When avocation is vocation

Recently, I met a young man who seems to be a monarch of the most singular trades. Hailing from the Republic of Slovenia, Mr. D works on a permaculture project, teaches physics at a university and the Slovene language to immigrants, and also finds time to work as an assistant yoga instructor.

An aura of contentment surrounds him. Mr. D’s case brought to mind Robert Frost’s ‘Two Tramps at Mud time’ wherein the poet expresses the desire to work for love of the pursuit, instead of need, so that work becomes play.

Ah! The convergence of avocation and vocation – isn’t this the most ideal concept of them all? Another wise person (whose name eludes the memory) said something about “making a living” being quite different from “making a life.”
Perhaps people in more developed economies have greater opportunities to merge their interests and work. They can squire the original, bona-fide, non-commercial cadences of their heart, and yet make a decent living.
In India, where earning is seen as a means towards an end – the end being a good, steady income that brings in more than the literal bread and butter (read over-hyped ‘own house’, a car or two and a foreign holidays!) – many probably haven’t given their hearts’ desire even a single chance to utter a word. However, every once a while, from some quaint little corner, emerges a story. Like that of the family in Odisha that still pursues the family vocation of training people in the art of blowing the conch shell.

As a person who has recognised her true calling in writing, I may also be one of those who swerved off the beaten path. The journey is not an easy one, considering I am an ordinary, middle class person with no crème de la crème connections to my name. Over the years, I have discovered that while the creative process of conjuring a story and bringing it to life is supernal, enriching and rewarding in itself, marketing the published work is excruciatingly strenuous.

Recently, I asked a friend in jest, “Do you know the best way of killing a writer?” She looked askance at me. No doubt, she thought some of my marbles were lost or at least, loosened. “I do...,” I continued my monologue. “Push her to market herself through all available social media. Stifle the soul that thrives on silence and is nourished by introspection with the clamour of stratospheric promotion. Goad her to holler about her work from the rooftops. And lo! The writer’s dead!”

This might sound like an overreaction, but it’s the stress from promoting my two previous books, and the prospect of having to do the same with my third, soon-to-be published book, showing. There was a glorious era when your work spoke for itself, but now with umpteen alternatives to traditional publishing available, the ‘actual’ and online markets are flooded with books – both good and mediocre.

Given such a scenario, it’s quite possible that works of quality go unread and unnoticed, while sub-standard, better promoted books are lapped up eagerly by the public. So in this epoch, marketing not talent, decides the perpetuation or extinction of one’s career as a writer. All this considered, only time will decide if my cherished avocation will persist in being my vocation.

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