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For the Pleasure of It
Poet Wallace Stevens' birthday has Paul Staley celebrating creating something just for the joy of creating it.
By Paul Staley
I have forgotten most of what I learned in college. But I do remember something about the resume of one of the leading poets of the 20th century: Wallace Stevens, born on this day in 1879, was an insurance company executive.
As a 21-year-old who at times thought he wanted to be a writer, I couldn't imagine two realms of existence further apart than poetry and insurance. But I also found inspiration in his hybrid career. Up to that point I thought life was like the famous image of another poet, Robert Frost: I would come to a place where two roads diverged and would have to choose.
Now I realized that I didn't have to. Entering the world of 9-to-5 didn't mean that I had to stop writing. And I didn't. Now I lay no claim to genius. I am no Wallace Stevens. But I also know that I am hardly unique in spending time on a craft that has nothing to do with how I earn my living. Right now thousands of you are headed to the day job, but back home, in the studio, in the garage or on the hard drive there is some other project that beckons you late at night or in the early morning hours.
We have made the prudent choice, not only in terms of income, but also as a realistic assessment of our talent. But realizing that we were not going to make it as artists didn't mean we were forfeiting our right to make art. It is a decision that is both cautious and subversive. In a business culture that demands that we be "all in," we are deliberately holding something back.
Responsibilities and obligations may define the schedule, but they don't fill it.
So, today let's celebrate all the things we create simply for the pleasure of doing so. It may be a painting that never hangs in a gallery or a song that only you sing. We may have struggled to find the right word or brush stroke, but we have said something we needed to say, and that is all that matters.
With a Perspective, I'm Paul Staley.
Paul Staley works for a housing non-profit. He lives in San Francisco.