On Being The Asshole by Reb Livingston
Recently a thoughtful soul found it necessary to point out my “unknown writer” status. This statement was supposed to establish my futility, irresponsibility, selfishness, put me in my place and discourage my efforts. This soul, who I don’t believe I owe money, was preoccupied with where my money was going. How much money was I spending to support my poetry habit? Didn’t I realize my existence was offensive to all working people?
Sadly this is a conversation many writers and artists have to endure at some point. Never heard of you. How much are you making? Then why bother?
Ten years ago my friend Alisa met a guy named Brian. He seemed like a nice guy although poor and in debt, but she was crazy about him and lo and behold I found myself lost on a rainy day in Cleveland trying to find a synagogue before the start of their ceremony. I asked Alisa, who was working various jobs to support them both, when was he going to start looking for work too? I mean, they were married now, time to, what do they say, step up to the plate, grow up, be a man. She was annoyed with my question, reminded me that he was an artist and that kept him very busy. I knew that, she sent me several of his comic books that I considered goofy. She explained that he was going to do continue doing what he had been doing and she was going to help any way she could. Shook my head, comic books! My god, who reads comic books?
Apparently lots of people read comic books and it turns out Brian’s skills could also be applied to television and movies. Oh, and apparently he’s really good at what he does and was only a few short years from becoming “one of the highest-selling comic book writers in the industry.”
Well, wasn’t I the asshole? Yes, an incredibly immense asshole, but not because they’re crazy millionaires and he’s been mentioned on The O.C. on two different occasions. I don’t know if they laugh when they drive to the bank, but I hope so. And my ignorance of comic books is not what qualified my assholitude. I was asshole for
1. Believing it was my place to question his work when it made absolutely no difference to me what he did with life.
2. Assume that since I had no interest in comic books, there was no interest and since I couldn’t see the value, assume there was none.
I made my comment while I was working a corporate job, writing poetry and considering myself a poet. It was my plan to one day quit that job and write full-time, so extra asshole points for me for not appreciating the very obvious parallel. And if nobody ever heard of Brian Michael Bendis and if he never made a dime from his comics, I’d still be the asshole, because it has nothing to do with the money, fame and readership. He draws and writes and colors and whatever else artists like him do because it’s important to him and how obnoxious of anyone to ever say that’s a waste of time. That is the best use of time and if it’s something you want to do and are able in some way make it happen and continue living and meeting your financial and family responsibilities – how can you afford not to do it?
Nay to the shame-flingers, the ones who don’t know you or your work, the ones who don’t live your life, the ones who want you to be miserable and dissatisfied (probably just like them). Pay them no mind – they’re assholes.
Unless of course, if said shame-flinger is your mom and you’re living in her basement and you’re six months behind on rent and ate the last of the ice cream. There’s no excuse for draining her retirement and leaving her with nothing to snack. If that’s the case, get a job and get over yourself, nobody wants your crummy macaroni and hemp necklaces, you dirty beatnik.
Reb Livingston is a poet and editor of No Tell Motel and No Tell Books. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2006, MiPOesias, Coconut and other places. She is also writes the Crucial Rooster poetry column for this blog.