A question for writers: Is writing an art, or is it the art-of making something consumable?

Every artist takes a journey, and like falling-in-love that journey changes as first blush becomes a memory and objectivity becomes a goal. But I have a concern: are we, as a commercially-bound society obsessed with the idea that writing has to be an easily digestible consumer good?

If you’re a literary agent, clearly the answer is yes. But it’s important to ask writers. The “Artists” themselves, or are they “Storytellers” and not artists. Or both? What is a writer, and how should one be judged?

In one sense, my first reaction to the question is to draw a line in the sand as I’ve done in the past for my profession—not to be mistaken with professional-writing, because like most writers I know (even published writiers), I don’t make my living wage from writing. In my profession, I provide professional services and manufacture consumer goods, and the most important aspect of my job is to give the customer what they expect. Sometimes, I can sneak in a bit of creativity. Most often, I am applauded for “my creativity” while as an artist, I know that 99% of my creativity was actually removed from the product and replaced with something that meets the customer’s commercial expectations.

But please don’t cry for me—the poor artist who’s product was stripped of its creativity—I’m a professional provider of goods and services. I’m not personally or emotionally attached to that which I produce. In fact, as the producer, I know that my first goal is to design a product in a way that the customer will have no trouble at all accepting. I often go through a process called “Market & Trend Analysis” (a fancy way of saying, I did my homework) to produce a likable result.

There’s no disputing that the entertainment industries—books, movies, music—as well as most industries are seasoned veterans at putting the fruits of market and trend analysis to work. In fact, they usually lean on it with such overbearing necessity that they often wear out the novelty and exhaust consumer demand. That’s called saturating the market.

What happens next is almost hilarious. A market is now left to its own devices to re-invent and re-introduce itself. In fashion (as an example) we get the yearly runway shows. The public often looks at these shows awkwardly, struggling to understand what this “new creativity” means. Unfamiliar things can appear “harsh” and “unattractive”, yet the artists who create them spare no time or expense in presenting polished and well-crafted work—work that has been brought to a level that is typically above-and-beyond its requirements for commercial consumption. Yet even respectable critics have trouble deciphering the circus of newness before them. And to be honest, many new things are recycled ideas from past successes. But while most struggle to accept, the magic continues. The early adopters start to take their chances—they place their bets and the Stylists dress the Celebrities in somewhat watered-down versions of the Artist’s first presentations, or sometimes even dare to embrace the raw form (circa 2010, think “Lady Gaga”, aka: Trend-setter). A begrudging and reluctant crowd of critics and consumers begin to warm up to… something new.

So back to writing, a slower, more peaceful and less suspecting provocateur of an industry. Where do we go from here? The oldest argument is still the oldest argument: “Writers of a century ago would never get published in today’s fast-paced and demanding market”. Oh really? New, trouble-making writers are sneaking in under the radar of commercially-bound expectations everyday. They’re entering writing contests, they are self-publishing in a new and more openly-connected, worldwide theater of social networks. They are fearless, offensive and beautiful, and dare to be creative while still being professional. Many will inevitably wash away as so much great art of this world does, some will be loosely associated with existing trends as critics work to justify their attraction, and I think some will be unforgettable.

Life, Family, and Donating My Organs

They always get me at the DMV, and it’s always in more ways than one, so I am not surprised by the turmoil that’s ensued since my last visit.

I had to go in. My driver’s license was up for renewal, and my options were to visit an eye doctor and mail in the results, or take a quick and free eye examine at the DMV, and then pay $85 for the privilege of renewing my license. Never mind that I had just paid $85 to renew it six months ago when I moved, that didn’t push back my required renewal date. Apparently I could have saved $4 each time if I was not licensed to ride the motorcycle I had sold two years ago.

Waiting patiently, my number was called, and I went up to meet my assigned clerk, and there she was, this pretty little heart. It was a red heart, small and iconic-like, graphically inserted into the right side of an enlarged poster of a fictional citizen’s New York State Driver License—doing their part—proudly displaying the fact that they were a registered organ donor. The truth is, I had wanted to do this for some time, so I signed up.

Later, at home, I the faithless atheist shared the noble news with my wonderful and beautiful god-fearing wife. She listened as she washed off a fresh coat of honey from the small Ganesha sculpture she kept on the corner of my home office desk (for good fortune), same as she did every day. The less I believed, the more she prayed, and she never limited herself to just one faith.

“I thought you wanted to be cremated?” She asked.

“Still do.”

“Don’t you want to know that your final resting place will be by my side where we’ll share a grave one day.”

“No reason why we still can’t do that, I just figured if I’m out of luck, given the chance, it would make me happy to give the gift of life to someone else in need.”

“Okay…”

The next day, we went to dinner with my parents at a Turkish restaurant we all liked. As we sat around a small square table and my mother talked my wife’s ear off, I shared the news with my father as we all nibbled on a plate of appetizers.

“Okay…” He said. “I don’t think I could do that.”

“Why not?”

“I’m old, I don’t think my parts would be any good for that. Its not for me.”

I looked at my mom and didn’t dare share my news.

My mom opened up a new conversation for the table and shared some unpleasant information. My grandmother—her mother—was showing more than ever that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Except that my grandmother wasn’t quite suffering at all, it was everyone else in her life that was.

Mom proceeded to give a laundry list of actions and events my grandmother had committed, solidifying what everyone had already suspected for perhaps a year now. Finally, losing my appetite, I had to jump in.

“Perhaps, instead of going over all these unimportant and embarrassing details, can’t we just talk about the greatness of her life? You know, spare her her dignity.”

My mom boiled up to a beet red.

My father injected his wisdom, “What are you, stupid?”

Dinner was served and everyone pretended that nothing was wrong. Years of anxiety over their own morality were suppressed back into the depths of my parent’s minds, confused, angry, and answerless.

Later that night, back at our home, my wonderful beautiful wife was ready to share her comments in an organized and thought-out manner. We were washed and changed for bed, same as we did every day (for good fortune), drinking chamomile tea as the television colored some background noise in the room.

“I’m really proud of you for what you said tonight.” She said to me. “Your parents don’t know how to deal with death, and that’s why they wrap themselves up in useless details about life. You were right, better to remember someone for the good they’ve done.”

A few weeks later my new driver’s license arrived in the mail. That little heart was worth every breath I’d ever take.