Working All The Time – Even In My Sleep

Lately I’ve been trying to relax by walking and by listening to the radio and by reading ‘lighter’ materials, and yet, the walks turn into meditations or talks, the radio seems to fill me with thoughts about creativity, and the supposedly ‘lighter’ reading materials seem just as relevant to my work as do philosophical tomes. Even when I do yoga I seem to find it hard to switch my mind off of a certain intense self-reflexivity and internal dialogue. And, unfortunately, I’ve been finding that my sleep is also occupied with some kind of activity or anxiety that makes me wake-up with a tensed stomach, sometimes causing nausea for some or all of the morning. Andre Breton, in his manifesto of 1924 included the following anecdote: “A story is told according to which Saint-Pol-Roux, in times gone by, used to have a notice posted on the door of his manor house in Camaret, every evening before he went to sleep, which read: ‘THE POET IS WORKING’ “. However, I don’t think they had in mind here the cramped stomach that has been afflicting my mornings of late.

Working all the time. Yes, that’s true. Sometimes its painful, stressful. At others its joyful, when things are going well, which, in turn means that I know what it is I am doing, have to do, what I am doing feels like my best and, most of all, I can see how it is going to be resolved, published, set before an audience or ‘the public’. That’s when things are going well. But yes, it’s true I think that for decades now I’ve found it near-impossible to separate work from play, personal from professional life. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but it probably starts out in not having a professional background, context, and upbringing. I didn’t have ‘professional’ parents, though my mum and dad were both very hard-working and conscientious, I now realise, as parents / breadwinners.

As I’ve often tried to relay, here and in other writings, the first decades of my adult life were marked by a very unprofessional naivety and confusion. ‘Naivety’ because I just had no idea or information about the professional fields in which I tried to find success, how they might unfold, what they required or demanded; and ‘confusion’ because I kept flipping and flopping between different career paths at the same time as approaching them all with the aforementioned naivety. It was somewhere towards the end of this, in my late 30s, that I stated to feel -perhaps as a way of getting beyond that confusion – that absolutely everything in my life was art and/or connected to art and/ or was research for art. I know I’m far from unique in feeling this, and yet sometimes I think or fear that there is something not quite right about the way I conflate it all. Also, as anyone in middle-age or older might recognise, life has a knack of creeping up on you and filling your time and your mind with anxieties, concerns and issues that mean it is harder and harder to locate any freedom to indulge yourself in pleasures, relaxations and recreations that you might have done without thinking when you were younger.

The best kind of work is of course, not only satisfying and rewarding in a creative way but also financially rewarding, or in some other way gives you something tangible back in the way of recognition, status, reputation, promotion etc. Unfortunately, after all these years, decades of working writing, publishing etc. I still find myself working for weeks and months on inspired pieces that, for reasons beyond my control, do not find a home, do not get published, and are not financially rewarded or in any way acknowledged. This is a great frustration for me, and one of the worst things about it is that so many pieces like this, into which I have invested great amounts of time, lots of creative thinking and some valuable ideas, then get lost in my sprawling and amateurish ‘filing system’. Now, even if something changes in the future, and I do find an outlet for a piece, often I will have trouble trying to retrieve the last version I was working on.

I sometimes fantasise about being spun back in time to an age when a lecturer with my experience and qualifications and record of publications might by now have an office provided by the university – but even my managers and managers’ managers don’t have those any more. I also dream about the image of an author who employs both a secretary and an agent, one to organise and the other to ‘place’ their work in the market, and thus – in return for an investment in these helping hands – is able to make a real living and achieve recognition for all that they are capable of doing.

But of course I resign myself to doing the best I can with the situation I have and with my own shortcomings, tight budget, and various lacks. Ultimately, I feel I work all the time not just because I ‘successfully’ blurred the ‘gap between art and life’ in my late 30s but also, in part, because, having made a breakthrough at age 40 into professional work that could sustain a basic living – i.e. pay the rent on a city apartment – I felt, from that moment, that I had to make-up for those lost decades when I couldn’t earn anything at all, had no professional context, fell in and out of low-paid labouring jobs, bounced on and off the dole, and kept trying to work out what kind of artist I thought I was.

I suspect that I have indeed ‘made-up’ now for as much of those semi-wasted years as I can, but still I don’t seem to know where and when and what is ‘not working’. Finally, don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud of this, it’s something I would love to go beyond into a new, perhaps more enjoyable and healthier way of ‘working’ and ‘living’.


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