A warning: contains a memory of a grotesque road accident that may upset some people.
It’s an often confusing place, my head. So many competing impulses and ideas, so much that seems at first glance to be absolute truth but later loses its power, usually on further reflection. It’s funny how the mind can produce an isolated thought, which immediately pulls to itself the myriad arguments for and against its truth. Thoughts have powerful echoes – not into the future, but into the past, or maybe this is a facet of my illness. Nothing is ever simply itself, but is instead a thing of multiple layers like an onion. I might think that red hat the woman is wearing interests me. This will be followed by my mind producing all the memories of past red hats I’ve ever seen or had contact with. If this were as far as it went, that would be plenty, but no – my illness instead drags up all the negative associations of a red hat. Then I’m remembering the time a boy with a red bobble hat threw things at me as I walked home from school, or a teacher with a red hat said I was unintelligent because I couldn’t do maths (I still can’t; that’s why Paul handles the household finances) or –
When I was four years old, I saw a boy run down by a transport truck right outside the window of our house in Sudbury, Ontario, on LaSalle Boulevard during suppertime rush hour. He and some others were daring each other to run across the street, dodging traffic. The others made it but he wasn’t so lucky. I didn’t see the initial collision. I did see his body flattened on the road and the spreading pool of red around his head, which had unfolded like a two-dimensional relief map.
The color of blood on asphalt is very particular. Darker than crimson, brighter than mahogany, it’s the bright ruby-red of newly-poured wine. It’s a shocking color, a shade that stays in your mind forever. So these are the associations of red.
Earlier today I wrote a note to someone who owed me money, politely asking when I might expect to receive same. I received an unnecessarily terse reply that at first irritated and then depressed me. Again, echoes from the past crowded in on me, all those times I’d done work for people and wasn’t paid. (You’d be amazed what people get away with when they know you’re too poor to sue them.)
This event brought up the issues I’ve had all my creative career around money. For as long as I have been a working writer, money has always been a huge issue. So immediately my mind went you suck at making a living, she is never going to pay you, forget it, you’re going to end up under a bridge lying on cardboard. Because, unless you are famous to begin with or very, very lucky, it may be years – no, decades – before your art brings in as much as a single cent. You may struggle in obscurity – you probably will – for a long time before you ever see anything from it. You may never see anything from it.
We don’t write/dance/act/paint because we’re going to get rich doing it. We do it because we have to. Writing burns inside me; potential stories obsess me to the point that I breathe and sleep them, eat and drink them, walking with them everywhere I go.
But one has to eat, so many of us or should I say most of us have to do other kinds of work, to keep body and soul together, to put bread on the table, to buy paper or paints or brushes, pencils and pens, printer toner, whatever you need. And you can’t go about naked (well you can, but in this climate I don’t recommend it) so there’s clothes to buy. I can tell you from experience that putting cardboard in your shoes is a temporary resolution at best. All of this needs money. So not getting paid for work you’ve completed in good faith is a big problem.
I’ve had lots of different jobs. The earliest I can remember was babysitting – first my youngest sister, then a live-in au pair job with an absolutely vile woman and her screaming demon child. At the time, it was acceptable to pay live-in domestics two dollars and seventy-five cents per hour, so that’s what I got. Believe me, I earned it.
I’ve worked as a secretary/receptionist, a shop assistant, a housekeeper, a parliamentary editor. In the 1980s I worked for an art dealer, advising customers on which paintings to buy and framing said canvases. Oh, the canvases I framed. Canvases were sold unframed and customers were encouraged to choose the frame they wanted; with the staggering artistic insight of the petit bourgeous, usually wanted something to match the sitting room furniture. So the procedure went something like, assemble the stretcher bars, choose the right size stretchers for the canvas, stretch the canvas over the bars while maintaining the correct tension. Too much tension and you’d rip the canvas. Too little and the canvas would ‘belly out’ in the front like a fat man’s beer gut.
There was a particular type of pliers I had to use, to grasp the edges of the canvas and pull it over the stretchers. They don’t tell you how these things tear the living shit out of your hands. So I learned how to sell paintings and I learned how to stretch canvases, two skills I will probably never need ever again.
When we were really busy, I sometimes spent sixteen hours straight framing paintings. By the end of the day, my hand was swollen, blistered and bruised. Good times.
But there were a lot of good things today as well. Paul and I spent a couple hours doing yard work – raking leaves, blowing leaves, putting leaves in those big brown paper bags. It was good to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine. The garden is so beautiful this time of year, the trees shedding their coat of red and yellow like drifting flames. I’m so lucky to live in this beautiful place.