Starving Artist Syndrome

Last week, I found myself at an office in Chaguanas doing embroidery on polo shirts for food. I had a rehearsal for a play in the evening, and a poetry show to organize for next month. I still have two articles to send in for an online magazine (that I haven’t even started yet, mind you), and an idea for a mixtape, a play, a webseries and a short film juggling in my head.

But I’m in an office doing embroidery for food.

I am not at all saying that all artists have this concern. I mean, musicians have good money in my opinion, and some actors have a pretty easy time or team up with friends to work as a group. But me, as a Spoken Word poet and quite the struggling writer, just don’t find the kind of breaks that those guys have. Not to mention I’m trying the acting thing as well, in a place where there aren’t a great deal of opportunities flying around the place.

And we all know what that means – hush yuh mout’ and hold a 9 to 5 like a human being. All that artsy stuff could wait for weekends, right? What’s important is that you have the stability to make a life and eventually achieve what you want, as long as you manage to get what’s important.

Most guys think that this is depressing for an artist to have to sit on the thing that they want to do. But now, I don’t see a problem with it.

I see the value in being able to better invest in yourself. The miraculous Job of Destiny isn’t something that falls in your lap. It’s something that you work for, and more importantly you create an atmosphere in your life that can sustain that sort of existence in it. I am actually excited to get a real job (if ever I actually do), because that means I have a greater control over what I can do, get and place myself in order to get the greater things that I desire.

More importantly, there are so many experiences that creative types rob themselves of when they remove themselves from the life of regular human beings. The real stories come from a frantic weekend night in an internet cafe with a bunch of grown men playing World of Warcraft, or in the morning commute, or with a friend in the dead of night drinking Coke to stay awake just to embroid the next 50 jerseys…twice. Sometimes the commonplace is the extraordinary, when you ask yourself how a normal man can do this every day, and push yourself to understand how you can do it today.

And I can’t truly complain at any rate. I got food. At the end of the day, just like I want my art to live, I wanna live to. And we make sacrifices for both of those things to happen in the ways we want them to. My art lives with me, whenever I perform at an open mic, write on paper, get asked to perform spontaneously or sometimes just sharing work and ideas with friends. And I need to ensure that I still have the ability to feed those parts of me. Getting a job that fulfills me in other ways but is still something that I can imagine myself doing can only be a help to me. And I’m looking for that just as much as I’m looking for a chance to ¬†perform.

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A Dream…

It’s evening. One of those regular school nights where an unemployed person like myself is torn between relishing in his ability to stay up forever or practicing getting an early night’s rest. A friend of mine, Cain*, is over at my house. I wish I could suggest a reason why, at least to myself, but with dreams you never can. I can prove that the room is mine (only slightly different than before) in the same house (where cheap 100-watt lightbulbs made the apple white walls scream sick yellow in every direction) on a date not too far from today. Nonetheless, he’s there, in my room, talking all sorts of craziness about morality and justice and the Tao while niggas are trying to sleep.

I indulge in the conversation, partially because these sorts of conversations are what I’m known for. Partially, though, I get the feeling that I’m fighting for my life in these conversations – Cain never takes a moment to agree with anything I say, and the conversation feels like antagonism the entire time. Like he doesn’t truly like me, or I don’t truly trust him. Like he not-so-secretly did something with my ex-girlfriend and I’m trying insanely hard to be okay with it while he’s moderately slapping me in the face with it. Indeed, it feels like that’s true here, as an undertone to our relationship in that moment, and I try to be a good person to a friend even though I want to destroy the guy’s voice box like I saw in one of those Ong Bak movies.

He makes the mistake of saying there’s no right or wrong. I can completely understand why these are the only words I remember being uttered. They are the verbal antithesis of me – that there is no morality, no just or right thing to do, no fair outcome, no reason to be chaste or loyal or honest or good, but that people should do and be whatever they want as long as it gets them what they want. I can feel myself struggling not to jump off my double-decker bed and slapping the fool. I also feel torn, about whether this is really Cain’s feeling about the world or if this is just a provocation. It genuinely feels like both of those things at the same time. It makes me angry, and disappointed, and sick all over. And it’s how I can imagine that what happens next makes sense…

A snake turns into the corridor that leads to my room. I’m not at all good at snakes, which is why I’m certain that the species my mind gave birth to wasn’t quite real – a rattlesnake, taller than I was and as thick as my head, dressed in the colors of the rainbow. It didn’t matter. I knew it was a killer. Not sure whether it bit or constricted, but I was absolutely sure it killed.

It skipped my brother’s room completely, even though it was the first room on the corridor. I reasoned that a snake couldn’t sense human life, but that quickly went through the window. It’s a dream, it doesn’t matter what snakes can’t do in real life. I knew that my brother was in his room, which meant the snake knew too. Maybe my image of my brother was in the dream as well – a selfish, volatile emotional vampire who always wanted a handout. Maybe I secretly wanted the snake to go in his room, but the snake was an antagonist. He wouldn’t bend to my will, he wanted to break it. Maybe there was nothing in my brother’s room for a snake. Maybe that was because he was the snake.

The creature crawled under my mother’s door. In hindsight, it was insane that a head-thick, man-long snake effortlessly slithered into my mother’s bedroom, but in the heat of the dream, anything’s possible, right? I notice by now that I’ve stopped speaking. At first I stay silent. The snake will kill my mother, I think. It worries me a little, but does not frighten me. I might have wanted the creature in her room just as badly as I wanted it in my brother’s. When I realize what’s happened, though, I scream out for her. I’m sure that I sounded like a scared little girl, but the real me knew this was just a dream. Or maybe it wasn’t. I couldn’t imagine myself being much different to the person I was then in that bed. My thoughts and feelings were all the same. I longed for the same things, missed the same people, and harbored the same anger. It was me on that bed watching that snake.

My mother responded to my dream with a simple ‘yeah’. It didn’t take me or my fear or concern seriously. I felt some resent for the fact that she would never notice my moral dilemma in calling her or how I defeated it, but I just took pleasure in her being alive. She didn’t attempt to kill it, which felt unusual. Instead, she wanted it to walk out however it had walked in. And after a few minutes it did simply crawl out of her room…and into mine.

Even though I was terrified, I was reacting with a very special coldness. I waited until there was no other decision to be made than alert others, as though there was a possibility it might do something I could defeat it with. Would it crawl into the bathroom and I could lock the door behind it? Would it stumble about blindly in my room and give me a chance to drop something heavy on its head? I sat there calmly, feeling Cain’s eyes on me the entire time. Now that the serpent was here, Cain looked at him instead. So was I. Not frightfully, but carefully. Well, not completely frightfully. I couldn’t ignore my little girls’ scream.

Anyway, the snake crawled seductively up my bed to the top bunk where I sat. I waited until it was near me to jump off. My rough plan was to have it spot me and run behind me to the door. I wasn’t going to fight a snake, just lead it back outside. The snake had it’s own plans. And so did Cain.

Cain still stood there, marveling at the beast. It marveled at him too, it seemed, as he inched closer to the man. I was instantly upset with this man being so juvenile. He knew that the snake was not safe, yet he simply refused to even put some safe distance between himself and the creature. He was determined to let the snake come upon him. So when I called for him (not much different than the call for my mother), he did not respond.

Not before the snake did.

And then, I woke up…