Professionalized within an inch of your life

Note: This post might be a bit of a dog’s breakfast, a haphazard salmagundi of random observations. Hopefully, all roads will converge towards the end however.

First, I wanted to thank everyone for the kind comments on my last post and apologize for not responding to any of them. I have been working harder than usual at my job as well as moving to a new apartment with a brand new roommate. Life intervened as they say, like it always does. But this brings up two areas of bewilderment for me as of late: work and writing. Let’s say I’m having trouble seeing the trees for the forest. This is as good a platform for the perplexed as any, so permit me to sift through some thoughts.

The first issue is work. I live in a blue collar town, which is to say that everyone I know works all the time at jobs they generally dislike in order to pay bills. This, of course, is not much different from the lot of the middle class, but the ideology surrounding it is entirely different. Having cleaned a thousand offices, I notice the professional class is swaddled in ideas of doing what you love and finding success and fulfillment at work. They read books on Having the Courage to Create your own Career Satisfaction and similar notions that sound grandiose to a working class reader. Most of my cohorts were raised with the belief that work is a duty, something you have to do in order to support the things you want to be doing. Very few have any notion of building a “career”. When a musician friend is asked “What do you do?” he responds “Do you mean what do I do that makes me happy, or what do I do for money?” The two only rarely overlap.

At the same time, our dirty old town is “gentrifying”, which is essentially a process of generating wealth by displacing the working poor. It’s happening due to a housing crisis in nearby Toronto, fueled by population growth and real estate speculation, which is in turn driving up housing prices here. Nevertheless, the narrative being spun to promote our city is something like the colonial myth: Hamilton was terra incognita- a real estate developer recently called it a “blank canvas”- until visionaries and entrepreneurs from Toronto saw its potential as a “creative hub” and made it hip at last.

Most of this is drivel, but what is interesting is how our longstanding arts and music scene has been pressed into the service of selling real estate at the expense of our artists and musicians who, hip or not, work day jobs and live hand-to-mouth existences. The carpetbaggers have moved in and they’ve copywritten what we created in their own names. Meanwhile, we remain strangely even more invisible and silent and will eventually be pushed out, unless the market crashes (God willing).

I write in order to be heard. My mother likes to say that I’ve “always” been writing. It’s just something I do. It is by this strange compulsion that we write our way into the world, like strangers in pitch black darkness trying to make out the contours of an unknown room. I think of writers as the ones who gash their shins on the corner of a coffee table and have to describe the pain in exquisite detail.

Lately, I have been reading my stories in public, at small gatherings and punk rock shows. The response has been positive; there really is no feeling to compare with having someone come up to you in tears after hearing something you wrote. Yet, even with all the talk around town about “professionalizing” the local literary scene, I have no notion that I’ll ever do this for money. I feel comfortable with my abilities as a writer


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Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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11 thoughts on “Professionalized within an inch of your life

  1. I have heard of Hamilton, because of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats!

    My wife’s uncle, whom we all loved much, was always noodling around with wood carving. I have some of his work on my wall. We often told him he could sell that stuff, but his response was always, “That’s too much pressure”. However, he loved doing it, and he loved giving his stuff to people and he loved how they loved it.

    Sometimes arranging your life to be self-actualized separates work and meaning. The meaning of work is to supply the money to do the thing. Whatever that thing is. I have no solution to gentrification, though. Things change. We can’t stop it.

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    • Well we can’t hold back the tide, but I do think gentrification can be directed to better ends. Here, it’s been a pretty aggressive campaign by developers to push out the people who have lived here for decades, often through quasi-illegal means, and make way for their social betters, who may or may not arrive in sufficient numbers for it to pay off. Of course, if you read the local papers, you’d think it was all about cupcake bakeries and craft brewers!

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      • That sucks. To me, you would definitely be the right sort of people to have in my neighborhood. I wince when I hear an upper-middle-class friend of mine talk about “sketchy” people.

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        • Here we hear pretty noxious talk about “cleaning up crime” when entire apartment blocks get evicted, renovated, and doubled in rent. I have a sense though that we all will still be here in a few years. The IMF has issued warnings about Canada’s dangerously overinflated housing markets here, in Toronto, and Vancouver and the “correction” seems to have begun already.

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          • I think what will help is the fact that it’s a college town, as you so ably describe in other posts.

            I spend a lot of time in Bellingham, WA, and while it has upscaled in some neighborhoods, the college still imparts a very funky vibe. People who don’t like it live somewhere else.

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          • Slightly relatedly, a friend of mine had her bike wheel stolen a week or so ago (a one-off custom build, no way there’s another one like it in the city – bright pink rim on an 8-speed internally geared hub).

            That same week she was stopped and carded by cops no fewer than three times for the suspicious activity of riding a (different, still two-wheeled) bike after dark. She took advantage of those interactions to mention the stolen wheel. On at least one occasion the cops offered to help by harassing homeless people, since knowing “stolen bike wheel” obviously led to “homeless people did it”. She tried to explain that his was probably not an opportunity theft by someone homeless, since it takes non-standard tools to remove the wheel, and it can’t be installed on a bike with a regular derailleur.

            She since found video of the theft taking place – sure enough, the thieves don’t look homeless at all.

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            • There’s a really perverse policy in our city whereby panhandlers are given tickets by the police. Almost none of the tickets are ever paid, of course. But the same 20 or so homeless men get the majority of the tickets. As a result, they owe too much to even move into subsidized housing and get off the streets.

              As a friend put it “Okay so asking for money is bad and taking it by the threat of force is good. Got it.”

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  2. I have no notion that I’ll ever do this for money. I feel comfortable with my abilities as a writer

    Testify, brother! Researching and writing about baseball is my hobby, not my job. If it brings in beer money as well, great! But make it how I pay the bills? Then it becomes a grind.

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