Jason Morris’s poetry & essays have appeared in TRY!, Jacket, Mirage #4 Period(ical), & elsewhere; Spirits & Anchors was published by Auguste Press in 2010. He lives in San Francisco, where he edits Big Bell & works as a bartender.
Writing about work is like work itself, it leaves me with everything and nothing to say. I work at my job—I’m a bartender—because it’s one of the few that pays the rent and allows me 4 days off a week. I’m definitely not saving anything, but time trumps money and as Ed Abbey says “growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” I like to maintain a low overhead.
On a certain level, there’s nothing to it. A trained monkey could make a martini. Then again at times you feel totally exposed. As in writing, anything could happen at any time. Here the description of flying is apt, it can be hours and hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror (revelation). Good humor is crucial, but never at the expense of confidence. Mirrors are kept behind bars so the bartender can keep his eyes on the clientele at all times.
In writing I find overstimulation is key. Like that scene in “You’re Gonna Miss Me” where Roky Erikson has 4 TVs going plus the radio all at once. You have to turn everything up to full blast then listen hard for relevant material between the blinds of advertising static & hiss, all while writing with your left hand, out the corner of your eye. Reading Proust with the internet open to a page of criticism on it, with the Giants on KNBR while a notebook is open in front of you.
As at any job, it’s easy to get it twisted & forget the main purpose. Pour whiskey and take money, is how one of my favorite regulars put it. I don’t lift hammers, plant trees, or teach kids. Sometimes I prefer to believe I’m getting everyone high on the music I put on the jukebox. I remind myself priests also work for tips. To tear the fabric of the illusion would always be the only taboo. Often I feel like a zombie, and always when I leave I want to run screaming in the direction of my other life, which I see everyone here in, the healthier life of creative production.
But another thing this same guy said to me: just because you meet someone in a bar doesn’t mean they’re full of shit. It doesn’t, and the artifice of the community at a bar certainly doesn’t change the fact it is a community. Any community has its share of artifice. I want to talk about that difference, the difference between the community at the bar where I work versus this community of poets.
The bar is a community centered entirely around consumption in a weirdly fixed, unchanging atmosphere. As such I see it as the apotheosis of any job in this culture at this point in time. Post-industrial late capitalism, we’re basically all selling one another cheeseburgers in a giant mall. Writing, never mind fighting to keep alive a small press or a little magazine, is to immediately encounter the weight of the resistance this monoculture sets against this other community, the life I run toward when I leave the bar. I inscribe mine, anamorphically, as the boss does.
The ideal community of writers and artists is centered, instead, around wildly varied, densely diverse creative production. A community in which (to quote John Landry) both retention and resistance are built-in. Never too much permanence, & consumption only in aid of production.
Should a day job be like that, inverse, a waking dream? A photographic negative of the creative process? If so is Wallace Stevens the ideal? Is a day job a second skin you shed, something with nothing to do with the writing? Stevens went home from his job as Vice President of the Hartford Accident & Indemnity Insurance Company, shut the door of his study, and wrote “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour.”
How separate does that paramour—the imagination—remain from the workday? I don’t believe for a second that there’s such a thing as a job in unison with the creative process. In fact I question what’s meant by the idea of “a steady job.”
Then there’s Williams, the pediatrician, who says that the language of his poems comes from the “mouths of Polish mothers.” Things that seem like the liabilities of our public lives prove necessary to our lives offstage. Even in the midst of it, there you are, able to slip back into the real situation.
It’s the same mind that works both jobs, in other words.
You try & stay where the contours of the creative process remain only dimly visible. Turning up the volume way too high, then filtering out the interference. You get up and do the same thing again, sit down to write & each time it’s your first day on the job.