“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.” – Hunter S. Thompson

“Labor was the first price, the original purchase – money that was paid for all things.” – Adam Smith

“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” – Robert Benchley

I awoke early and noticing it was a beautiful spring-like morning, I decided to take a day off from underemployment and spend it walking about town. Leaving my apartment, I ran into my landlord, who reminded me that I was late on my rent. I told him I wasn’t going to pay February rent, but that I really loved the apartment, the general conceit of its aesthetic, and the narrative flow of its layout, and that I was totally blogging about it all the time, which was good business for us both. He seemed unimpressed, but I told him “what are your options? You expect everyone just to hand over rent every month, just arbitrarily on the first?” How presumptuous. I mean, I was living there, isn’t that half the work? And, plus, as soon as my novel got big, he could, like, turn it into a museum like Dostoevsky’s place. Who the fuck expects to be paid regularly, and in a timely fashion, for providing goods or services? Like, what world is this guy living in, right? Like, some utopian paradise or whatever where effort was compensated?

I hit up my local Starbucks for a coffee, ordering my usual venti Pike Place. When the pretty barista with the weird perm who always played Tom Waits told me it cost $2.57, I told her that I wasn’t going to pay but I would tell everyone I know how much I enjoyed the coffee, and that I always mentioned it on my blog, and that Tom Waits is the best, and wasn’t my enjoyment and celebration of the coffee enough for the both of us, and then I complimented her hair. She was aces about it.

My coffee was warm, the sun was shining, and I had some new shoes on that I needed to break in. The shoes were custom made for me by this great little cobbler around the corner from my place. I didn’t pay him for the shoes, but I’m sure to make note of his location when asked about them, and of course it’s up on the blog. I took a long meandering walk from one neighbourhood to another, and decided to grab some lunch at a little café that had just opened that a friend had told me about. I had a phenomenal sandwich: grilled mahi mahi on fresh sourdough, with a cilantro jalapeno pesto aioli and grilled peppers. On my way out, I complimented the chef on an outstanding effort, and noted that while I did not intend on paying I would totally blog about it later, and it would reflect well upon him that I had eaten there, and that one day, if he continued to work really hard, he would eventually be paid for his food.

I wanted to share the day so I figured I’d get ahold of my buddy, who would certainly be in on celebrating a day of underemployment. Unfortunately, my phone was out of minutes so I dropped by the Bell Store. I let them know that I didn’t have the cash on me to pay for additional minutes, but as soon as I got some grant money I was expecting that I would probably send them a bit. And, I would totally tell everyone I know that they were better than Rogers, and that if people saw me using Bell, then it would be good business for Bell. And plus, I used to volunteer my time at this poetry journal so why did I have to pay for my phone, am I right?

They reluctantly gave in, because my argument got louder and more self-righteous the more I repeated it. I texted my buddy, and he met up with me down by the university where we both got our MFAs. Suddenly, it started to rain, so we decided to catch a matinee at the varsity cinema. My buddy didn’t have any money either, but we explained to the usher that we were both artists, and that we could identify with all the work and artistic sacrifice that went in to making the film, and there was no one else in the theatre so what did it matter if we snuck in, and even if we didn’t like it we would totally say nice things about it on our respective blogs, and in our Huffington Post columns.

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Ardor Shining

Brady Pearson hadn’t been home in 37 months, but it had nothing to do with his mother’s cooking nor the taxidermied pheasant his father kept next to his recliner and occasionally fed goldfish crackers diluted in flat club soda. No, despite the fact that he loved his parents and adored dead birds, Brady hadn’t been home since his girlfriend Lila, his former girlfriend Lila, his former fiancé Lila, the very same Lila who had only 36 months earlier so readily and happily accepted an engagement ring, who had moments later changed her Facebook status to “engaged”, who had disappeared 35 weeks ago only to return four days later with a sleeve tattoo and guy named Chan who smelled like vinegar and kept calling Brady “Pepé”, who had left Brady for that very same Chan, and who had yet to return the engagement ring. That Lila. But now, over three years later, with word that Lila and Chan owned a surf shop in Nicaragua and were happy, with nothing to show for that three years except an unpublished collection of breakup poems and a scar above his left eye, Brady’s brother was getting married, and so he’d have to go home, and he’d have to bring a gift, and he’d have to wear a tuxedo, and make a speech, and rap his cutlery against his champagne flute, and dance with his aunts, and eat salmon, and tolerate young cousins, and lie.

