needed for the sake of the fairy tale? A great gust comes and carries you away.
I had an existential crisis Thursday. My Pro Tools monster died. To restore it I must spend a lot of money, because it's the motherboard, which means it's also the CPU, which means it's also the memory, which means it's probably also the cooler, and at that point why not change out the video card? Except now I'm sinking ridiculous sums of money into a profession I can no longer practice because no one is paying for it. We aren't watching movies and television on the living room wall in surround sound, we're reading subtitles on our phones. I am an SR-71 pilot and nobody needs to go that fast anymore. Fuck writing - that shit was gone long ago. I beat that into the ground. My task is justifying another rocket on the off chance that someone can afford to go into orbit some day soon. How much am I willing to spend to deny reality?
The new world order is rearranging itself on the planet and settling in. Our touchstone is changing color. Our criteria for earning a life, a living, is mutating like a virus that wants badly to stay alive. I text a friend, “I can’t find bread flour.” She lives in Iowa. “I can see the wheat,” she says, “growing in the field from outside my window.” I watch a video on how to harvest wheat. I can’t believe I have no machete. I can’t believe I spent so many hours begging universities to hire me, I forgot to learn how to separate the chaff from the wheat and gently grind.
I amend my prior statement. She's self-aware.