…a hollow cross – definition: (1) A martyr to the cause of literature, (2) An imbecile, and; (3) Someone who is incapable of living in the moment and seeks to create false art.
We all have baggage, that is life but to create baggage in the name of literature only seeks to make the writer or poet an imbecile in the shrinking world of social media. I have always had a problem with people who say they ‘suffer for their art’. They cite such poets as Byron and Shelley: who suffered. They explain to you that such writers as Bukowski and Ballard did battle with their devils to create glorious prose. Let’s get one thing straight, Byron never stopped mid-conversation with a beautiful woman and said, ‘I suffer for my art, let’s fuck’. He was macho, reputedly well endowed, full of bravado and was one hundred percent a raving aristocrat (he kept a bear at University, that is not suffering for art, that’s pissing off the Dean). Likewise, while Shelley was at it with Mary on her mother’s grave, he didn’t yell out at the point of orgasm, ‘I suffer, therefore I am a poet’. He would never have got laid again. Bukowski was too drunk to worry about suffering, and when he did suffer it was normally from VD. Ballard did suffer at the hands of the Japanese as a child during the war, but he did not embrace that suffering, he survived it. Which says more for the human spirit, ingenuity and adaptation of an adult or child to their surroundings than it does about suffering for your art. Even the wonderful Black Mountain Poet, Larry Eigner, who spent his life in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, didn’t suffer for his art, he suffered from his health and he just bloody well wrote. I have spinal damage, mobility issues and the medication I am on can drive my emotions, meaning I can have lapses in memory but it doesn’t mean that I am suffering for my art. I am fortunate. When I was in traction in hospital, a fifteen year old in the next booth was being told by his consultant that all his spinal discs where crumbling. I laid there in agony and considered the pain that fifteen year old would have to endure. I thought of the artist Lowry, who said of those people he drew, those who suffered at the hands of the state and industry, ‘But for the grace of God…’. I conquered my own suffering. For it wasn’t true suffering, it was just another way of life. We spend too much time concerned about our own suffering, it is a malaise of the new century. We want to compare ailments, body imperfections and emotional wreckages. On Facebook, twitter and other social engines we are neck deep with people bemoaning their fate as if they were Sisyphus, rolling their rocks around the virtual world wailing out for lack of balsamic vinegar, a partner, a job, something to do or inspiration. We are born, we see nothing of the world, and then we moan about our tiny horizons. It is a terrible form of fake boredom and it bores us all, as the comedian Louis CK says:
“’I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. You live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. And even the inside of your own mind is endless. It goes on forever inwardly. Do you understand? Being the Fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to be bored.”
Millions or people suffer every day, billions throughout the history of humankind and not for art. They really suffered, really starved to death, really died under the boot of oppression. Did you really suffer because you couldn’t find a simile?
So, next time someone says they suffer for their art, punch them repeatedly in the nose. That is suffering, writers block isn’t and not winning a poetry competition isn’t anywhere in the same ball park as human suffering through the ages. It is just a misfortune. I have sympathy that you can’t write or your poem didn’t win. I am sad for you, that is empathy. Just choose your words better, it’s your job to do so. It is not the end of the world. You will not suffer for eternity from it. Life is made of ups and downs but it is never your decision to decide that your day to day problems are art, history will decide and they will not deem it as suffering.
Suffering for your art is someone who is not allowed to write, to voice their opinion, to openly show what they have written or painted. These people live in fear from governments and factions who will make them truly suffer before killing them. Those who stand up against oppression and write powerful truths are real heroes, who really do suffer for it. You getting booed off the stage at an open mic in no way equates to being water-boarded or being shot in the head. You have not suffered. You have had a life experience.
Poets and writers should write and not buy into the idea of the suffering artist, the muse or the drafty garret. These are hollow crosses that should not be carried. Think about those real people in the world who suffer everyday, and be glad that you have light in your life, even if it is only a small crack of light.
Art does not = suffering.
Self enforced suffering does not = art.
False suffering = false art.
Poets = writing.
Writers = writing.
Writing = a beacon of light.
Be the light, not the dark.