Originally published December 2, 2015 on a different Medium account.
Indie. I never knew how complicated that small word would become in my world until I began wearing all of its different hats. Writer, poet, and performer-those were the first to adorn head wrappings; wrapped in favor, the flavor was mixed with the addicting aroma of mass acceptance. Swirling in self-perceived success, I drank the Kool-Aid; listened to the glowing compliments of the Courvoisier and Cush induced crowd, and threw caution to the wind. From being a writing poet, to live performer, the recording bug bit me with friends, so recording artist was yet another hook for another hat to hang. These were, inspirations, which became dreams, which are now becoming goals.
However on the W-4 side of things, there was always a title; it was the hat that never fit snugly on. It was short order cook, telemarketer, or customer service agent; never owner, never sovereign, never free. Titles are good because they’re consistent; they bring in money every two weeks. Even now, working part time with ends meeting like lovers at first sight, it’s a title. My title is supervisor, a boss, an administrator ad litem. These entitlements are a given designation that described my situation for livelihood. It’s never my true endeavor, never my true self. The indie wasn’t being represented as I slapped a burger on a grill, or counseled an at-risk youth. There was always some burning line I had to write, some idea that was so persistent I placed customers in the holding hole just to jot it down, just to ease my soul, and own something.
But indie is hard, it is unforgiving; it is a constant branding, and re-branding, building and interacting within the scope of hope. I hope this crowd is kind, I hope I get booked for this paid show, I hope this publisher accepts this submission; I hope this publisher pays, I hope this book or cd sells. Hope and financial success have been at odds for centuries. Many times in thinking of being independent, I relate it to being free. And that relation takes me to slavery. It’s when imagination takes over and the image of the slave owner is sitting on his high horse telling his gathering of ex-enslaved Africans-today, you are free. It is connecting their feelings to my feelings, and receiving the unexpected. Most would think there would be an overwhelming emotion of joy, and initially there would be. However, as joy would wear off, and reality would set in, there would be uncertainty, and fear.
Indie. The best representation is the high-flying, high wire trapeze act that works without a net, at unimaginable heights. For if a mistake is made, if the timing is off, there’s not only tragedy, there is death. But that is who they are. It is not only their livelihood, it is a choice they made which defines them. It is brave, bold, daring; it’s not the humdrum, nine to five, Monday through Friday, adhere to the ridged schedule, which the sheep-drones are doomed to. It is a risk, worth the reward that comes with the work of being free. Indie, a chance taker, the unpredictable individual whose belief holds stronger than Peter’s when the rock was removed on that first Easter. The “indie”, has risen
So what of the performer, the poet, the artist who runs to the edge with all their might, and flings themselves to the four winds with the belief air will catch them and flight will happen. What of those individuals? The artist, whose art form are their babies, whose convictions are so concrete, they are willing to hear a million “no’s”, just to get to reach that one “yes”. That one listener, or viewer, who says the artist’s work, their performance, their “product” touched them so deep it changed their life. It is an amazing feeling; a ground humbling experience that occurs when someone approaches you and honestly tells you, that piece changed my life, thank you for your gift. That is the present the artist gives; it is the hat that fits like new born skin, wrinkled but placed to perfection.
However, it is not the only hat that is worn by the artist. She or he also wears the suit of the promoter, the shoes of the salesman, the cane of protector, the eyeglasses of the editor who has to eye-ball contracts like some shade-tree lawyer, because law school was just not in the plans. Indie. In the beginning, and sometimes throughout the journey, it is only themselves, their art, and doubt. Doubt from family, from friends, from the old artist who shoos them away like some annoying child asking for a hand-up to get ahead. There is even doubt from self as Ramen becomes their staple as dreams fade from fatigue. But the artist is stubborn, tenacious and unwilling to yield to the doubt.
I have dreamt the dream, worn the hat, suit, shoes, eyeglasses, and used the cane to beat the hell out the dream until I relegated it to a hobby. Yet alas what an expensive hobby it has become. Used computers, keyboards, saxophones, printers; mounds of money for editing, mastering, promotions-these are the tools of a writer, a poet, a performer, an artist, an author, a publisher.
But I’m still an artist, still love to write, to perform, and to create. Yet I hate the suit of the promoter, and the shoes of the salesman. However I carry the cane of the protector, promising lumps to any thief who dares darken my journal. It is the poet in me who stays up till 4 am, zoned out like a zombie on ‘shrooms. I stay engulfed in emotion until every notebook page has an explosion of ink, lead, crayon, or sharpie covering every inch. The writer in me gets lost in bookstores; hordes the thesauruses like its lifeblood, and gets attached to a laptop like it’s an extension of my hand. The musician was reborn of the bored poet. With fingers unclenched from the pen, they spread far and wide for piano and saxophone keys. He is shy, intimidated by people with guitars who’ve studied and mastered the craft as if it were a religious experience. Yet the musician is the ultimate wingman; always down to dawn the saxophone case, crashing whosever open mic, filled with the singer/song-writer types, knowing the poet will always take center stage.
The hats free me, as suits and titles constrain creativity while allowing the sustainment of livelihood. Indie, a complex convoluted weaving of webbed personalities. With the onslaught of one thought, the wheels spin from poem to music, to essay to marketing, to promoting, all the while juggling the emotion of insecurity. I am the unknown artist, yet I am a poet, an author, a publisher, and promoter. Online I’m known by Poet402, on-stage Clarence or Nabraska, and when the books hit the stand, it’s the combo Clarence ‘poet402’ Barbee. Find me, follow me, and get to know me! And of course support me and buy the socks off my feet!
Clarence Barbee is the self-published author of Chicken Soup and A Shot of Jack; author of Crossroads: Decisions & Consequences published by Esquire Publishing. He has also recorded various spoken word poetry cd’s including “Poetry, Politics, and Prose”, and “The ‘E’ CD”. He welcomes any comments or concerns you have, just email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on twitter @former402poet