Some of the more artistic citizens in our world take umbrage at the very ‘shallow’ idea of having to make a living in a traditional job that brings home a pay-check. They put on a cloak of denial, expecting some form of respect for their artistic nature, taking food, lighting and electricity for their computers for granted, a small price for the rest of us to pay for the privilege of being in their august presence.
I’ve met a couple of people that fit right into this category. When making small talk at a cocktail party the inevitable question arises: “What do you do for a living?”
With a look of utter disdain, the man--it’s almost always a man--declares, “I’m an artist.”
Quick to pick up this conversational thread, and being alert to the ego on display on the silver being jockeyed around the room, I choose my words carefully. “That’s fascinating. Do you work in oils or acrylics?”
This overture, and the appropriate stroking of the arrogant ego, usually leads to a full dissertation on the artist’s entire portfolio. Now unless the man is renowned for his work, in which case, aside from the free food and drinks, I’m not sure why he’s hanging out with the rest of us lowlifes, this small display of interest in a fellow guest might easily turn into a very boring one-hour monologue.
I find the easiest way to make the artist slink away, taking his aloof attitude to the other side of the room, is to ask which gallery I can visit to see his work. Following a list of extreme reasons why his paintings or etches have not yet found the perfect venue, I smirk and he departs, dragging his obvious dislike for me along behind him.
More often, I meet people who have difficulty declaring their life-long avocation publicly. When asked the same question, people will tell me about their jobs or their families. It takes a little probing to find out their real passion is golfing, fishing or writing.
They're shy about their true interests, thinking that no one cares, and they correctly slip into cocktail-hour chatter. Most people aren’t terribly interested. They use social events as diversions. Some like to hear the sound of their own voice or to make casual connections with strangers, hoping they’ll be asked about themselves.
If you reveal that you have a love of language and have been writing poetry or prose throughout life, often it’s greeted with a nod, or the far more insulting response: “What a nice hobby.”
Many people don’t understand that writers would love to live in a closet and tap out stories all day, if only destiny had given them that indulgence. But, just as almost every Hollywood super-star admits to having waited tables between auditions, so do the rest of us need to make a living. The kids go off to university, the laundry loads lighten, and suddenly we have time to do the things we wish we could have done sooner.
A person who takes their passion for writing more seriously in later life is not a hobbyist filling in time between bingo and lawn bowling. It may be the first time in life they’ve had a chance to put themselves first.
It's not a disability for them to lack expertise or confidence in their technique. It's merely a threshold to cross, another price to pay to skillfully present their stories. There are writing classes in every community, on-line businesses that cater to hungry and passionate people who have the humility to approach their new career with the disciplines they learned while working in the commercial world. There are on-line writing communities, filled with people who have the same goals, who will give the writer feed-back, tips and strength to believe they can achieve--even make a living in the new career.
The one asset most late-start writers don’t give themselves credit for is the wisdom and experiences of living. Every person has a unique biography, a library of stories to tell. As a reader, I open a book and want to be invited into that author’s world. I want to understand what it feels like to live his life and experience, his joy and fear.
I’ve learned a great lesson about meeting people in social situations. I no longer ask what they do. Instead I ask what they like to do.
STORIES BY INGRID THOMSON
ESSAYS BY INGRID THOMSON