May 19th, 2011 23:06 EST
Is Ayn Rand The Antidote to a Christianity Christians Find Too Hard?
Call me mad, call me an anarchist, a fool, but I never wanted to write for money, not as a newspaperman nor a poet nor a novelist. It has always struck me as a criminal activity.
Pay me to mow your grass, to drive you somewhere (besides mad), and I`m down with it, but taking money for a gift bestowed on me by a power I`ve spent a lifetime trying to fathom never sat right with me. It feels like embezzlement.
Did I cultivate the gift, did I respect it? You bet, but I`ve never thought that I bought thereby the right to charge money for it. It has always seemed to me a kind of breathing, a mobility, a survival technique perhaps.
It`s on my conscience, the pittances I`ve collected for writing: blood money.
A New York Times story about an outfit that sues bloggers by charging them with copyright infringement got me to thinking about this personal dilemma. As usual, I come in from left field, the only field I`ve ever known how to play. If I sound loony, that`s how I know my authentic self as opposed, say, to some position I`ve taken to get along.
I have no beef with copyright, no Marxist quarrel with it. I`m not calling for its abolition, although I think the advent of the Internet has accelerated its evolution. I`m just saying I have a crisis of conscience about doing my best to shed a little light for money. I have no beef with those who do. I reward them all the time with my money. Gratefully. But I keep remembering the 1962 Tom Courtenay movie, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.
Why doesn`t he finish the race, why doesn`t he collect the laurels, the money? Everyone has his take on this indelible Alan Sillitoe short story; mine is that he thinks there`s something obscene about it, something obsequious about winning, a pandering to an authority he has no reason to trust.
Yes, perhaps, and perhaps in that he foreshadows a new race that will not think winning, beating others, as important as "as what? Loving? Not being loved or adored, but loving? A profoundly Christian thought, isn`t it? Perhaps the runner who refuses to cross the finish line is in some sense the Christian whom we fear, to whom we accept Ayn Rand as an antidote, the pinko we secretly fear is our Lord, the subversive. Perhaps Rand`s popularity today is rooted in her antidotal role vis-a-vis Christianity. After all, it`s so difficult to be a Christian and so easy to be selfish and greedy and put a pseudo-intellectual gloss on it.
I`m trying as I write to remember the first time I thought writing for money some kind of breach with the very source of the gift. I think I was still in boarding school when the idea of novelists writing for a living arrived in my buzzing head. As usual with me, what strikes many people as another thing learned struck me as another thing amiss. Why wasn`t it perfectly wonderful that someone would tell a good story and someone who appreciated it would reward the storyteller with a little gratuity? It was wonderful, wasn`t it? But, no, it wasn`t to me. I felt that a god had put something bright in my hand and it would be wrong to sell it. Perhaps I also felt that if I did sell it, my hand would wither.
My mother thought me incurably airy-fairy; later she took to simply saying there was something wrong with my head. There was, and I wondered if it was divine, if that was what I had been granted to know about the divine. There is something wrong with the heads of all those artists who challenge us, scare us, daunt us, exhilarate us "something divinely wrong. Or perhaps just wrong, depending on your philosophy. I loved to recite poems "I don`t anymore "and after a while I liked writing my own. But if you had handed me money for them, something awful in me would have kicked in, perhaps a paranoia, perhaps a perverseness, I don`t know. But I wouldn`t have been happy. I would have been happy to see you simply nod in approval or gratitude.
Where did I get the idea that money spoils, that it`s dangerous, like radium? I grew up in a Christian Scientist boarding school and I see nothing in Mary Baker Eddy`s work that would or should have led me to that conclusion. At least not in such a visceral way.
Perhaps that instead of paranoia it`s superstition that guides me. I write a poem in order to live another hour or day, so, logically, I wouldn`t do anything to harm that arrangement. Or is it a derangement? I don`t care. I won`t mess with it. But I write a poem or a story for other reasons, too. I want the company of the characters. I want their guidance. I write as a mechanic puts together a motorcycle from parts or as an artist paints, because there is nothing like laying paint down with a brush, smelling it, studying the tracks of each hair in a sable brush. There`s the reward. There`s the prayer. There`s the answer to the prayer. The rest doesn`t strike me as greed "I wouldn`t make such a political statement "but it does strike me as superfluous.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com