You Can Have Your Artist’s Dream. Just Get Ready To Fight For It
I was forced into my bohemia. Actually that’s really not doing the story justice. It was more like the stars, the galaxies, the exoplanets, my testy case of bipolar disorder, my experience with my ex-wife, the wanton demise of a freelance writing business, my distaste for rigid work scenarios, my spectacular son, and my unquenchable need to write whatever the fuck I want for as many hours a day as possible, all plotted and schemed to get me sitting at the keys no matter the “real world” cost. And no matter the endurance required to make bohemia work for my son and me. Because, make no mistake, bohemia is an endurance game as much as anything else. Perhaps more so now than at any other time in history.
To save us some time I stripped this definition for bohemianism from Wikipedia: “Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people and with few permanent ties…this use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the nineteenth century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities.”
I’ve always idealised the bohemians and there are some impressive names who were considered as such at different points in their careers including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Anais Nin and Henry Miller. Charles Bukowski really lived on his own bohemian island when he bailed the post office aged 50 to have a full throttle, full bottle, tilt at writing. Bless his cotton socks too. I’m not sure where I’d be without Bukowski. In fact my bohemia is much more like Bukowski’s than Stein’s or Nin’s. I don’t know any other bohemians other than myself. There’s a few I know who dress the part, but they have day jobs. Which, for mine, means they’re really not bohemian at all.
I can’t say with any certainty how bohemia is progressing in the United States and the United Kingdom. I can say that in Australia she is almost an apparition, a shapeshifter. Oh so occasionally you see another, but mostly it’s just a dress code. Art comes well after cars, travel, mortgages and careers. It’s understandable because writing, for example, is a conscious decision to go without. Australia has such a small population, very few writers make a living out of their love. If they do they usually make money from some kind of severe artistic compromise. In my case, I don’t compromise and the situation is particularly acute because I have made a philosophical decision not to claim welfare of any kind.
Which brings me to falling. I let myself fall. It was the most splendid act of simultaneous Universal engagement and defiance I have ever made. I aimed my back to the ground and I stared up at the stars while I let my work go, I let my car go, I let my failing marriage go, I let all of my “things” go. I continued to stare at the stars while I hit the keys with ease and rolled and strolled through a bipolar memoir called Clown & I, and all the while I dropped off and collected my son from school every day he is with me. I never missed a day.
I’ve lost 12kg since I made the call, missing plenty of meals, mostly dropping booze, but exercising too. That’s not a problem. I’m diggin’ on my new rig and I’ve learned to enjoy going without. I feel stronger. I take less. I can make $80 go for three weeks and I only drink if the mania has taken a fierce hold.
I have nothing. But I have everything.
My bohemia. Our bohemia.
I’ve been broke plenty of times before, but I’ve always copped out and grabbed whatever job came my way out of desperation and weakness. Not this time. This time, I just fell. And fell. Until there was nowhere left to go, but the bottom. In the end, which was the start, I bounced on a timber deck in a flophouse, on railway tracks near Brisbane City. I simply could no longer see the point of consumerism and capitalism. Buying stuff, more stuff and yet more stuff. The mere thought of it could give me a depressive break. If that is life’s purpose then can we please press fast forward. Because I am broken and I have no place here. I am a nomad on foot and you have left me nowhere that remains untainted, nowhere untouched, for me to go.
The western world is a whore.
The difference this time round was in fact time itself, and personal development. A former journalist, I do well with deadlines, but I generally don’t get cracking till they’re kicking down my door. I’m 44. The door has officially been kicked. With regard to personal development, I’ve done the ink black bipolar depression run more times than I care to count. The piranhas still smash against my door in packed relentless lines and the Reaper hangs out from time to time, like he owns the joint. Over the years, I’ve been hospitalised five times and I’ve been diagnosed multiple times with “suicidal ideation”.
What does all that mean?
It means nothing except I’ve been to the worst place in the Universe so many times they know my name there. I’ve had the figurative gun in my mouth. I’ve seen the edge. I’ve seen the ledge. I’ve looked straight over and nearly took a step so many times. I’m so happy and relieved I never did. I choose my son and I choose my keys. I’m hopelessly in love with them both. But now it’s my game plan. I dictate the terms. No-one gets to tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing, what I should value. No-one gets to tell me how to raise my son or to be a “responsible father”. I am a father. But I am also a writer and a wildling. The two of us have done the grind. I don’t know too many who did it the way we did it and made it back for the chat. There was a time when I ate at soup kitchens so he could have dinner. It was Hospitals and Hell Street. And it got worse than that.
But it wasn’t for nothing. I got my insight. I got my epiphanies. I know why now. And I choose here. The keys and the boy and nothing gets in between. Nothing in between.