"You must live like a bourgeois and save all your violence for your art."
Ever since reading that quote in this month's The Nation, I've wondered...is it possible to fulfill Flaubert's directive in the society we live in? With the burden to “earn a living” that is hammered into us from an early age, shackling us in adulthood? The hammer and sickle that squishes the creative spirit like a bug against a windshield? If I live like a capitalist, how will I have the time and energy to write? If I don't, how will I live at all?
In "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter",
Carson McCullers shows us what mundane work does to creativity. Fifteen-year old Mick, a blossoming musician and idealist, has to drop out of school and go to work at Woolworth's to help support her family in the depressed south for ten dollars a week. Ten dollars will buy fifteen fried chickens or five pairs of shoes. She thinks about a piano but does not mention that aloud. She does not want to work in a ten-cent store but when they all start to think about what that ten dollars could buy, she is trapped into it. Her description of losing her energy and ambition to write music is a heartbreaking account of how hard it was then (pre WWII) and harder now to spend your life creating art without being independently wealthy.
In McCullers' words:
Now no music was in her mind. Sometimes a quick little tune would come and go. It was like the store took all her energy and time. Woolworth's wasn't the same as school. When she used to come home from school she felt good and was ready to start working on the music. But now she was always tired. A song she had started in her private notebook two months before was still not finished. She did not know how to stay in the inside room. It was like the inside room was locked somewhere away from her. She was mad all the time, only there was nothing to be mad at. It was like she was cheated. Only nobody had cheated her. Just the same she had that feeling. Cheated.
How many feel like that at the end of the day? After years of nose-to-the-grindstone, the inside room—a metaphor McCullers uses to describe our inner selves where creativity begins—is forever lost and life is sleeping, eating, and working. There is no inside room where thoughts are developed, stories thrive, music is written, and great paintings are created to tell a tale, enriching our lives in the process.
Can you find your inside room? Can you stay there? I think it possible to live comfortably (which is maybe all that Flaubert meant) while staying outside the retail rat-race, far far from the shopping hordes and the rampant consumerism of modern society. Whistle, sing, write, or draw with passion, whatever it is that lifts your spirits and makes you feel alive, but live simply, like a frugal bourgeois. Save your violence for your art, and guard your inside room.