This is a Writers' Other Jobs post from Anthony WP O'Sullivan.
Image source: Flickr / Zach Zupancic
It has been said that the role of the artist is to hold a mirror up to society. It has been said, often, of my own work in the varying fields of art I dabble in, that my mirror appears to reflect only me, the minutiae and tribulations of “I”. Sometimes backhandedly, other times complimentary, the sheer narcissistic focus of all my artistic pursuits has been remarked on by teachers, fellow artists, readers and audience members, not to mention a steady stream of ex-lovers who find it increasingly difficult to find all facets of our shared relationships used as grist for the mill of my self-exploration. I put this down to an unhealthy fascination with navel-gazing and also my day job.
For the past 10 years, I have worked as a colour consultant and interior designer, servicing a range of clients on projects small and large. I have engaged on a daily basis in the practice of assisting the owners of homes and work spaces in finding a balance between practicality and beauty. And steadily, I have come to see this job as falling into the “Pleasure Industry”. I put aside my own tastes and predilections to focus on what the client believes is the best taste. They are often wrong. From the stand-point of the science of colour or the oft-derided pseudo-science of energy flow and feng shui to the pure, ruddy common sense of attractive design, I must bite down, choke back and deliver to specifications some of the most god-awful, kitsch, gaudy, unsightly and furiously ugly interiors known to man. Because I am but a facilitator to the desires of the client, I "lie back and think of England”.
Faced with a steady diet of “suck it up”, once the paint palettes and fabric swatches are packed away, I spend my own free time in a happy haze of creative masturbation. I write poems about me, my lovers, my lost years, I perform stand up based around the subjects that irk and excite me, I sing songs that speak to me even if they fall well outside my range, I am a one-man band of Anthony. Unwilling to bend to the wants and desires of others outside of my working life, I’ve missed countless opportunities in my artistic fields because I don’t (or feel I can’t) edit or retract. I approach each task as a pure reflection on me. This makes long form writing pursuits difficult, as the undertaking of writing a novel or lengthy play means returning to the task each day in the same (or a similar) mind-set. To allow characters of my creation a life of some reality, I need to be able to slide inside that mind each time, regardless of the happenings of that day - this is an exercise in futility. I am aware of the power and the impact a bloody nice building made up all pretty with the things can have on people, and it’s nice to be part of the creation of said building, but spending your days being harangued by a primped-and-prissy Brighton housewife certain you have no understanding of what “Ox Blood” means in a visual sense, or dealing with an architect who cannot grasp why you can’t have “half-strength white” and is genuinely appalled at your repeated attempts to explain (“But... it’s white already. No, you can’t mix water in. It won’t stick to the wall! No, I’m not being difficult, just scientific”) - these experiences can shake a sensitive, self-absorbed artsy type like myself. And so I stick to the short, sharp bursts allowable in an emotive poem, a biting joke, an acerbic aside to the ridiculous futility of “design”.
I am in no way a crusader for change, but I am a believer in context where matters of life and death are espoused. The erasing of third world debt and ensuring access to clean water, education and housing for every person on the face of the earth is important, and if you think I can help, call me any time of day or night. The fringe on the freshly hung silk curtains being slightly “Goldy-er” than you had expected is not.
On occasion, when time and my proclivity for ruthless bouts of melancholic depression allow, I volunteer at a youth detention centre running classes on creative writing. It can be sad and stressful at times, but also cathartic and heart-expanding to see these young people attempt to express some truly horrific emotions through the glory of the written or spoken word. On those following nights, my writing is always brighter, less inward, more expressive, I tackle larger issues, I look out at the world from my kitchen table and I remember how wonderful it is to be free, educated and allowed to express myself without fear or trepidation. And I remember that a well-placed coffee table or the correct shade of aqua means nothing in the scheme of the world. It’s a paycheck job (or was, I quit last week) - my real life is in my art. And in helping, even through expressing my own thoughts and theories, others to study humanity, to see the beauty in the undesigned happenings of a life. I’m through hanging gilded mirrors for now, and I’m gonna try stepping out of focus in my own artistic mirror. I’m gonna try helping people to tell their stories, find some fictional ones with allegorical weight, sing cos it’s pretty and damn well make some people laugh!
Anthony WP O'Sullivan is a performer of spoken word, comedy, music and poetry with a severe lack of useful skills but a rampant need for attention. He takes any gigs going and has nothing impressive to his resume aside from a dogged determination.
Join us in a fortnight for the next installment of Writers' Other Jobs, when Melbourne writer Rebecca Varcoe tracks the trajectory of her dreams and the jobs that accompanied the dreaming.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.