Friday, July 18, 2014

Punching Through Those Personal Barriers.

Photo by Robert A. Hoover.

Ian Cooper

When Chuck Yeager broke through the sound barrier, it was not so much a personal achievement as a scientific breakthrough, a leap forward for mankind. It was an epoch-making event.

Sometimes people need to break through their own personal barriers. 

And if you ever hit rock bottom, and decide not to stay there, there are all kinds of barriers to getting back up again.

People hit rock bottom for all kinds of reasons.

It can be drugs or alcohol, it can be divorce, or bankruptcy, a serious illness in the family, or an accident in the car, the workplace or in sport.

It’s never that simple, either.

It’s never any one thing that throws a person to the bottom of the heap. Issues feed on each other and contribute to the whole picture of that person. A person forced out of work due to an injury may become dependent on painkillers. They may get depressed, and suffer from financial problems. They may turn to drink, a bad mix with those painkillers…begin fighting with the spouse, et cetera. It all builds on itself until a situation spirals out of control. It can happen quickly.

There are the questions of character, and then there are the questions of circumstance. If your spouse is killed by a drunk driver, leaving you solely responsible for three small children under the age of seven, that is a circumstance. How a person deals with such tragedy indicates something about their character.

It reflects not just the choices that they made, but the choices that they had to begin with, for surely choices are limited at the best of times. Sometimes there are no good choices.

There is no such thing as choosing the lesser of two evils, sometimes. Based on the reader’s own personal experience, isn’t it really more a matter of choosing between a whole bunch of lesser and greater evils, some of which involve pain, suffering or sacrifice on our own parts and so we don’t want to do them? A good example would involve quitting smoking. Smokers know they need to quit, the problem is, they also know it’s going to hurt—and so they continually put it off. And of course it never happens.

So here’s my personal sound barrier: how do I take, what is at most a couple of hundred bucks in book and story sales per month, less than a grand a year essentially, and push it through that magical barrier, where I can get off the Ontario Disability Support Program and live on the proceeds of my work?

I read a lot of blogs, many by long-standing professional writers. Mention has been made of ‘editors with a million dollars to spend,’ or ‘hundred-thousand dollar advances.’

It’s true that would be enough to get me off disability. The problem is that the more likely scenario involves a five, or ten, or twenty thousand dollar advance. I would be an unknown, first-time author in a pretty big pond.

Some would say that I would be extremely fortunate to get that. Not everyone gets the professional book contract, after all.

And they would be correct to a certain extent.

In fact; they’re absolutely right.

Not everyone gets the chance.

The trouble is that at a certain level, I would be giving up the benefits, with small chance of qualifying ever again. That’s because I would have to prove to a tribunal that I could no longer write, not just no longer haul 12” concrete blocks around in wheelbarrows, or weld, or carry ladders around on job sites. It’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish at that point. The onus of proof is always on the client or applicant in this particular system.

The other scenario involves continuing to build up the independently-published book sales, simply by writing more, and following that curve as best one can these days. It really is early days and information goes out of date notoriously fast. The fact that I am selling any books at all proves that it can be done, I’m just not doing it well enough…or something.

Even then, in terms of my personal sound barrier, there’s a time where we’re at Mach .95 and there’s a lot of buffeting and you need to be structurally sound. You have to have the surplus power to punch through that barrier. Otherwise you’re going to break up and it’s game over at that point.

Living in a one-roomer, lining up at the soup kitchen and the food bank, and earning four or five hundred a month (when you’re lucky) is a distinct possibility if one should lose the pension for any reason.

It really wouldn’t be worth it on those terms. You can do exactly the same thing and not have to work at all. It’s called Welfare, right? Why bust your ass putting in sixty or eighty hours a week of thankless and minimally-paid work just for the privilege of calling yourself a writer. I know, we’re supposed to do it for the love, but you have to be practical as well.

At that rate, I might as well stay on ODSP, make my hundred or two a month—and maybe be a grand a month ahead some months on that deal. We know book sales fluctuate pretty markedly for reasons that are difficult to analyze and therefore predict.

If there was a quick way to go from a couple hundred a month in sales, to two thousand a month, I suppose someone would have to be a fool not to do it.

Punching through that barrier involves questions of circumstance, and questions of character. There are questions of knowledge and application, and then there is the factor of time.

For all we know, simply plugging away and doing exactly what I’m doing now may turn out to be the right path, over time. 

There is also a kind of psychological barrier to be overcome.


They say there’s a certain amount of luck involved and they are probably right.

Here’s what happens if I get a $20,000 advance one month. I immediately lose $1,100 roughly, that’s my pension cheque for that month. Then the ODSP says I owe them fifty cents on the dollar from the ‘earnings.’ 

That costs $10,000, add that to the eleven hundred. Then the ODSP tells me that I got too much money in the bank, and that I must spend it down—as long as I don’t spend it on food, shelter or clothing. I can only have six or seven grand in the bank. So I would have to go out and piss away three grand by the end of the month. Then I would be back to getting my pension chequel and yes, I would have six grand in the bank, or whatever I'm allowed.

I would still also be on ODSP. It's either that or taking my full advance, going off ODSP and living in that one-roomer I told you about earlier.

That's where the psychological barrier really comes in. That's because I now have an actual, one-bedroom apartment and that monthly pension coming in.

I don’t know about that personal (possibly even psychological) barrier any more than Chuck Yeager did—I mean, I think it is possible, it’s just a question of going for it when we’ve got everything right.

It's a question of having all of our shit together.

It could be a while yet.