More Confidential, less Report... (okay it is really long, this entry)

Sort of... I want to write something about fear. As it's the emotion/state of being that dominates my life in a quieter way than it does some people. I don't mean the Capital "F" Fear mongering by the mainstream media, government etc, as it only affects me peripherally vis a vie my abhoration (to coin an odd but cool sounding word) of those institutions.
My fears are pretty simple. Mostly it comes down to a fear of failure and that old bugaboo that haunts a great many people: that people will find out you aren't worthy of whatever attention they have been paying to you, or the attention you want from them. It's a hard thing to define as I guess everyone has some degree of feeling like a faker in life no matter how confident you project yourself.

I have been writing/creating art pretty much my whole life. I have a certain inborn facility for it. What I don't have is discipline. I have quite a bit of education, but I've never ever tried very hard at any of that. In school I did what would probably be considered, the bare minimum amount of work to get the halfway decent grades I usually got. the areas where I failed were areas where my own prodigious reading, and seemingly inborn knowledge didn't give me the answers I needed. This would be your sciences/math. Show your work? Pfft. The answers that came to me often eluded the showing of work, and sometimes those were even the right answers.

Studying has never been my strong suit despite the fact that I read (for pleasure) almost constantly. I'm a sponge. It's how I have always learned, really. I listen to what's being said, often while doodling instead of note taking. My notes were never anything you could study from... doodles, and interesting turns of phrase that the teacher or professor used (often famous quotes) to explain whatever they were explaining. I would always do the readings but just as readings, one time usually, unless I didn't get it.

A good example of this is my film classes in University. I would watch whatever film we had to watch, doodling in the margins of my notebook, occasionally jotting a witty line, or an observation about the actor/plot. Looking back on those notes when it came time to write the essay, I would look at my notes and say to myself, ok that's no help.

(NB: Back in my day we got to see whatever movie once usually... most titles I saw in Uni were often not readily available on tape (No DVDs/No Internet) or for any further viewings.)
Very casually I'd hit the library at U of M for magazine articles, books on whatever film, and genre, taking quotes, ideas to shape my essay, again very little note taking, actually. Then the night before whatever essay was due, I'd start actually writing. If I didn't "get it" in one draft, I'd crawl to whatever Prof and ask for an extension. Usually my essays were a week or longer overdue. I may have had some "A's" in there, but was always marked down for lateness, or my hurried single draft incoherence. My ideas however were always given praise. This was all I really required to feel good about what I'd done.

An interesting difference in how I write though appears when I seriously started to write poetry, which developed out of my high school-ish writing of crappy rock lyrics that I indulged in during my first few semesters at University. This happened when I discovered the Beats (through friends at school, not through classes I took), and modern poetry (mostly of the Canadian variety) and realized that my crappy song lyrics were not the way to go specifically since I hate trying to rhyme things.

My poetry is a far different beast than my more scholarly ummm, "efforts". I write and re-write most every poem many times, often dozens if not upwards of a hundred drafts it takes me to do each and every poem, with a few exceptions here and there, that spill out pretty well the first time.) It's far more like sculpting than any other kind of writing that I've tried. I have pieces that I've been "tweaking" for almost 20 years. I'm also someone who if I had more stuff published would still be tweaking things that had been published if I felt it needed to change somehow. This technique worked for Walt Whitman.

Anyway, where the fear comes in for poetry and me is not getting up and reading it somewhere (I do get nervous sometimes, especially if it's been awhile since I've read in public.) or showing my work to someone, or getting edited/graded on the work. I can roll with that, and feel that I've improved a lot of work that I've gotten feedback on, through that feedback. For example when I did more freelance back in the late 90's early 00's for local weekly/monthly art rags around town, I learned a lot from the various editors I worked with, and lost any sense of ego I had about my article writing at least.

I am sometimes a bit hesitant about the edginess of some of my poems, but then I'll read someone else's work that makes my "edgy stuff" look like nursery rhymes.
The fear for me is completely that fear of not being good enough, or at best not doing what whoever it is my audience (editors, publishers) might be is not what they're looking for. There are definite "schools" of poetry in this country, and elsewhere. It makes sense to look at what sorts of things are being published in the magazines or at the publishers you are sending your manuscripts to, doesn't it? I feel I never see the kind of thing I'm doing anywhere I look. But that, I'm beginning to think is just one of those rationalizations for fear of rejection - "Oh they aren't looking for my brand of free verse weirdness anyway, so why waste time sending of a submission." - this reeks of fear based rationalization. But I hear myself say it all the time if not in so many words.

No one wants to be rejected, and if you play the publishing game in the 20th century model at least, that's what you are doing. It's all about winning the lotto really. We've been brainwashed by our culture into thinking that everyone has a best seller, or a hit movie script etc, waiting to emerge fully formed like Athena from Zeus' forehead. We're all creative geniuses, if only we could get Random House or Warner Bros to notice.

This is one of the main reasons I've decided to start again do some self-publishing. I'm pretty sure that even if that Ms. I have at Anvil gets accepted, or if I were to spend hundreds of dollars entering "contests" or paying reading fees to poetry journals (and actually getting in print) I'm not going to be earning a living. But I could be spending those entry fees publishing my own books.

One of the best experiences of my life was self-publishing my first chapbook - "Like Bukowski In Drag". With some formatting help from my friend Tom Snyders, I put together what I think still is a great little chapbook. I sold out two small runs of it basically, selling more than I gave away. This qualifies as a successful publishing venture in my opinion, despite the fact that none of the places I sent review copies ever printed any reviews, it's not an unknown quantity at least in the Vancouver scene.

Before my fragile credit card bought world collapsed and forced me to flee to Japan in 2002, my plan had been to have another poetry book published by a new local press, and keep putting out my own chapbooks as well. I've got a lot of unpublished material from my 20+ years of scribbling free verse odes to unrequited love, weird sexual encounters and the general nuttiness I see everyday in the world. The book deal collapsed with said small press while I was in Japan. Outwardly, I shrugged it off, but in hindsight this actually kind of crushed me.

My writing output really slowed the longer I stayed in Japan. I got a digital camera and developed a love of taking photos. All my creative energies soon ended up there, taking photos, editing them in Photoshop etc became my main creative output, with some trickles of poetry still happening occasionally. But the confidence in my writing was not where it had been after "Bukowski” came out.

When I left Japan, flush with cash and feeling less burdened by the debts I was still paying off, and completely confident that I could land an ESL teaching gig that was as cushy and financially rewarding as my post in Tokyo had been. I was wrong. In three months of job searching I discovered that in Canada the ESL racket is just that: a racket. Real life experience teaching in a foreign country had no sway over potential employers, unless you also had a TESL/TOEFL teaching certification, which everyone and their dog had. Often, I was offered the chance to take the course those same ESL schools offered. Paying to work somewhere was how I saw it.
Trying to get non-ESL work was equally frustrating. Eventually I had to go back to part time video store work just to make ends meet. Fear took over my life again, as I retreated into overeating, drinking and chronic pot smoking. I had to move in with friends and finish paying off my debts while earning less than half what I did in Tokyo.

I applied for over a hundred jobs in 2005. Got 3 interviews. No gigs.

With so little going my way in those days, I now almost feel like it was a darker time for me than my just pre- Japan life where I was in debt to my eyeballs, and fearing those collection agency calls etc. I lived a completely unhealthy lifestyle completely out of my feelings of self-loathing. Then I had the high blood pressure "event" which changed my life...
(I'll continue this story with my next entry.....)


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