ART & ACTIVISM
In search of lost time
BY CAMILLE DODERO
More than year ago, 42-year-old " radical nonfiction writer " Mickey Z. (a/k/a Michael Zezima) became obsessed with the idea of writing his own memoir. He’d just devoured Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and decided that his own life story — a college-diploma-less autodidact who’d once worked at a " third-rate " porn rag, appeared in an action film with Tae-Bo baron Billy Blanks, and cultivated an alter ego as NYC’s " Underground Poet " by stickering subways with his unsigned poetry — deserved to be documented. The problem? " Could I do it, still have time to write, and not sell out? " he says over the phone from his Queens residence. " I simply needed to come up with more ways to make more money. "
So Mickey e-mailed friends and acquaintances in similar circumstances and asked how they’d managed to keep afloat financially while pursuing their passions. Their answers helped to inspire The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet (Soft Skull Press) — an assemblage of first-person recollections on labor and counterculture. Although the short-term jobs of these artists and activists haven’t been glamorous — cabbies, secretaries, waitresses, office drones, someone who shuttled scabs to secret scab training — the contributors to The Murdering of My Years aren’t necessarily intended to be sympathetic characters. Unlike the folks in Studs Terkel’s Working (Avon, 1974), the insolvent votaries in The Murdering of My Years actually chose to be broke. " They’re all intelligent, creative people who could’ve taken those skills to Wall Street or wherever, " points out Mickey. Like former yuppie Seth Asher, a financial planner who jettisoned corporate pelf to become a bicycle-riding massage therapist. Or Soft Skull Press founder Sander Hicks, who toiled at a Manhattan Kinko’s for six years to support his play-writing, activism, music, and publishing side projects. Or Mickey Z. himself — his contribution to MOMY sated his autobiography fixation — who says he’s published " like a million things and I’ve never made much money. "
Nevertheless, Mickey Z. points out that many of the 24 voices included in the book belong to people who’ve tried to speak out for the marginalized, and have in turn become marginalized. " When people who have a decent amount of privileges say, ‘I’m going to devote my life to speaking up about inequitable society, either through activism or art,’ they wind up being pushed down into the same status as the people that they want to talk about. It’s an interesting paradox. "
So will Mickey share MOMY’s profits with its impecunious contributors? He laughs. " First, let’s wait to see if there are any. "
Mickey Z. will discuss The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet on Sunday, March 9 at 5 p.m., at WordsWorth Books, 279 Harvard Street, Cambridge. He will also sign books on March 10 at 2 p.m., at the Lucy Parsons Center Bookstore, 549 Columbus Avenue, Boston. Visit www.murderingofmyyears.com
Issue Date: March 6 - 13, 2003
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