Monday, June 20, 2005

Blocked-up head

Looking out of the window at the cloudy evening, sticky with warm air, I started talking to myself about what I want to do next in terms of work. I’ve had a particularly bad day of hay-fever: the entire surface of the skin feels warm and clammy, the nose streams every second of the day with sharp dribbles of burning mucus, and the brain refuses to work beyond the mechanical reflex of needing and seeking more tissues and medicine. My head is, to be precise, stuffed-up and at a stop.

The job that I have had for the past year is at an end and although the mechanical job-hunt is once again in motion, yielding some relatively easy future possibilities, I still seriously and surely keep circling back to the same certainty: I do not want a career. My brain and personality, my ways of thinking, my mental processes in their entirety add up to the sure ideological conclusion: they are not built for the world of conventional work. I do not want to shut my brain down for the next 40 years.

Just so that you don’t confuse a life of writing with a life of escape and easy work — if a publisher contacted me tomorrow with an offer to publish my manuscript and a list of remaining work needing attention, I would shit myself far more than if a letter from a conventional employer appeared telling me of a strange new job in a strange new building with long hours, low pay, and difficult public transport links.

Why? Because I know that, for me, the real work has always been in the part of my brain not responsible for the mechanical, automated ‘rote-work’ of the nine-to-five career. Humans have one brain and two distinct (but not mutually exclusive) ways of using it: procedural and intuitive. Which can also be seen as: careerist and creative. A brain which feels as dead as mine feels today can be carried by its owner into a workplace and can provide the processing power for any number of difficult procedural tasks.

But it is when this part of the brain is allowed to rest that the creative brain can take over, and here is the paradox: the creative brain gives you just as much of a headache. Creativity has to be teased into life, little by little, by our 21st-century, careerist minds. It exists in the teeming space left unused by our tasks and checklists. And it can only be successful — in the sense that it can produce worthwhile creative work — if its owner can balance on a delicate tightrope between encouraging such a full river of abstract thought to flow on the one hand, and having enough attention to grab and arrange individual thoughts on the other.

In short, an artist of any kind must be able to look out at the world with an intelligent and perceptive eye, and able to survey his/her mind with a libertarian and exacting discipline. And there’s the headache. It’s so difficult to do well.

So when I mention art on this blog or in conversation, when I show a poem to a friend or to cyberspace, it is because I have either seen or created something in which I recognise that these complexities have been answered with just as much wisdom and rigour as it would take a master surgeon to wield the tiniest of scalpels over a stricken human being.

And it is that sense of responsibility which keeps on calling me back to these monoliths: art is difficult to create. The world of work is profoundly impossible to settle into. The world is so absorbing. I must write. Even if there were no careers, I still must write.

I’m sure I’ll end up writing soon about how the practicalities of a life as an unsalaried artist fit into all this. But since I had all this buzzing around, and since it’s been a while since I’ve made a linkless post like this, I think it matters enough to be set down for your thoughts and comments.

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