May 31, 2011

Is This a Quarter-Life Crisis?

Christi Nielsen

In seventh grade my dog died. Now this is a common occurrence for any pet owner, but what made it different was that I knew it was going to happen.

I was with my parents at their friends’ house. I kept begging them to leave because something had happened to Buffy. They thought I was being silly, over-dramatic, and irrational.

And perhaps I was being those things, but those things should not have been discarded.

We went home and sure enough the dog was nowhere to be found. The next day I was informed that Buffy had been run over–­­she was found lying in a ditch a half a mile away.

I didn’t take the news very well. Mostly I felt guilt, guilt that I didn’t try hard enough to stop it even though I could feel it was going to happen.

That was the day I started writing. Getting the words on paper helped connect my emotions and my thoughts. It was therapy.

I began writing all the time.

Fast forward a few years, I joined my high school newspaper staff. Our teacher was pretty lenient; she gave us quite a bit of creative control, which felt really amazing.

One day during my sophomore year, I’m sitting outside the counselor’s office. A guy, who we labeled at that time as a “druggie”, was sitting next to me; him waiting because of his bad behavior, me waiting because of my bad thoughts. We had nothing in common. Or so I thought. Then out of nowhere, he spoke to me. He mentioned he read an article I wrote, thanked me for the honesty in my words, and confided that he had felt the same way.

I realized at that moment that writing was not just therapy, not simply entertainment, but more importantly, most importantly, writing connected.

Two people who in theory had nothing in common actually shared the same human experiences, emotions, thoughts.

Suddenly I was aware that I was doing something powerful, something important, and I shouldn’t stop.

Now I’m 26. I have an MA in Writing and Publishing. And to be honest, though there is immense value for the reader in a writer’s words, there is little besides the satisfaction of a job well done for the writer. Words give little value to the writer; we do all this work for almost no compensation, especially today when everything has gone online and everyone has become a “writer.”

I am not on this earth to be a martyr, a savior, a saint. I think it’s time we all start to re-evaluate what we find of worth. This includes not just writers, rather all people in the arts, all people out there trying to transform this world into a less oppressed, better understood, and more connected place.

We need to let go of the stereotype of the “starving” artist and start giving artists some substance, some bread.

I know it was my choice to go down the “creative” path, but I could never imagine going any other way. I am not the only one who has felt compelled toward creativity with the hope that no one was really serious about it not paying the bills.

I could never have imagined it, until now. Now of course, I am questioning everything that I have done. A good friend once told me that we have to forgive our former selves for doing what we thought was right or necessary at that particular time. But can I forgive myself for choosing a path that basically keeps me in poverty?

And what kind of society is it that diminishes the worth of those trying to help connect? Not just people to people, but each individual to the self — the connection of intelligence, spirituality and physicality? What kind of society is it that allows people to pay to get liberal arts degrees knowing full well that a huge percentage will never be able to pay back that loan debt?

I just want to change the stereotype, to whatever degree it exists–artists don’t need to “suffer” to make better work. In fact, if they had access to more resources, money and time, then they’d probably make even more amazing work then they already do.

Of course, any time I think about my writing life, I think of my dog Buffy. I think about my intuition and how it was not recognized. I think maybe if it had been, maybe if we had gone home and I had saved my dog from being run over, maybe I would never have picked up a notebook. I would never have fallen in love with writing. And maybe instead of being where I am right now, I’d been a rich 26-year-old with no soul. I wonder what that would be like– to be just another dot on the puzzle of life, waiting, hoping to be connected, to find connection. Instead of being the connector.

I wonder.

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