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July 1st, 2003

The Murdering of my Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends

by SoHo Journal Staff

Meet was compiled and co-written by Mickey Z. and published by Soft Skull Press, a Brooklyn-based publisher of books that tends to convey a politically liberal point of view. They are probably best known for the controversial Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President, which was the subject of a recent documentary. The Murdering of my Years takes a broader, more varied look at the politics of American life by asking twenty-four artists and political activists a number of questions about balancing passion and necessity, heart and head. In other words, how does one pursue one’s dreams while still making enough money to survive?

The book begins with brief biographies of the twenty-four featured respondents, including Mickey Z. himself. The fact that the author of the questions ?ɬ which had been posed via an email survey ?ɬ chose to answer them as well was suspect at first, but Z. doesn’t include his responses any more or less than anyone else’s. This spirit of simple equality is shown in the book’s structure; each chapter is simply one of the questions followed by various answers to it. So the structure becomes both a strength and a weakness ?ɬ we get a lot of different perspectives with little editorial interference, but as a result the book lacks a strong narrative pull’ to maintain the reader’s interest. Fortunately, the people involved prove to be more than interesting on their own.

Some of the people featured in The Murdering?ɂ are strictly creative types – like metal/fusion guitarist Greg Rapaport ?ɬ while others are strictly working for some kind of social justice ?ɬ like Planned Parenthood worker Rachel F. (Mickey Z’s abbreviation goes unexplained, while Rachel’s keeps her safe from militant pro-lifers.) The majority of the respondents find ways to mix the creative and the political; there is an on-line journalist who also writes fiction and an actor whose main goal is to tell the stories of his pre-Castro Cuban family. Russ Kick, a journalist who specializes in free speech issues, showed a great deal of creativity when dealing with interviews for jobs that were pursued more out of necessity than love for the work. Here are some of his, snappy answers to that stupid interview question?ɂ ?ɬWhat is your greatest weakness?’

“I am prone to random acts of violence.”
“I like to sleep on the job.”
“I don’t like people.”
“I comment on female employees’ breast size.”
“I think it’s a weakness that I’m forced to consider working here.”

Maybe Mr. Kick was doing all of those Human Resources people a favor.?Ǭ They must get tired of hearing eager young hopefuls answer that question with, “I work too hard.”

Not all of the responses to Mr. Z’s survey are so playful. Indeed, how much this book can be enjoyed has a lot to do with the reader’s politics, as well as one’s capacity for other people’s self-righteousness. An ugly “us vs. them” mentality comes up every once in a while, such as when self-described, “non- conformist, atheist, vegan with a film degree” Richard Miller reminds the reader to, “be happy that you’re not that miserable bastard in the shirt and tie next to you on the train?ɂThis is a soulless person more likely than not, and it should make you feel good not to be them.” It is one thing to be happy about the fulfillment that a non-corporate life provides, but it’s quite another to describe those who chose a more conventional life as “soulless.” Such adolescent thinking is consistent with the rest of Mr. Miller’s entries. Thankfully, most of the respondents ?ɬ like most people ?ɬ can be strident about some matters and light-hearted about others. Sparrow, a hippieish poet who (like many of the respondents) is a didactic zealot about food issues, finds his sense of humor in the advice chapter: When you are a young poet, young women will sleep with you. But as you age, young women will no longer sleep with you (because you are old), and middle-aged women are too smart to sleep with you. For this reason, it is wise to get married.

The advice chapter comes at the end of the book, and proves to be the most satisfying of them all. A lot of soul baring happens throughout The Murdering of my Years, and it becomes clear to the reader that amidst all of the enrichment, passion, and vegan cooking associated with unconventional lifestyles there are a lot of financial and personal sacrifices that need to be made as well. So the wisdom given in the advice section feels well-earned, as opposed to some of the trite platitudes espoused earlier in the book. A practical idealism is suggested, one that says dreams both personal and social are worth fighting for, but one still needs to pay the rent. Perhaps more as a reference guide than as a solid read, The Murdering of my Years could prove very helpful for anyone trying to balance the mundane and the sublime.

Filed Under: Articles | Arts & Leisure | New York

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