Brady could not bear to go home alone, not to his mother’s judging eyes, his father’s stained recliner, and his brother’s many successes. But, in the three years since Lila left, since he had been home, since a promising season for the local sports franchise, since he came to hate Central America, Brady had lost touch with most of his female friends, certainly the ones who would’ve amicably attend his brother’s wedding, certainly those who would’ve gone and fooled around with him in the wee hours of the morning, even just a little over the dress action. In those three years he had been on a few dates, dates usually set up by his friend Kurt, dates that could politely be called apocalyptic disasters. On one of these dates, Brady had drunkenly set fire to a young woman’s dress, and had attempted to put out the fire with his cocktail, before realizing that her dress was not ablaze, but rather quite simply multiple shades of reds and yellows. On another, his date left the restaurant to check the parking metre, and had simply not returned, leaving Brady to conclude that she either had been kidnapped, or had not cared for his poetry. On his last date, what certainly at this juncture in his life seemed like it would be his last date, 9 months earlier, Brady had absent mindedly carved the name of his date into the table at which they were sitting, which some might see as romantic, but which this young woman saw correctly as a warning, and left immediately.

So, left with no favours to call in, no female friends to borrow and perhaps fondle, no successful dates on which to build, and a second volume of poetry well underway, Brady turned reluctantly to Kurt for counsel. Kurt. The same Kurt who had never managed a relationship that lasted longer than a Ramones’ song, Kurt who’s greatest talent was being able to smoke a cigarette from his left ear, Kurt who often passed out in bars only to wake up screaming “muffins, mama, muffins”, Kurt, whose idea of dating was teaching Art History at the community college. This is what it had come to. Kurt had heard of a service, a rental service, a contemporary service, a modern convenience for those in predicaments like Brady’s. For a considerable fee, one could rent a girlfriend or boyfriend, not an escort, but a professional girlfriend or boyfriend who would accompany one to a wedding, or briss, or bat mitzvah, or monster truck rally. Brady was skeptical, because he knew of Kurt’s affection for prostitutes and practical jokes, once attending their high school chum Andy’s wedding in which he married the very very Catholic and humourless Elizabeth, with a cross-dressing escort named Bill who insisted juggling clementines every hour on the hour. But Kurt assured Brady that it was on the level, on the up-and-up, fully onside.

So a meeting was scheduled, and Brady took a Friday afternoon off of work so that he could meet with his prospective date, or so he had assumed. Brady wasn’t sure what to expect, really, nor was he sure how to dress, nor how to prepare, nor how to act, or what to ask, what to bring with him, or what to request. The service, the pedestrian titled Social Event Consultants, was housed in a six-story building in a fashionable neighbourhood. Their offices were on the top floor, with windows to the ceiling that provided an impressive view of the cafes, bars, restaurants, and clothiers on the streets below. Brady was greeted at reception by a woman named Carol, who smelled like lemon meringue and had a slight accent which Brady placed as Tahitian though would actually prove to be Iowan, and he was given a questionnaire to fill out. The questions were varied and all-encompassing, from favourite hair colour and body type to monthly income and properties owned to opinions on a flat tax and carbon footprints to tastes in music and film to a short essay about clogs in 15th century Luxembourg. After the questionnaire, which took over an hour, Brady was asked to provide both a urine and blood sample, unabridged biographical information on himself and his family, given a cardiac stress test, have a simulated argument with his mother concerning sexuality, prepare a soup, and write a second language exam. Finally, he was led to room at the opposite end of the floor with a small table and a spectacular view. He was told to wait, and in that time he thought of Lila, and how much he hated Central America, and clogs.

Eventually, the door opened, and a young woman came in with a cup if coffee and an electronic tablet. She said nothing, though acknowledged Brady with a slight glance before taking a seat, and making herself comfortable. It took a moment before Brady realized that she was beautiful. More than beautiful, she was perfect. Her eyes were spectacular blue, and they shone in the already brilliant radiance of the room. Her hair was cut short, though it fell around her face as if to frame the very notion of a face. She curved where she was supposed to curve, and straightened where he was supposed to straighten, and when she smiled, and eventually she did release the shortest of smiles, Brady could feel his body both tense and relax like a wave breaking against the Nicaraguan coast he hated so. Her manner was confident, and yet friendly and warm, and when she finally spoke Brady swore that he had heard her voice in a song so familiar and yet so very much forgotten at that particular moment.

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A Chronicling of my Harlotry

I have to admit that I’ve been cheating on you, and with multiple partners, in multiple cities. I’m not proud of my philandering. I always thought I was better than that. But I’m weak, weak to the temptations of flesh and fortune—the cockteasing of happiness. But it’s a cruel way of being happy, an exercise in vanity. I’m here to apologize to you. Here is a chronicling of my adultery, my writing for multiple publications and other self-indulgent acts of the past week or so:

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An Enforcer Goes to the Office

George woke up the way he so often did: with a rabid hangover, his hands bloodied, his knuckles bruised, and his helmet askew. He had a fair amount of vomit on his jersey, which made him all the more thankful that the jersey was a vomit repelling polyester blend. His mouth was crusted in dried blood, and his living room, in which he was now sitting wearing just his helmet, his jersey, and mismatched socks, was spinning violently. The front door to his condo was missing, and his cat, Donnie, was suspiciously dead. George’s coffee table was covered in crushed Percocets, ground Vicodin, and spilled Jägermeister. He located the alarm clock that hung in the centre of the living room, and found it flashing 9:16. He was late for work. He changed quickly into a fresh jersey, and rushed from his condo, failing to shower off the odour of sick, and Jägermeister, and the late night from his imposing six-foot-four, two-hundred-and-thirty-pound frame.

