Yes, I make fun, friends, but it’s true. From the day I wrote, ‘Charles Baxter meets Biggie Smalls’ on my biography, I knew I’d be having a hard go of it. Every writer/artist [and you know how loathe I am to use those designations on myself] will have issues finding the place they belong. As I continue to try building the brand of this thing, I appreciate how it might behoove me to try and connect with like-minded individuals [connection! bridges! narrative synergy! buzzwords! marketing is the devil!]. The more I explore this, the more discouraging it becomes. Example.
Canadian magazine Broken Pencil recently celebrated its 50th issue this month, no small feat for a Canadian publication. BP touts itself as the source for zine culture and independent art. Sounds good so far.
The lead feature in the issue, aside from the usual and deserved self-congratulatory retrospecticus is a list of BP’s 50 Favourite People/Places/Things from the last 15 years. Curious to what sort of continuum such a list would form, I flipped to the start of the feature, where I couldn’t not notice the trend that developed.
I did the tally. Of the 50 favourite things, seven are women [two of whom are half of a pair], eight are places or objects, two are not Caucasian [admittedly harder to judge based on black and white photos on newsprint]. The rest are white dudes, and a very specific sort of white dude at that: beards and cardigans, punk rock and folk. The photo of the editorial board in the front of the issue is subject to similar observations: three women, four dudes, white as snow.
I realize I’m opening myself to the trusted accusation of aspirational blackness, and that’s fine, because it would so spectacularly miss the point. The disappointment doesn’t stem from a lack of faces of colour in the list, I’m sure the counterargument runs that white men are more inclined to embrace the DiY aesthetic, the unloved and unwashed masses looking to express themselves in the pre-blog days [a pursuit I admit always held a certain amount of romantic appeal for me; as a younger lad I composed numerous pieces for an unfinished zine to be called Goofsmak. Probably better it never came out, even if the logo was sweet]. The disappointment comes from the fact that, though I can read through something like Broken Pencil, and appreciate their efforts and what they accomplish, there is absolutely no entry point for me in that particular version of “indie culture.” I might have a background in weekly newspaper editing and a decent eye for what makes good fiction, but I think I’d be subject to a wardrobe change before a crew like BP would let me in the photo.
And don’t think this is ultimately leading to a celebration of the more urban indie presences in the city and online. Despite my love for the culture, with few exceptions, I’m not really interested in exploring it in my fiction. There’s not much for a guy who writes short stories about small town living and the treachery of memory on the hip-hop side of the fence, either. And there’s the predicament I find myself headbutting against lately: too hip-hop for indie, a smidge too indie for hip-hop.
Some of the writers I respect the most don’t feel a part of any such community. Haruki Murakami stays as far away from writerly events as he can. He’d rather talk about his accomplishments as a distance runner than a writer. I sat in the audience of a Douglas Coupland reading where he said even ten books in he didn’t feel like a writer; he felt more at home in the visual arts community. Even with great success, some artists still find it hard to carve a place.
I know the answer would be easy for most: just do what you do, and do it well, and the people will come to you; forget about trying to fit into some sort of classification, especially if it means compromising whatever makes your work yours.
But goddamn, it can get lonely out here sometimes.