Non-economic labels

from “Stealth of Nations,” a blog by Robert Neuwirth

I just finished Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything, a recent book by writer and researcher F.S. Michaels. She details how an economic view of the world shapes our lives at the expense of other views. The “economic story,” as she calls it, is a way of viewing the world that takes specific biases for reality: mainly that we’re rational individuals with selfish needs behaving in an indifferent market system.

Our world expects us to conform to this monoculture and we hardly notice its pervasive dominance.

It was a fascinating book, and I hope to have a review up this week, but I read it thinking of my own self-proscribed label as a “writer.”

I don’t particularly know what a “writer” is. I suppose it’s someone who writes, but a galaxy of images have condensed around that simple definition. There’s a lot of fluff. Most people see writers as diligent coffee drinkers wearing old tweed jackets with scruff for the men and short, stubborn hair for the ladies who sit in cafes or hide in offices, a mess of rattling keyboard clicks and strange injections.

From “exceptions to the Rule Blog”

I admit, I have a tweed jacket. A fried gave it to me because it didn’t fit. But I don’t drink coffee.

In any case, something lies deeper to a writers’ identity, and this leads me back to the monoculture. Perhaps a “writer” is someone with economic credentials in the area of writing.

Writing is business now. You need to study the markets, produce, find consumers, fill niches. Creative isolates like Hemingway and T.S. Eliot must instead band together in the economic ecosystem with the rest of the working world. You need credentials and contacts. Art is a commodity. Creation is a competition.

That’s what the economic label would say.

But that seems deceptive and inaccurate. Moreover, I have a personal aversion because I’m not published in anything beyond my school’s literary magazine and paper, but I still feel attached to that label as a “writer.”

I cannot justify my label in economic terms. I have no credentials beyond an ongoing B.A. in Philosophy and a series of leadership roles in creative groups on campus. I have no major publications. But I think I have the central pieces of being a writer: I read and write every day, even when I don’t really “feel” like it and I have gigabytes of stuff lodged in my hard drive. Some is crap, but other pieces have sweat woven through the periods from hours of revision.

I get cranky when I don’t write. I feel invigorated when I finish a first draft. I can ramble on about semicolons. I “feel” like a writer.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I can justify my labels to others quite yet, so long as I can justify them to myself. Economic labels try to turn hazy feelings and personal proclivities into concrete lines on a résumé. Sometimes that works, but many values strain the transition and break under inspection.

Perhaps writing is the same way: a passion that drags and defines us, whether we can put it under “relevant experience” or not.

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