I am supposed to be creative. Like, creative, and that’s it. Right? I can’t be a literary fiction writer and also a corporate employee. That would make me…THE MAN. THE MAN with no soul, THE MAN with no conscience, and most disturbingly: THE MAN with no right brain.
I would, theoretically, be my own threat, and threaten all that my friends and I hold dear: freedom, autonomy, originality, inspiration, imagination.
God, I wish life were that simple. Creative people have to earn a living too, lest we all perish in a pile of huaraches and hemp dread beanies. Those of us with kids—well, mac-n-cheese gets old after a while, and preschoolers kick through shoes at an astonishing rate. And isn’t it a little comforting to know that a few of us have infiltrated the gray walls of corporate America? That there’s a little whimsy pulsating where you’d least expect it?
It’s not all bad, not at all. I am admitting right here that I like not having to give away all my creativity at work. I enjoy working with numbers, analyzing data, meeting deadlines, checking tasks off my list. Then, when it’s time to be creative—when I do have the time and inclination to write at home—I feel much like a dude who gets a lap dance and then comes home to his pretty wife: I am loaded with ideas and about to burst, and I feel passionate about something I’d taken for granted hours before.
And I totally dig earning a steady paycheck, which relieves the financial stress that bogs down my creativity like nothing else can. Moreover, I love reading books that tell me how to do what I do better, and tell me how to make more money. I’m a sucker for business books that walk the self-help line, even as I recognize their inherent (and unavoidable?) kitsch factor.
It’s not quite an addiction (yet) but on any given workday, there I will be, hammering away at a keyboard while one of, say, twenty-five of these audiobooks speaks to me on my iPad. Often it’s background noise, but I’m getting something subconsciously. Enough listens, and eventually I’ll find out what color my parachute is, and who moved my cheese.
I think the draw is what they offer: the exciting possibility of learning useful new tools for navigating the harsh terrain of an organization, the chance to reinvent a professional persona, a new way to stay motivated. It’s a big thrill for a small investment. So then I get more efficient at my job. And when I’m more efficient at my job, the more my brain feels like writing later.
And here’s good news: there’s this book I listen to over and over again—“A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel Pink—and the author’s premise is that more and more companies recognize that creativity is key to their survival in the near future. MFAs will replace MBAs, and corporations be more balanced. There is room for us on this new frontier, sister and fellow creative-types. No soul-selling required.
If the current trend in business books is any indication, creative minds are taking over. The most recent successes are told as fables, parables—fiction. Want to hear about the five dysfunctions of a team? Interested in seven cures for a lean purse? Curl up and listen to a story. Fiction softens the message, makes it more palatable. Makes hard lessons and criticism less threatening to hear.
And, coincidentally, these are the only business books I can’t listen to while I’m working at my desk. I get distracted; I stop what I’m doing; the flow of the day is interrupted. Fiction exposes me, makes my heart beat faster, makes me freeze, doe-eyed and stiff-limbed. I bend my ear to hear the next line, poised to dart away, feeling painfully conspicuous in my strange surroundings.
Frank Scozzari knows how to flip me the fuck out. Like, a real flip-out with heaving cries and bags of Cool Ranch Doritos and lots of beer. All he has to do is mention clumsy baby elephants mourning their disappearing poached mothers, and I am putty. “The Triumph” is a game of threat dominos—humans killing humans who try to keep humans from killing elephants. I swear to God: if I ever see ivory anything, I will come unglued.
Like “A Christmas Story,” Cezarija Abartis reminds us that icicles are weapons. They are looming threats that pounce and shatter, Kamakazi-like, leaving carcasses that can be blotted with a towel after a few minutes. They have patience; they are transparent but not predictable. “Dread” is a story that must be read again and again and again, until the points dig into you and melt. Then you’ll think Abartis is as brilliant as I do, and maybe—just maybe—you’ll believe in alchemy.
I am grateful to live most of my life in a world drizzled with short stories and novels. I am grateful for this, because when a poem like “Dimensions” comes along, I would lose my own nerve if I were a poet. I would tell Peycho Kanev that he has won; I will go home; no quarter. Our poetry editor, Michael Meyerhofer, is brilliant at finding these gems—poems that are deceptively simple, capable of landing a surprise fist in the gut when no one was braced for it. Here in Kanev’s lines is the kind of threat that teeters on peace—silence, desertion, a past with no future. The din of metal on metal.
Fight. Flight. Freeze. There’s something in this week’s playlist to be the theme of any threat response you choose….
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