Thoughts on Being a Career Sell-Out, Part 2

I was walking around Old Town Sacramento this afternoon to de-stress. I needed it. It’s been a wild ride these last couple of weeks for me: I’ve gotten into a new romantic relationship, I’ve been hard at work organizing San Francisco non-profit clinic workers into the Union, I’ve launched a photography business called Jolie Media (and already done several gigs), I’m on the board of a non-profit for young progressive professionals called New Leaders Council, I’ve been helping the Outreach Committee for Sacramento for Real Rent Control, I’ve been attending committee meetings for the Democratic Socialists of America, I’ve been trying to hold onto some semblance of a social life, etc., etc., etc.

And during my walk I stopped for a few minutes to watch a singer-songwriter perform on a street corner. He had lots of swagger. He had a cowboy hat and boots, hippie clothes, a colorful sun visor, and the soft-spoken voice of someone who’s just seen a lot of stuff: not demanding anything from anyone, and at the point in his life where he was happy to just sing and smile. I said hi, and I learned he went by “Dave London.” He was 76 years old.

The soul of a true artist: going until the end of his life, going, going, not needing anything really, other than to just give his art and time to others.

Like, lots of people sing songs like “love is a lonely road like rock’n’roll,” but this dude Meant it when he sang It: a deep authentic Being.

We talked.

I opened up to him. I said I missed doing art — that I used to be in an active pop punk band, that I used to write way more poetry and songs, that I used to write these Facebook essays about life and organizing several times a month. But I don’t have the time anymore. My professional life has consumed me. And — I’m not going to lie — there have been many moments in the last two months that I have felt horrible: pure tired to the point where I start to feel the most ugly resentments towards the world, the most ugly of thoughts.

“But do you feel fulfilled?” he asked me.

“Yeah I guess sometimes but–“

“Kid, this shit doesn’t make me happy. No one wants to be an artist. Those who think they want to be an artist are either deluded or shallow like a mossy pond. No, art finds you, art has its way with you, you don’t get any choice in the matter. Art is suffering. I’ve paid my dues, then some. And eventually you learn to surrender. That’s when you can be happy.”

I was shook.

His half-camouflage, half-tie-dye bandanna kept flapping in the wind.

“But I am fulfilled,” he continued. “That’s what matters. Serve the world. That’s all you can do. Surrender to the Giver of Destiny, it will be easier that way — let the Giver of Destiny juice you for all your talents, force you to serve the world, then maybe after that you will be happy. Your guts will be ripped out from you, then, but you will be One with the Giver. You will be One with the world. You will, maybe, eventually be happy. But find fulfillment first. Do the thing you were meant to do. Maybe the path of art is not meant for you. Do your real purpose, then. And in the mean time, every second of engagement with life is itself the reward. To not live, to not engage — that is death itself. So give your gift, do the thing that you were put on this Earth by the Giver to do. Learn to become the Giver yourself.”

I stared blankly at him for a few seconds.

He played another song. I gave him twenty bucks.

Dude was punk rock, not going to lie.

****

I dropped out of college almost six years ago. I’ve been pursuing my organizing career ever since.

A lot of the College Leftists I knew when I began college — the vast majority of them are no longer involved in activism, politics, or organizing anymore. And it’s not surprising. That’s just sort of how it goes.

But I remember how much fire my old College Leftists buddies had. I remember thinking we were all going to change the world. We all had such fire.

I used to have such fire myself. Certainly my politics, in practice, are nowhere near as pure as they once were. 19 year old me would think that 26 year old me is a career sell-out.

But people’s views change, experience changes you, and through your experience you realize how deep the rabbit hole of oppression goes. The capitalist system, in the totality that is neoliberal life, is not Orwell; it is Huxley. And the rabbit hole, I’m realizing, goes so, so deep. Neoliberal organizing careers are a whole mess, in certain ways. The more you travel the neoliberal organizing career path, you experience some pain.

It is certainly ironic that, in order to work towards a more free world without oppression, (1) I have to hustle my ass off. And (2) I have to navigate complex social situations that don’t always feel completely comfortable politically.

That’s OK. I’m realizing there is no other way if my path is to help change the world, at least as a career.

Pure socialist organizing as a career cannot exist in the world for right now, at least if you are to be truly effective.

So I think Dave was right.

No one wants to be a career organizer. Not really. No, organizing finds you, organizing has its way with you, you don’t get a choice in the matter. Organizing is hard. I will continue to pay my dues.

But it is worth it.

I can be fulfilled in the mean time, and engagement with life — in the mean time — is life itself. To give to others. To — truly — give to others. That is living.

****

These are just a lot of feelings I’m having on a Sunday afternoon.

If you’re reading this and you’re one of those college Leftists who has since lost their political fire — a Leftist in theory, but not in practice… and if organizing and politics are part of your true path, I urge you to take action.

If enough of us take action, we can turn our Fire Idealism into Practicality and Real.

The hippie singer was right: It is your one life to live.

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