Despite the fact that George was ever so late for work, it was imperative that he start the work day as he always did, with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, six thick slices of peameal bacon, four poached eggs, three slices of whole wheat toast, and a happy ending from a middle-aged Asian masseuse. It was fortunate for George that he had drunkenly parked his red Audi A5 on the condominium complex’s front lawn, making the car easy to find and expediting the process of his morning. He sped off towards Eggs & Endings, not bothering to fasten his seatbelt, the windows down to freshen him up, and his helmet so tight it was restricting his blood flow and making him lightheaded. As he weaved recklessly in and out of traffic, blasting HITZ 103.4FM, he considered the previous day at the office. The fighting, the name calling, the screaming, the filing, the drinking, and the data entry. Same Tuesday as it always was, though George thrived somewhat in the monotony of the grind.

Considering the hour, he used Eggs & Endings’ Drive-Thru Full Service, swiping his members’ card, and earning forty bonus privilege points. He arrived at his employers downtown office building at around 10:42, leaving the Audi parked in the emergency lane right out front, and dropping a handful of change into a non-existent parking metre. Quickening his pace, he made a hasty stop at the lobby Starbucks, where he ordered a quad shot Grande Americano, to which he added ten sugars and one Sweet n’ Low. On the elevator ride up to the tenth floor, he popped a package of Extra-Strength Sudafed, straightened his helmet, and chugged a Diet Red Bull.

George knew his boss would be waiting for him at reception, and sure enough there was Mr. Wilson as the elevator doors opened.

“You’re fucking late, Georgie,”  he spat.

“Fuck you, Ronnie, you fucking twat,” George shot back.

The men shoved at each other for a few minutes, before two of the secretaries broke them apart.

“You’re a fucking disgrace, Georgie.”

“Fuck you, Ronnie, I’ll cut you right in the fucking mouth,” George shot back.

Each of the secretaries took the men to their respective offices, which were positioned at opposite sides of the centre of the office’s north wall, an office like so many others, an endless sea of cubicles. For a few minutes the men glared at each other through their large windows, hurling obscenities, coffee mugs, and staplers at the glass. Finally, they settled down and Mr. Wilson went back to work, while George tried to get organized to make up for his tardiness. Though he loathed his job, George liked the company and hated being late. He had missed the anthems, and the morning announcements. He could feel his coworkers knowing eyes on him as tried to get to work. From his top drawer he pulled out a half-bottle of vodka, and used what was left to top up his Starbucks. He straightened his helmet, and then got on with his day, which progressed as any other day would.

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Grad Students are the Worst

Grad students are the worst. I know this, because I was a grad student for many, many years. I spent enough years in post-secondary institutions to be a doctor. A real doctor. Not a PhD. So long in fact that I should be able to write prescriptions, but every time I go to a pharmacy with ‘20 x Vicodin’ written on a Post-It, I get arrested. Or detained, anyway. No convictions. My lawyer is aces. And most people hate lawyers, but not me. I hate grad students. Because grad students are the worst.

Grad students aren’t bad people, per se. Some of my closest friends are grad students. I know this, because my Facebook feed is filled with status updates about late nights writing essays on Northrop Frye, the merits of coffee mixed with Monster Energy Drinks, and the endless task of grading Composition papers. Hell, I was married to a grad student for much of the early part of 2008, and besides a still missing cat, a scar above my left eye, and bit of infidelity, it ended amicably. I imagine some grad students are good people, and have gone on to write really, really great SSHRC applications. And, in all seriousness, someone has to teach/date undergrads, right?

I can’t speak for all disciplines. I have no idea what History or Economics grad students are like, but I would assume that they are the worst. But in my many years as an English grad student, I came to loathe both myself and my classmates. Not as people, because many of them have lent me money, but rather as proponents of grad student speak and their tendency to surgically remove beauty and soul from literature. My MA years were filled with classmates making declarations of variations of the following statements:

  1. “Well, I hate to bring Foucault into the conversation so early, but…”
  2. “Pardox, paradox, derivative, pedagogy, pedagogical.”
  3. “So-and-so said this, which I am now also saying, but with slightly different adjectives, making it my own thought.”

