Balancing the Books
I knew that I did not have the strength and stamina to make a living as a writer. I knew too that I could not put my beloved and my family through the strain of maybe, or maybe not, making it as a creative writer. And I wanted to be an artistic writer, a poet above all, not just a commercial writer, writing adverts for a living, or pandering to the lusts of a baying multitude.
So: the most difficult thing for me would be look after my family and balance the books. Rather than writing full time, I chose a career in academia. My career as an academic led to 90 research articles in my various fields, 70 book reviews, the publication, in book form, of part of my doctoral thesis, and an online bibliography, now turned into a searchable data base. Add in unpaid, voluntary overload teaching to maintain a small program in a small university, overseas travel programs for students, a relatively successful coaching career at club, provincial, regional, and national levels, and a commitment to various editorial positions, in 14 local, regional, national and international journals, and my creative writing career has understandably suffered. In spite of that, I published 10 poetry books, 11 poetry chapbooks, 12 short stories and 130 plus poems in 20 Canadian (and other) journals, and won several writing awards. Indeed, to have been a full time creative writer and to have maintained a house and a family and a second career would, in my opinion, have been impossible.
Now that I have retired from university teaching, I can finally write full time. In my part-time creative writing career, maintained while I worked in academia, I kept a journal and made sure I spent at least one hour a day writing creatively, even if I had to get up early to do so. This resulted in a couple of poetry books with small presses and later a series of self-published poetry books that doubled with various festivals and other writing sequences. My poetry books did not sell well, and there is very little money in poetry anyway, so I started to give the books away to friends and well-wishers who were interested in what I was writing.
In retirement, I discovered CreateSpace and I now have eight books up on Amazon and Kindle. I am working on my ninth. What do I love best about Canadian Culture and Creativity? That it allows a person like myself, born in Wales, and speaking English, French and Spanish, to live and write in Canada about Wales, England, France, Mexico, Spain, and my adopted homeland. However, the literary and cultural industry boasts of our international character while totally ignoring me and writers like me. We ignore the self-published (calling them adherents to the vanity press) and we put down those who have not progressed in the ways that the literary societies accept.
Do I care? Of course I care. That is why I am writing this and why I will continue to write. Will anyone read this and take any notice? I doubt it. Will anyone take any action as a result of this tiny pebble cast into a Great Canadian Lake? I really, really doubt it. I can see the shoulder shrugging now as the eye-brows raise themselves slightly and the reject pile beckons. Will literary Canada keep staring at its own belly button and congratulating itself on its wonderful cultural opportunities for self-expression in writing? I guess it will. Will things change for artists on the periphery, for struggling artists, for artists like myself who with great difficulty have fought throughout their lives to balance the books? I doubt it very, very much indeed.
But I am here, as others are here. We have a voice. A very powerful voice. A voice that has been side-lined by the establishment and the institutions. But we are many. Very many. And one day, we will be heard.
A brief commentary:
The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) invited its members to contribute a piece on their Canadian Writing Experience to Canadian Heritage, a group interested in gathering comments by Canadian Writers about their experiences. I thought about it for a while, penned this piece, and submitted it for their consideration. I was very pleased to have it accepted and it has attracted some attention.