So the Chancellor of the Exchequer over in the UK said this morning that “struggling musicians and others in arts should retrain and get new jobs” because of the pandemic.
I mean, putting aside the most obvious response of “Hmm, oh that’s right, it’s a global pandemic and every country’s having mass unemployment issues and THERE CURRENTLY AREN’T ENOUGH DAMN JOBS YOU TWIT”, there’s the more insidious meaning to the man’s words that every creative person hears and hates: your creativity is a useless endeavor.
I tend to hear this kind of thing at least a few times a year, almost always from some conservative and/or businessman who does nothing but look at numbers for a living. Hell, I even got it from a school guidance counselor or two: are you sure you want to be a writer? It doesn’t pay much. Don’t you want to go into business or something more stable and make more money?
Let me tell you about what it feels like to have to push your creativity into the margins because people like this see creativity as frivolous.
There’s frustration: the fact that you have to spend eight or more hours a day using a completely different part of the brain problem-solving or processing or what have you at a paying job you don’t necessarily enjoy but have out of necessity, plus additional brain time navigating a commute, doing this five or six days a week. Plus some downtime with family so you’re not completely ignoring everyone in your life. This gives you, at most, about an hour and half to two hours a day attempting to shift your brain into creative mode to write a few hundred words. Or sneaking in those words during your lunch or coffee break at the Day job.
There’s exhaustion: the fact that you might work at a company that demands a high level of production all day long. Or maybe you work in a warehouse that demands overtime during the fourth quarter. Or maybe you have kids to care for in addition to this job. This is why creatives wish they could afford to be full-timers: not because they wish they could sleep late and fuck around online and maybe get a few words in before deadline. They want to be able to be able to sit down at the desk or at their easel or with their instrument and take as much needed time as possible, without outside stress, to create the best work they can.
There’s emotional distress: the fact that, after so many months or years, even despite possible creative success, you fear that you’re still stuck in the same place, barely scraping by and running out of energy. You start to question whether it’s worth it to keep this up or just give up and become a faceless chartered accountant. I’ve felt this a number of times throughout the years, and it’s disheartening to be in my forties and wonder if I’d wasted three decades pretending I was a decent writer. It’s not a fun feeling, let me tell you that.
And there’s anger: “You’re a writer? That’s nice. What’s your real job? I mean, the one that pays your bills?” Really? Fucking really? You think so little of what hard work actually goes into writing or art or music?
People like Sunak never understand that the creative world — the world of writers, artists, musicians, animators, filmmakers, photographers, and so on — is just as valid as any other career out there. They only see the end result, that shiny book or the flashy Netflix series or that pop song, and discount it as a waste of capitalist time. [I’ll be honest, whenever I see this, I always wonder how the hell this same person somehow sees a bunch of guys tossing or kicking a ball around a field as more financially acceptable.]
It’s really fucking tiring to have some idiot turn to me, when I’ve been working on my creative craft for almost their entire life, and say “well, maybe you can go and train to be, I dunno, a sales person or something?”
It’s goddamn demeaning is what it is.