I hated nearly every lit class I took as a grad student, not because of the subject matter (though it seemed tired), or the profs (though they seemed tired), but rather the general attitude of the discussions. The grad students thought as one, hated undergrads, and reduced all forms of literature to such a scientific and sterile level, that it was hard to believe that they actually liked books. I tried to loosen things up in the discussions, delivering papers with titles like “Joy Kogawa: An Insult to Trees” and “The Dude Blamed the Chick, I Heard the Chick Blamed the Snake, I Heard They Were Naked When They Got Busted, I Heard Things Ain’t Been the Same Since: Genesis in the Works of Leonard Cohen” but my wit was frowned upon. And that’s the other thing. Grad students are humourless, believing any literature with elements of humour is childish, beneath them, second rate. I even had one prof who would preface my contributions by stating: “Now remember, Mike’s not an academic,” which I took as a compliment, but was apparently a slight. Not from the prof, but rather my peers. Grad students are the worst.

I remember one particular incident with a Canadian Literature prof quite fondly. This merry gent believed that Canada ended at federation, and thought very little of my own writing and that of my peers (writer peers, not grad student peers. Grad students are the worst.) I was called into his office a few weeks after I had handed in an essay entitled “I Killed Thomas D’Arcy McGee: Getting Beyond the Suck in CanLit”. He asked me what I thought of my grade, to which I replied (honestly) that I had yet to check. He considered my aloof indifference to academia as he topped up his double-double with maple syrup that he had pulled from his desk drawer. “I gave you an A,” he told me, “but you’ll never be able to present that paper at a conference.” I tried to explain to him that I was in the creative writing stream, and that I had no plans to ever speak at or attend a conference, and so my grade was of no matter to me. He nearly choked on his Timbits, and I left before he could scold me further on my failures as a grad student.

And therein lies a bigger question: If grad students are the worst, and grad students become PhD students, and PhD students become profs, are profs then, by extension, the worst as well? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is no, with a but. And then, what can we say about creative writing profs, most of whom have just an MA or MFA. Does that make them grad students in perpetuity, and as such the worst in perpetuity? Fortunately, no, as from what I can gather, something happens to grad students during their PhDs or after publishing one or two poorly received novellas which makes them human again, because I liked most of my profs, except for those who I’m currently suing for defamation of character. (If you’re reading this ma’am, I refer you to the above statement that my lawyer is aces.)

Is this just bitterness? a self-loathing that has evolved into something sad? Probably, but I’m an unsuccessful writer, and sad bitterness has been my bread-and-butter. All joking aside, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I came to believe that grad students were the worst. I was in the early stages of my MA, and spending a spring morning as I spend most spring mornings: drinking gin and Tropicana, and checking Facebook. An acquaintance had posted as their status that they had finally finished writing a good draft of their novel and that it was not genius, or beautiful, or a highlight of their young writing career, but rather that the work was “tenure worthy”. Tenure worthy. Like that was the benchmark, the goal, the dream.

I was so offended I couldn’t finish my gin and OJ. I spent the rest of the morning considering what had upset me so, and I began to realize that this was a problem not just with grad students, but with a lot of the writing had been exposed to at the time, both in school and out. It wasn’t written for joy, but rather it had been written for other grad students. It was thick with obscure literary references, humourless, and sterile. The writing had become academic. It seemed like I was too stupid for everything I was reading, and when I would mention this to my peers they would tell me that I just hadn’t been exposed to enough writing of the same ilk to understand it. They said as I read more during grad school, then I would come to appreciate the work that to me was boring, scientific, and soulless. Man, grad students are the worst.

So where did this all come from? Why, years removed from those classes and that writing, am I making note of how grad students are the worst? Well, this afternoon I was sampling bourbon with my 3-year-old niece and looking for freelancing gigs online. Craigslist was down, and so she opened up a Word doc, and started writing. She said she was writing a poem, and after a couple of minutes, she said that she was finished, and I asked her what the title was. “The Mobile to the Rescue” she declared without hesitation. Good title, I thought, and while I read it over, questioning her use of enjambment and alliteration, all I could think was that this was exactly like one of those experimental poems of yesteryear that I didn’t understand. I could clearly picture some pompous first-year MA student, with aspirations for the PhD program at Upper Iowa State at De Moines and an affection for progressive indie math-rock, telling me fifteen different theorists I needed to read before I would understand my niece’s efforts. “The poem exists in what isn’t written,” he would tell me. “Try and see what isn’t there. The absence is the poem.” “Have you never read the Latin translation of Eunoia backwards, using Žižek’s writings on metaphysics as a filter?” Grad students are the worst.

But my niece is the best. So, here is her first published poem, beating out both me and Bukowski by thirty years. An essay on its use of irregular grammar and punctuation in order to reflect the writer’s naïveté contrasted with a unified commentary on the theory of literary criticism to follow.

The Mobile to the Rescue
by Piper Jean Spry Weissenberger

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