On Competition In The Arts

I have a friend who’s a glassblower, and I’ve always been amazed how solitary glassblowers are at times. Of course, to blow the coolest, craziest stuff, you need a team, but many glassblowers have cliques and secrets of the craft that they don’t necessarily want getting out for others to use.

The way I’ve come to understand it, as an outsider to the glassblowing culture is this: If a buyer buys a piece of glass from someone else, it eats into your business because that buyer now has less to spend on your work.

Needless to say this creates a cutthroat mentality that spawns envy and lies. There’s a lot of shit talking in the glassblowing community of Seattle–or so I’ve seen. People dislike each other for a lot of reasons, but most are trivial. But it does seem strange and contradictory to me for all these artists to be fighting each other rather than helping each other.

In the writing community (that I’m a part of) things couldn’t be more different. The success of a friend, if he/she publishes a book or gets an agent is also my success, because I’m part of the community. I support them, go to readings, I’ll read their material and give them honest feedback. I’ll read their book. How does this benefit me in my own writing? Well, when I publish, get an agent, or give a reading–hopefully that community will be there for me as well. However, I understand that not everyone has a community like this. Not all writers have the support. And some see the success of others as a detriment to their own success. Their own success becomes a tool which they can hold above others who are not so accomplished.

Today, a famous writer, one who has written a couple books and is very popular, tweeted out that they could be seen on CSpan that very instant. The authors I follow on Twitter are the ones I respect and admire, and I commonly try to strike up conversations with them–which I’m sometimes successful at. So, jokingly, I tweeted that, “I hear [CSpan] is real popular with the cool kids these days.” It was a joke, in my opinion directed at CSpan more than the writer. I hoped to exchange some banter about the viewership, maybe even have a laugh about the experience of watching yourself on TV. But instead, I got a defensive response. “Shrug. What channel are you on?” This struck me as an exceedingly arrogant response (and my blogging about it now, may be even more arrogant, but I’m not sure). Instead of a chance to speak and have a laugh with someone who has read the books this author has written, this author used the success they have achieved as an instrument to hold themselves up while pushing another writer, someone who admires them, down. I don’t dwell on such things often, but this instance reminded me so much of the glassblowing community in Seattle.

The problem with this defensive reactionary response is that it pits artists against each other, when they should be working together. I understand that my comment could have been seen as a slight, but I ask myself: what kind of famous, successful author uses fame as a tool to make other’s feel bad about their relatively early career? What good does this do for them, but reassure themselves that they are important? This is a lot of judgement to put on this tiny interaction, but it’s one that is prominent within the literary world, and anyone who has watched interviews of Jonathan Franzen* knows what I’m talking about.

(He is not the writer mentioned in this piece. He thinks Twitter is the most base form of writing and that nobody who uses Twitter can be a good writer: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/mar/07/jonathan-franzen-calls-twitter-irresponsible)

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Have We All Abandoned Them?

When you walk or bike or drive the streets of Seattle it’s impossible not to notice the people with signs. Many of them are common enough in any city. “Anything Helps,” is a popular one. So is, “Disabled Vet.” Some of them look like veterans, some of them are just kids that have found themselves on the street. Some of them might think it’s cool. Might feel like they aren’t part of the system. But the truth is, most homeless people in Seattle don’t want to be homeless. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle, no matter how you look at it. I mean, there are tents along major roads that are peoples’ permanent residents. The cops don’t bother them. They don’t move. There are tent cities under the overpasses. The other day I cycled by a minivan that was obviously someones home. It turns out, in 2015, the homeless population in Seattle rose by 20.8% (head count of 3,123 in 2014, head count of 3,772 in 2015), and this doesn’t even count the 6,000 people who are lucky enough to have a bed at the homeless shelters in the city. That’s a huge rise, especially for a single year. You might think some of the people are just lazy and don’t want to get a job–but that’s not true. Go down to one of these tent cities I’m talking about around 7am, and you’ll see many people climb from their tents in nice clothing, on their way to work. It’s not that they are lazy, that they don’t have ambition, but it is because they don’t have enough money. A single bedroom apt in Seattle goes for at least $1,000 per month. A room in a house will be at least half of that. Many people who are homeless just don’t make enough money for rent. They can buy food, but limited hours due to automation at low paying jobs such as grocery stores, and such, have made a homeless population boom in the city. While some of them are incapable of getting a job due to disabilities, mental illness, and addiction, our current system doesn’t have enough resources to get these people functioning again. Before you name a resource you know of, think about what that resource demands of someone. Then ask yourself: Can someone who is mentally ill or strung out navigate that system?. While there are some resources that the disabled and mentally ill can utilize, many of them are in no position to navigate the bureaucracy that comes along with it. A mentally ill person who can’t make appointments can’t become rehabilitated. Someone who can’t drive may not have the means to get to the places he or she may need to be.

What I’m trying to say is this: some people cannot help themselves, and so it should be up to our society to help those you can’t. I mean, what kind of world do we want to live in, really?

Homelessness is a self perpetuated cycle. If you have no home, you can’t get a job. If you have no job, you can’t get a home. If you’re not mentally stable it’s likely you can’t understand what help there is out there, and if your disabled you can’t always jump through all the hoops to get the help you need. All of these combined make a very difficult situation to deal with. Homelessness increases crime, crime increases incarceration, incarceration is a massively expensive endeavor, and many of these people are not necessarily bad people. They are just people who fell through the cracks of what we call society. Who are we, to let this happen to our own people? Have we all abandoned them?

Us Against The World

When I met my dad on the mainland he picked me up in his old Toyota and we’d drive south to meet Amy, the lady who was suppose to teach me how to read and write like the kids in my class. Unfortunately for me, however, the appointment was on Mondays so I missed Monday Night Football which really hurt because my older brother and I would watch Monday Night Football every week and even though I didn’t really care about the teams or know the players, it was still fun to hang out with him. Instead my dad and I listened to the game as we drove. 710 KIRO radio was okay, ┬ábut wasn’t the same as watching it with Ryan, my big brother.

One thing that was a real plus, though, was that my dad would take me to Burger King, which was one of the few times I’d got to eat fast food. We’d both order woppers from the drive-thru and sodas and it felt really good to have him driving and the radio on, listening to the game and sipping soda and eating junk my mom wouldn’t have wanted us to eat, because right then, it felt like we were sorta on a team–like the guys playing football, but for my dad and I, it was us against the world and the English language which I would surely figure out with this extra special help him and my mom were paying for. I remember using napkins meticulously to cover my lap so I wouldn’t spill anything in the car, which was the first time I can remember being particular about something–I hated spilling food. I still do.

Then we arrived at Amy’s office and in the winter it would be raining and dark and it didn’t make me want to read or write or think hard at all.

Amy was a nice lady, even if she tried to get me to do stuff I really didn’t like. Her office was behind a house and it smelled sorta new, maybe it had been painted recently or something. She had shoulder length blond hair–really straight, and a horsey face and wide smile with white teeth. We sat in a room covered with inspirational posters that seemed cheesy and vague to me. Now I only remember them as colors. She asked me to read different children’s books that weren’t interesting at all. Then we would do worksheets that built my vocabulary, but also, I suspect, attempted to instill the rules of “problem” letter combos in me so I could understand combinations like GH, TH, SH, CH, and more.

At this point I knew pretty well how to read the easy words like THE, because the shape of the word itself was pretty easy to remember, even if the rules that made the sound and meaning THE weren’t. It’s funny that my parents spent all this money for this specialist to help be, because in the end the thing that helped me the most was just down the road, and my dad and I just stumbled upon it.