Why I Am Such an Excellent Writer, Composing, 15/07/2014

Having done some promotional duties for one of my fellow artists yesterday, I thought it best to promote my own upcoming projects as well. As my difficult hunt continues for such an apparently simple thing as a day job with a reliable income stream, I at least have a writing career that, while it doesn’t yet produce a lot of cash, at least reminds me that I have something valuable to contribute. 

One of my personal favourite under-
employed philosophical writers, the
title of this post is a play on his
ironically egotistical chapter headings
from Ecce Homo.
Not everyone who is underemployed has this kind of fallback for their sense of self-worth. For almost two years, I’ve had the qualifications and the references for a good start to the career that I chose, and that I was continually told that I could make a great life from. Those qualifications were the result of seven years of hard work: one year and change for my MA, eight months of preliminary research, and four years of my doctorate. Realistically, I’ve spent the last two years trying to get that career started and coming up empty in terms of steady employment. Like a lot of academics in my generation, despite my best efforts and the assurances of people who have actually worked with me that what I do is valuable to the discipline, the university sector simply does not want me.

Now, like a lot of former academics, I face the difficult task of convincing employers in the private sector that my years of experience as a writer, researcher, and teacher (and in my case, as a contractual editor, a customer service phone jockey, and having helped run one of Canada’s largest university newspapers for two years) is relevant to their faster-paced working environment. Also, that I am sincerely devoted to my career change, and will not rush back to academia the minute a poverty-waged four-month teaching post opens up. There is the additional problem that I will not know precisely what my new career is until I land my first job. I'm qualified to work as an editor (which I'm doing freelance now, but is not a reliably sustainable income) and as a researcher (which is the bulk of my current applications). 

Even so, the most creative part of my career(s) is beginning to take off. For one thing, my novella, Under the Trees, Eaten, is slated for release later this month. I’m beginning from an independent publisher, but BlankSpace take their work seriously, and they take their ambitions seriously as well. They’ll be pleased to know that, as I’ve discussed Under the Trees, Eaten with members of Toronto’s literary community, they’ve heard of the label, and it’s all good things. If the work I publish with them ultimately opens a pathway to future success with larger labels, I’ll always have BlankSpace to thank.

In fiction, my favourite inspirations are
writers whose ideas I can take in
directions they never would have gone
themselves. Lovecraft writing a female
protagonist and a comprehensible
alien? Never.
Going through the proofs this weekend was the first time that I’ve revisited my own manuscript in a while, and it felt like I was reading it with fresh eyes. I wove enough thematic complexity into the work to please anyone who generally enjoys anything science-fiction. The heritage of H. P. Lovecraft is clear in the basic premise and the nature of the central extraterrestrials in the story. 

At the same time, Under the Trees, Eaten grows beyond its primary inspiration in many ways. For one, I cannot sensibly equate the radically Other with the utterly unknowable as Lovecraft does.* The mysterious creatures of my novella are indeed terrifyingly different than humans, more terrifying and casually violent in ways we would find abhorrent. But they move with a calm rationality, and their reason, though radically different than that of humanity, is still a reason and can still be understood. This is a fundamental aspect of my research in environmental philosophy: that humanity must lose its hubris that its own reason is the only reason that can exist. Lovecraft, in his xenophobia, was all too guilty of this small-mindedness.

* And as many of my least favourite traditions of European philosophy over the last hundred or so years have done as well, but that’s another story.

My theatre work continues as well. You Were My Friend, which will play at the Pearl Company Theatre in Hamilton this November, features many of the same feminist approaches as Under the Trees, Eaten. One of Lovecraft’s greatest weaknesses as a writer, after all, was his inability to craft a woman. My novella’s very spine and backbone is its protagonist, Marilyn. Her story searching for the truth about the death of her mother and the mental breakdown of her father is the central driving force of the story.

You Were My Friend is similarly rooted in the complexity of women’s lives and families. It has a cast of two, both women. The story begins when one of them, Vicki, is cast out of her mother’s home before she even has the chance to finish high school to fend for herself, all because of her relationship with a man in his mid-20s (who disappears from her life at this very moment of crisis). It is the story of a young woman who is thrown, quite literally, to the wolves because her actions don’t conform to a puritanical sexual morality. 

No matter how many job applications I may send out, their fate is ultimately out of my control. This was true when I was looking for university work, and it’s true now that I’m transitioning into research and editing work in the wider private sector. But if there is one place where I’m not adrift, it’s the words that come from my fingers on these keyboards. 

That’s why, no matter how difficult or demoralizing my work in this economy might become, I keep working, in my spare time, on this blog, the philosophical publishing projects that it often tracks, this novella (and the other ideas for fiction works), and this play (and other theatrical ideas as well). It is the one area of my productive life where I can maintain some measure of control. I wish more people adrift in our economy could have a similar anchor.

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