Soft Skull Press, 280 pp., $15
Your first clue comes in the full title of this book: The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet.
The title of the book comes from a quote by Charles Bukowski (your second clue). "I always resented all the years, the hours, the minutes I gave them as a working stiff. It actually hurt my head, my insides, it made me dizzy and a bit crazy. I couldn't understand the murdering of my years."
Your third clue is that the author, who--assumedly, in his ongoing effort to avoid the capitalist constraints imposed by The Man--defies last names and goes by "Mickey Z." Z says in his introduction that he started out to write a memoir of his Very Important life as an activist, but ended up writing a book by interviewing artist and activist friends (he tried to interview 100, but most flaked) in what reads a lot like a self-indulgent, whiny e-mail chain.
The Murdering of My Years is a collection of short vignettes about various topics. Activists and artists answer questions posed by Mr. Z. about everything from their worst jobs (cleaning up cabbies' shit at LaGuardia) or how these activists survive financially (at least four depend on their wives' salaries and one lives off her husband's day trader salary). And then you get to the egregious grammatical errors. When left-handed, atheist, non-conformist, vegan ice cream truck driver Richard Miller justifies why and how he avoids paying taxes, he explains: "Chances are if you are cutting lawns, your [sic] not making much cash anyhow."
Z. tells us in the beginning, "The participants in this book aren't martyrs or heroes." Um, thanks, but who said anything about them being martyrs or heroes? Later, in the chapter titled "Why Twenty-First Century America Needs Artists and Activists?" [sic], he reports an interview with Patti Smith, who says that artists are the Paul Revere of their generation, the ones who will run through the streets, shouting, "The British are coming!"
OK, we get it. Artists and activists are amazingly wonderful people who are changing the world, and thus shouldn't be subjected to the kinds of jobs they've written about here. The question left unspoken: Who is?
Granted, making $4,000 a year off art or volunteering to be an unpaid activist is a pretty tough existence, but many of the people in the book admit to sell-out jobs many who they'd consider sell-outs wouldn't even take (driving union scabs to their job or pilfering large quantities of food from untold restaurant jobs). By the way, if you want to accuse credit card companies of slavery, you need to explain exactly how they forced you to run up $17,000 in debt.
Having said all this, I'm infinitely grateful to our artists and activists that are willing to martyr themselves to ensure art gets included in public spaces, or that the Klansman and Nazi David Duke didn't get elected to the Senate. But I have trouble taking such self-imposed oppression seriously.
As Rachel F., one of the more mainstream activists (she works on pro-choice causes and thus doesn't want her last name used in the book), says in the chapter titled, "Souls for Sale: Selling Out, Going Mainstream, Wearing a Tie":
"I think there's a danger in assuming that the person in the mainstream is a slave, and the person on the "alternative" track is independent. For example, an artist could be obsessed with--ruled by--the opinions of the circles he or she travels in, no matter how out in the margin."