A couple of weeks ago, I completed my work on the Iron Man Family Outing outtakes project, specifically the third and final group of poems (“inside / outside”). I feel confident now in saying that there is no more unpublished material from that period, at least none that’s worth publishing. That’s the end of it.
I’ve also decided that it’s time to wind down my efforts to promote Iron Man Family Outing. As I wrote in a previous post, “Twenty years is a long time to stick with anything.” I decided three years ago that I was going to do whatever it took to get the unused copies of the book out to people who would find it personally meaningful, and I think I’ve done a fairly good job of it. Most of those copies are out there in the world now. Based on some of the feedback I’ve received over the last three years, quite a few of them have done or are still doing some good.
The amount of time and effort I’ve put into Iron Man Family Outing over the past 38 months has been staggering and would probably shock me if I’d actually kept track of it. I have kept track of the amount of money I’ve spent and it’s been substantial. Shipping free books all over the United States and internationally has not been cheap. I have a deep commitment to the work I do, but I also have to acknowledge that there are some very real limits to how much of myself I can give to an extremely demanding form of work that provides me with no material support whatsoever. My friend David Jewell likes to say, “Crime doesn’t pay and neither does poetry,” but personally I think that most criminals make a much better living than most poets do.
This brings me to the subject and the status of my second, still unpublished book, Scapegoat’s Cross, which has been essentially dead in the water for over a year now since I completed the final manuscript in September 2009. I’ve had no success finding an artist to work with me on illustrations and graphic design, which is something I know I can’t do on my own. I don’t have a publisher either, and don’t even have any leads on getting one. I’ve known all along that the chances of finding someone who’d publish the book were slim, and I’ve been willing for some time now to publish it myself and give the work away (again) for the sake of getting it out there, but without the artwork I can’t even do that.
Lately I’ve been wondering if maybe I shouldn’t publish it at all. Maybe all the blocks and difficulties I’ve encountered since completing the manuscript (breaking my wrist and shoulder, leaving my job and losing my income, being unable to find an artist) are signs that I shouldn’t go forward with it, that I’m not meant to do that. I just don’t know anymore.
I had similar struggles and doubts during the process that ultimately led to the publication of Iron Man Family Outing, so I know that none of this sturm und drang necessarily means that Scapegoat’s Cross shouldn’t or won’t see the light of day. But I also know that there are certain doors that have to open in order for me to move forward with it, and they’re just not opening.
Doubts and concerns notwithstanding, I was very naive and idealistic when I was working to get Iron Man Family Outing published. I didn’t realize what the experience was going to cost me personally or understand the seismic effect it was going to have on my life and my relationships, and I certainly didn’t anticipate that I was committing myself to a project that would consume a twenty-year chunk of my life. I’m not saying that I regret doing it. I don’t. I honestly can’t imagine myself having gone any other way. Telling the truth, in the way I told it, was a matter of life and death for me. But I know now that there’s a price to be paid for taking that path, and I wonder if I’m up to it a second time.
Perhaps more than anything, I wonder if there’s really any substantial interest in what I have to say. As was the case with Iron Man Family Outing, the work I’ve done with Scapegoat’s Cross doesn’t seem to fit with anything else I see anywhere. It’s out of step with a good deal of what I see going on these days in the arena of what is commonly characterized as men’s work (too much of which seems, to my eyes, obsessed with a bizarrely adolescent fixation on getting chicks and getting laid, as if that’s the highest life purpose to which a man can aspire). Nor is Scapegoat’s Cross like anything I’ve seen in the adult survivor literature or the self-help / personal growth genre, and I’ve learned the hard way over the years that the work I’m doing is seen as some sort of strange, illegitimate aberration (at best) in the MFA-strangled universe of contemporary American poetry.
It’s been said that Iron Man Family Outing was ahead of its time, and there might be something to that. It’s certainly been far better received in the last three years than it was when it was published in 1990, although there are still some rather high-profile gatekeepers of the men’s movement (whatever that term even means now) on the web who continue to exclude it from their lists of books for men and poetry for men, and not for any lack of effort on my part to make them aware of it. I guess, for these guys anyway, if it ain’t Bly, it don’t fly.
Maybe Scapegoat’s Cross is ahead of its time as well. I don’t know. I’m too close to it to say. But it sure is stuck, and it’s been that way for over a year, and I wonder if maybe that’s telling me something.
The larger question for me at this point is whether I should continue the work I’ve been doing as a writer at all. I often feel like I’m doing a ton of work in the dark here, the majority of which seems to go largely unseen by anyone but me. Maybe I’m not very good at promoting myself. Hell, I know I’m not. I don’t even like doing it, and my explorative forays into utilizing social media have been, quite frankly, a bust so far. On the other hand, maybe the work I’m doing is simply so far out on the edge that there’s not much interest to be had, whether I’m good at promoting it or not. Again, I’m too close to the situation to know.
What I do know is that one of the best aspects of the work I’ve done over the last three years has been making new friends and allies all around the world who are actively committed to helping men grow and heal. Becoming acquainted with these men and women has been a great source of inspiration and encouragement for me. There’s a lot of great work being done behind the scenes with and for men, and I’m honored to have been a part of it in whatever way I could.
Nevertheless, I feel like I’m at a sort of crossroads here. With my efforts on behalf of Iron Man Family Outing winding down and with Scapegoat’s Cross in hibernation or stasis or permanent sleep, whatever it is, I’m asking myself some serious questions about my next step, which has to include some way to make a living. Unfortunately, I only know one way to do that, and the prospect of committing myself to it yet again makes my guts shrivel and shrink. What do you do when doing what you love pays you nothing, and doing what pays you breaks you down?
I don’t know how much I’ll be writing for public consumption here on the blog in the near future. To be completely honest, I’ve been disappointed in the lack of response to what I think have been several pretty good posts published in the last month or so (here, here, here, and here), and another piece I submitted to one of the big men’s websites a couple of months ago has apparently been rejected. I say “apparently” because their stated editorial review period expired weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to get a straight answer out of anyone as to the status of my submission since then.
I have one other post nearly completed, and I’ll probably publish it here in the next week or so, along with the one mentioned above that’s been in limbo for the last couple of months. After that … I dunno. Yet to be determined. Maybe it’ll be easier for me to think clearly if I stop banging my head against walls for a while. Or maybe I just can’t help myself, and the banging will continue.
The Outtakes and updates by Rick Belden, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.