Musings on 'Opportunism', Laziness and Creativity
At roughly 20 seconds into the above video, the Kyknet presenter asks the question: "If a journalist writes a book, isn't it opportunistic? This is the second book...aren't they just trying to make money out of this tragedy?"
It's true, I would hate to be asked that live and in camera. Recently I told someone I was one of South Africa's most diverse freelancers and she asked me to name some of the publications I've written for. I won't say I struck a blank, but I had that feeling you get when you go, "Shucks, where do I start?"
I suppose somewhere is the answer. I like the way Charne Kemp answers the question. She says, "That [making money] was never the goal. The goal was to write a book about a story that has everyone riveted." Let's be honest, writers - myself included - expect to be paid for our efforts. We don't expect to get rich for our efforts, or even to be paid what our efforts perhaps deserve. But like it or not, in the same way a petrol attendant, or a waitress or a Member of Parliament expect to be given money for time on the job, a writer has the same expectation.
What I find downright odd, is when you get people who devote their lives to the arts (painting, writing, sculpture, making movies etc) people are very quick to question their motives when they (think) they disagree with them. But if anyone's motives can be questioned it is the cubicle slave or office jockey who (secretly) despises his job, and only does it for the (gasp) money. That's an entire life, an entire vocation, dedicated to smiling for the $ sign.
Intellectual and Spiritual Laziness
Some people are happy to do that, and I guess sometimes a lot of moolah can help with the happiness part. Poor people are seldom happy. Right? Well, actually there are very few people who hate their jobs who are happy. They tend to feel trapped and miserably depressed. What could be more demeaning than giving large fractions of your life force to something you despise doing, for the reward of a salary cheque, and a squidget of certainty?
On the other question, are poor people miserable and the super rich blissful?
I think the poor on the edges of the middle class, those fringes fraught with desperate attempts to compete (or live in the same neighborhood) as the 'Joneses' or otherwise become 'upwardly mobile' are certainly not the happiest. Failure to keep up with the Joneses means you begin to compare yourself unfavorably to others, which is a recipe for unhappiness. (The opposite is also true, happiness is knowing you are better than your neigbours, but - unless you're Warren Buffett - it only lasts so long). Trying to break into a clique, trying to emerge is always traumatic. It's no different for a writer slaving away in the hopes 'a book' will emerge from the sound and fury coming off their battered keyboards. The poor accept their shitty circumstances, have low expectations, but they still make a jol of it. They have a great community spirit, and they do take joy in the simple things. Until the next Act of God blows their house down, at any rate.
But whether we're rich or poor, our idea of happiness is not work...it's something like this.
Not necessarily breasts. We think of soft sands and warm seas, and sunshine. And doing bugger-all. That's our idea of happiness, isn't it? Or is the secret to a good life our enjoyment of work just as much as it is about how well we love and are loved in return (something I touched on via Donna Tartt in my #1 Confession.) Think about it. Surfers are having a much wilder ride than fishermen, and fishermen are getting a bigger kick than the suntanner. Why? Because it's in the experience - in the doing - that we feel alive. Yes, there is salvation in love and work, and for the writer, this is especially true, especially in our work.
I have written plenty of unpublished novels.
Have I adequately addressed the fact that most people who write for a living aren't motivated by greed? Good, then let's move on to -
Rough notes on Creativity
Creative people are unlucky. We're almost certainly doomed to failure (especially financial failure), certainly most of the time, yet in spite of that it's what we choose to do.I like these words n the topic by Ernest Becker. Referring to the 'Creative Solution' he writes:
It takes strength and courage the average man doesn't have and couldn't even understand...The most terrifying burden of the creature is to be isolated...this move exposes the person to the sense of being completely crushed and annihilated because he sticks out so much, [and] has to carry to much in himself...The Key to the creative type is that he is separated out of the common pool of shared feelings. There is something in his life experience that makes him take in the world as a problem; as a result he has to make personal sense of it. This holds true for all creative people to a greater or lesser extent, but it is especially obvious with the artist. Exstence becomes a problem that needs an ideal answer; but when you no longer accept the collective solution to the problem of existence, then you must fashion your own. The work of art (or piece of writing) is, then, the ideal answer of the creative type to the problem of existence as he takes it in - not only the existence of the external world, but also his own...
