If ever I have kids, I question if I’ll allow them to be artists. My own family has been cautiously supportive of my dreams. Of course they want happiness for their child, fulfillment of passions and all that. They also want to know that when they die their kid isn’t going to starve to death when he has no one to call up and bum rent money off of.
For just over four years now, I’ve written a poem a day, or what I would call a poem and most people would laugh at. These days, problematically, I’ve forgotten why. I used to imagine what it would be like to be famous, to be a star, to have my words ring out and mean something. I got booed at my first poetry slam when I asked if my ponytail made me look gay. A simple, and idiotic, mistake. I have never received a penny for a word I’ve written. I understand the lie of the starving artist, who suffers because of his passion, I get it. But empty words don’t fill plates, ya feel? What is the use of poetry? I think now it is for cowards. It is for fools who are afraid of life but who want to pretend they have experience. It is for the egotist and the braggart.
I go on writing.
This year past, I got cast (Stretch Armstronged to the very limits of the words definition) in my first major movie. I had to jump through a half dozen auditions, ranging from pretending to huddle around a fire and then run away at the sight of a mutilated lieutenant, to sailing down a river watching for Arikara warriors and speaking in broken French, to channeling my spirit animal and dancing a vision quest for a feverish settler. And for all the gas and all the lobby waiting and printing all the headshots and all the pay parking and all the wasted time, I was then given a background role with a half dozen men who had heard about it on the radio and gotten picked out of a cattle call.
Not to sound ungrateful, I was ecstatic, but it’s disheartening when you’re working with a group of men no closer than ten years to your age, who all scoff at the idea of being an actor while their makeup is being applied, then when payday comes finding only your pay has had a cut taken out due to your agent needing a taste of all that sweet background money.
The shoot itself ranged from sublime to a nightmare. I had to drive out every morning at 5 AM to be made-up and dressed, then once we were all ready we’d be driven down to the set, a dried up creek bed (with real strung up road kill for authenticity, we even cooked a part of it one day although I declined to try any) and made to wait while the star was brought down and made comfortable. Once he and the director had properly discussed his motivation in looking over at strangers sitting around a camp, we then waited for the light to be ready. The movie was being shot with all natural lighting, nothing artificial, meaning much of the day was waiting for the sun to hit the same spot it had the day before and then madly scrambling to get the shot in the ever dying light.
Being the tail end of winter, most days the temperature refused to rise anywhere near above freezing. Despite being dressed as a rugged outdoors-man, I was not one.
Instead, between waiting for the cameras to roll, I would huddle near the artificial fire and imagine what the star across the river bed was thinking. Sometimes he would pause and look over in my direction. I would pretend that he wished he could come over and hang out with me, that I looked like someone he would want to be friends with but he was simply too intimidated by my good looks, or too shy to approach strangers and so he stayed safe on his side. I was probably suffering mild hypothermic delusions.
I bonded with one of the actors with lines (lucky bastard) by whiling the time away improvising our soon to be classic Dadaist revolution (something so bold couldn’t simply be called a play) entitled “The deafening of Kirsten Dunst’s vagina” In it, our heroine (chosen as she was shooting in Calgary at the time and had struck up conversation with the actor a few days prior at the hotel they were both staying at) awakes to find that her crotch has gone deaf and she must now make her way in a cold, uncaring world of hearing genitals, forever alone in her disability. I imagined it opening to rave reviews across the world, sparking a revolution in satirical performance and ushering in the new era of Canadian theatre.
It was a weird few days.
Mostly we ate, then sat around and waited for the cameras to roll. Even when they were shooting, we mostly just sat in the background and ate. And then it was done. We all shook hands with the director, wished him good luck at the Oscar’s that weekend (he never thanked me for that extra boost my wish gave him) and we went home.
On the drive home, Jennica called me and told me Michael Green had been killed in a car accident.
I didn’t know him, I wasn’t his friend. The only times we’d met, he had forgotten my name every time and proceeded to hit on Jennica in the way only mid-life crisising white men can, aggressively awkward. Despite any shortcomings, no one deserves premature death and my heart sank. Exhausted from the days work and shocked at the absurdity of the news (we had seen him only two days earlier passing us in the hall as we interviewed for a job just down from his office, he smiled and asked “Are you running this place yet?”) I pulled over to the side of the highway and wept.
What the fuck is the point of being an artist? To scream and claw and demand an inch of respect, to fight for every second of happiness, to rend from strangers even just a moment of understanding. And then regardless of talent or worth or deserving, to be crushed out in a heartbeat, to disappear in the blink of a tire. What was it all for? I couldn’t answer my questions. I dried my eyes, drove home, went to sleep, got up, and found out I had been hired for the job I’d been interviewing for.
I haven’t been able to answer those questions yet.