On the Selling of Souls, or Eff the Man


When I was a kid I loved to hear my dad tell stories.  First of all, he’s a consummate storyteller–animations and all–and secondly he’s a man with many stories thanks to his life experiences.  One of my favorites was when he would talk of people who were rumored to have “sold their souls to the devil.”

I would imagine dusty crossroads and railroad tracks; a black shadowy figure in boots and either an ill-fitting faded black sports jacket or a black trench whose tails were dusty from the walk.  I doubt any of these details were ever part of my dad’s description–well maybe the railroad tracks–but since my imagination is pretty big on its own I suspect my own imagination is how those details found me.

The series Tales From the Darkside seems to follow this plot line but with more contemporary imagery.  Typically, each episode’s main character has to make a choice–prosper in life by giving up his morality, dignity, or both or else accept his life as it is–not much prosperity but not necessarily butt broke either.  Usually he chooses the former but ends up regretting it and losing much more than whatever little he began with.

This quandary is one I tackle as a writer, as an academic, as a working joe–how much do we give the Man (however he presents in our lives)?  And how much do we keep for ourselves?  I’ll admit: some days it seems like it would be easier to add to his collection and enjoy being a part of his rich harem.

But today, especially, I am deciding that at the core of whatever our answer turns out to be is motivation.  What motivates me to write, teach, pay bills must be more than external and more than about the Man.  Eff the Man–he’s never got your best interests at heart anyway.

When novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a letter to a young writer seeking his critique and advisement, I imagine when he said, You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner, he was explaining the price of the ticket.  And that ticket didn’t come from the Man and the potential for acclaim and great publishing deals but from some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.  In other words, your soul has to already be so entrenched in the endeavor that it is not for sale, barter, or borrowing at all.

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