When I first set out to write professionally, many years ago in Toronto, I did all the necessary things one does when starting a new enterprise: set up a website, order business cards, and begin networking.
A sidewalk encounter from those days recently came to mind, which now strikes me as worthy of some storytelling.
First, let me give you some background.
I was living in the Annex at the time. For those unfamiliar with Toronto, the Annex was, at least back in the 1990s, a neighbourhood of musicians, writers, filmmakers, academics, and would-be artists of all stripes. A local newspaper, for which I did some writing and reporting, hailed the area as “Toronto’s most liveable neighbourhood.”
That it was. If you were creative, curious, or just plain contrary, the Annex was an eminently liveable and satisfying place to be. And working with the local newspaper was one of the best experiences of my life at that time. I learned how to smell a story and write a news piece, and I enjoyed the company of some talented and dedicated young journalists.
However, there was another element of the Annex culture, and it annoyed me. I met many people who were applying for government grants to fund their various projects, and some of them directed their disgust at the fact they had to sully their hands in the pursuit of money, while at the same time spewing their sanctimony toward the pragmatic tendencies of those who lived outside the community and led more conventional lives to earn a living. I recall salespeople being a particular target of scorn. The fact that their tax dollars also went toward the arts seemed lost on them.
There was one fellow in particular.
He was an acquaintance of a woman I was dating at the time. Let’s call him Chris. He was a poet, academic, and translator.
While Chris struggled to get his work into print, approaching all manner of arts councils for his translation of obscure Roman poetry, he never failed to stop, talk, and find in me a sympathetic ear. I was genuinely interested in what he was doing. The Classics are important.
On this particular day he asked me what I was up to, and so I told him, and I showed him — my card. He quickly showed me his true colours.
“Oh … a writer with a business card?” he snorted with a smirk, recoiling slightly.
I stared at him searchingly, looking for some trace of self-doubt in his sense of smug superiority over what he obviously felt was bourgeois and beneath him.
Nope. He believed in his perspective as I believed in mine, and I told him so.
“No, a writing business with a business card,” I retorted, taking my card back from him. I then grinned, told him to take care, and went about the rest of my life. We never met again.
It was one of those moments of clarity that washes over you and, if harnessed wisely, becomes fuel for the fight to tell the world who you really are — proudly and without apology.
Now, 13 years later, I find myself in entrepreneurial Kelowna, a city of kindred spirits, a valley where self-promotion isn’t a crass, shameful thing; rather, it is the lifeblood of the community.
Here art and business aren’t mutually exclusive; they mingle quite easily and happily.
People know who they are and what they have to offer others in the community, and they peddle it. Only here, it doesn’t feel like peddling nor carry the negative connotations of that word. On the contrary, it feels like an introduction to further connection. For me, it feels like an inherent part of my identity.
I know who I am. I’m a seeker. I’m a seller. I’m a storyteller.
And yes, I have business cards.