[Note: if you've enjoyed this passage you should read this book.]
Now...have I completely addressed the fact that most people who write for a living aren't motivated by greed?
They're more motivated by a love for what they do. I am. And I'd argue that's mostly true of the rest of reasonably happy working folk. Of course there is nothing like the announcement of a bonus, and we all look forward to receiving our financial dues, but we're far more motivated by an ecosystem of things besides - it may be colleagues, or rivalry, or a narrative that is developing around a project (and of which we are an integral part). And in this last sentence lies part of the answer to the second part of the question. When you write about things like the Oscar Trial (as I am, I'm currently working on a third Book in a series of 5)or Griekwastad,contemporary and popular tragedies, are you doing so with...ulterior motives? Are you profiting out of loss? And should the public endorse this? Should the public be complicit in this cynical parasitism and profit taking?
Well, let me use myself as an example. I'm not like most regular journalists, in fact I don't even consider myself a 'journalist'. I'm a writer thank you, and a photographer, but if the word 'photojournalist' work for you, let's run with that. I write a lot about climate change. I'll tell you this for nothing. No one wants to read about it, so it is a hard story to sell. But I write about it anyway, and I fight (contrary to my 'vested' interests with media houses) when editors try to dodge the use of these submissions. It's an important issue for me and I'm something of an activist on the topic.
Let's be absolutely clear about this: if I wanted to make as much money as I possibly could, I wouldn't write about climate change. Ever. A lot of people reading this paragraph are inwardly shaking their heads and going [so Van der Leek is into that stuff is he...one of those hysterical...unsophisticates...thinks the Earth is fragile and hugs bunnies...] I digress, but the point is, I write about it because I care about it. That's it. You'd have to be idiot to accuse me of trying to profit out of the loss the world has experienced from 'alleged' climate change. Because here's the kicker. I'm also experiencing that loss. In terms of the Oscar Trial, yes, I too am also expeiencing that loss. In terms of Griekwastad, yes, I too also feel anger towards that boy. They're unresolved feelings I the writer shares with you the potential reader. And it's exactly because they're unresolved that we form this contract - I write and you read and hopefully, in this place and time, maybe together, we can fashion some sort of satisfactory answer to this...problem.
I care so much that I feel compelled to write the stories no one else writes. I am essentially writing the kind of stories I wish were out there so I could read them. Is that opportunism, or is it something more akin to...Conscientiousness? A sense of Mission. A Passion for living and encouraging others to live an authentic life.
Right now I am busy with a few projects, one of them is Resurrection, Book 3 in a series of 5 on the Oscar Trial.
The only thing opportunistic about these stories is that I hope to get them out before the freights of 'official' accounts arrive by the truckload. At last count I heard there were seven books being written by various journalists and authors. But I have my own story to tell.
Two questions I want to ask myself (and thus the reader) are:
What is a model?
What is a hero?
My intuition tells me both our contemporary notions of these are wrong. My intuition tells me our attitude to money is wrong. Does having a lot of money hold off death? Does fame hold off death? What does? I'll tell you. Living a happy, and well lived life. Celebrity pretends to do that. When we watch movies, actors pretend to be having the good life. But what is the good life? It's something only you know, because it's different for each of us.
Here's the thing. When there is a murder, and someone dies, we want to know why. When they are successful and beautiful we want to know how and why an ostensibly good life must come to an end. It's important that we ask these questions. It's important that we reflect. Because that is the first step towards healing, or - to use the Latin terminology - restitutio ad integrum. It means restoring to the original condition, and what is that for us? A condition before we were hurt? Or is it who we were destined to be? Who are you destined to be? Is your work taking you there? Mine is. If that's opportunistic then I embrace it. If you criticise me for it, it's because you're not embracing yours.