Saturday, August 11, 2012
Portrait of the artist as an ill-advised Kamikaze
Thirty years ago, on a damp September night, I gave up writing. It seemed not a difficult decision. Rejection letters were now too many to even think of plastering the wall with them. Even my standby the Newmarket ERA now seemed unimpressed by any journalism I was doing. And at the college, where I was teaching creative writing, and there was talk of me losing my old clout, a student named Eleanor Gallagher said, out front, "Ivan, if you can't make it, the rest of us can't make it either. "So stop this "pretend" teaching and go out into the world as a writer, which is what you should have been doing all this time, instead of being a sort of poseur." Happily I had sold an important piece a week after this exchange, but Eleanor's comments did give me a double-take. Twenty years a writer. Ten years of teaching. The money was obviously in the teaching, even if my professional friends had said no...But they were selling like crazy in New York!...And I was barely on the map in Newmarket ON. It seemed time to surrender the vows, or, to take my students' advice, "give up this teaching pose and go for it." Well I did. But after four novels, a Gaugin existence in the tropics and a divorce, with all that that entails it suddenly dawned on me that you should never take the advice of one of your students. They were, after all, students, and you were supposed to be the adept. You had taken some pride in actually publishing and not perishing, though you had noticed that among your academic peers, one had gotten a teaching position on the strength of one published letter to the editor, and another a former librarian, obviously adept, but with no publishing credits. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Poseur? It has now been thirty-five years. The goods had been delivered. But I'm not sure every artist should take this kind of calculated (foolhardy?) risk. Oh the mad Olympian!