Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coming to Terms

Years ago, while tending bar at The Thin Man in Denver, I struggled with the artist's dilemma. The artist dilemma, as it was for me, was how do I become a writer and still maintain my quality of life? Good question.

At the time, some nebulous time between 2002 and 2005, I wanted nothing more than to be a writer. In my mind, I wanted to fill page after page after page with my words. The notion was all too real because, being a writer was all I had ever wanted to do, and I had had a few prolific times up to that point coupled with a few publications that led me to believe I could do it.

At the same time, I was a very successful barman. I ran a clean bar in the fashionable Uptown neighborhood of Denver. I made good money, had a great clientele, a wide circle of acquaintances and several good friends. On the surface, it seemed like I had it all, at least where the outside was concerned. I had a great job, beautiful girlfriends, a cool vintage car (1961 VW) and my own house.

But I was black and white then. I was still trying to figure out who I was, what I was and what I wanted to be. Part of me wanted the parties and the girls and the money and the easy life. I liked my house and my car and my image very much. Yet there was a price to it.

In my years as a bartender, I had a great deal of fun, but I wasn't very happy. In the early days, I still got off to write several times a week, but after the first year tending bar, I stopped writing altogether. Then, I saw the world in very black and white values: I could either work and follow the path that everyone else did, or I could be a writer.

The man I worked for, Eric, and I were close friends. I suppose we were as close as two guys in our respective stations could be. I valued him because he was older, had had some interesting experiences I thought were important. He was close to me because I ran a good business and after work, I was fun.

I remember telling him one night about my dilemma. I remember telling him the best I could how badly I wanted to be a writer and how, at the moment, I wanted nothing but to be a writer.

He brought up Goeff. Goeff was a good friends of his, and I admired Goeff for a good many reasons too. I suppose it's important to say that Eric and Goeff had ten years on me and at the time, I was in my very early thirties.

Goeff was an artist, he was a print maker and worked in copper as an engraver. His work was intimate, intricate and very time consuming. He lived a simple life. He worked in a small, upscale restaurant as a waiter a few days a week. He lived in a tiny apartment on the alley by a Chinese restaurant off East Colfax in Denver. He had no family, no woman, no children. He dedicated his life to his art.

Eric, my good friend and employer, was a very talented man. He played a dozen instruments, the tuba and organ, specifically. He was a fairly inspired artist, even if he wasn't exactly prolific. He could build about anything out any material with an unparalleled aesthetic. Yet, he was, at the very heart of it, a barman, a coffee maker and a repairer of toilets. I may have worked for him, but he worked for his wife. She was the owner of the building and the coffeehouse that made the money to fund the bar where we worked.

In the early days, we were these weirdo Bohemian artists who started a bar. Yet as the days or in our case, the nights went on, we became increasingly seduced my the money. I saw it in Eric very pronounced and I started seeing it in myself, which didn't like.

“I just want to write,” I said.
“So, write,” Eric said.
“It's not that easy,” I said.
“Yes it is,” he replied.
“You don't understand,” I said. “I just can't commit to it, you know, be at it all the time.”
“Like Goeff?” he asked.
“I guess,” I said. “I don't know. He's an artist. I want to be a writer.”
“He's dedicated his life to it,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“You want to like that?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“It's come at a detriment to his life. He's poor, lives in a dirty place, doesn't have a pot to piss in.”
“Sure,” I said. And so what? I thought. He had all the time in the world to work on his own projects, make his art and he belonged to no one.
“You don't want that,” Eric said. “Look at you, you have a good job, own a house, you're doing good.”
“Yes,” I said. But, I wasn't writing and the conversation wasn't really helping me. What I thought about, of course, was Goeff, his life, his choices and his art. He was doing, or at least seemed to be doing, what he said he was going to do. And that was making art.

I was not doing any of that. What I was doing was enjoying a life of tavern culture, having fun and making money and recreating in hedonistic ways. The conflict was deep and from that moment forward, I admired Goeff more than Eric.

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