Up Front by Emma Hart


Whimsy Is an Extra 5 Cents a Word

I think it's beyond contention now that my university cohort are all adults. There don't seem to be any particular benchmarks: it's not breeding or house-buying, but rather the simple toll of time. Though I have to admit I did feel more adult somehow after my mother died, and I was no longer someone's child. 

In any case, our bright-eyed youthful idealism is behind us. Some of us had a good deal more of that than others, of course. The light you see in our eyes in old photographs is not so much belief that the world can be better as it is cheap bourbon. And it seems, as disconcerting as this is for me, that some of my acquaintances really have drifted to a gentle centre-right as they've aged, just like you're supposed to. 

Many, many years ago, a friend took me out to dinner just before he left Christchurch for good. The restaurant is, unsurprisingly, no longer standing. We're both creating-types, the kind of people who look at this and think, "Oh gods yes." We talked about our dreams, the kind of work we'd really like to do if it weren't for trivial things like food and roofs and clothes. Then we toasted each other in our endeavours and vowed to see which one of us sold out first. 

A bit later, he went to work for Telecom. I could not have won more: more decisively, more clearly, more pettily.* 

Years later, I find myself in a position many 'Creatives' do: far more people want my work than want to pay for it. People value what I do, but not with the universally-recognised purveyor of value: currency. I don't wish to sound like a whiny bitch: that's simply an inevitable result of the bitchy whining. There are many reasons for me being where I am, and I'm at peace with them. 

My partner and I recently had a conversation about the Worth of each other's work. He claimed that what I do is worth more, because it can change people's lives. (I don't aim to change people's lives. My life-goal is to make people spit beverages on their monitors.) I insisted that his work was more valuable, because it allowed us to have a house. And food, and clothes, and has taken away the desperate stress we used to live under when we were, as we were, grindingly poor. 

Thing is, you can't ask people to invest you with the kind of trust people have given me, you can't trade intimate confidences with them, and then go and advertise finance companies or something. From a cynical point of view, my integrity is part of my brand – a very special, specific, narrow kind of integrity, to be sure. I'm not going to be sitting around saying, "Sure I took money for blogs, what of it?" If I were to do that, you'd all stop telling me about "that one time..." (It's never at Band Camp. Did none of you go to Band Camp?) 

Yes, actually, I've done all kinds of shitty paid advertising work. I'm not sure whether the nadir was the articles on baby jewellery, or the ones pushing Florida time-shares in hurricane season just before Katrina hit. But I think the really significant thing to recognise about that is that none of it was done under my real name. You buy the copyright, you buy the blame. 

This is all a very round-about way of telling you all something: I've been working for Telecom. Well, alright, I've been working for Scoop, but that doesn't make as neat a punch-line. I'm happy enough that this balances my integrity against contributing to my forth-coming trip to Egypt and Jordan. And if someone wants to pay me to write about that? My integrity would love to hear about it.

*I should probably mention that said friend is now working his Dream Job. He could not have won more.

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