SWEAT STAINED REVIEW: CONFESSIONS OF A BLUE COLLAR MISFIT
This is Why I Hate American Capitalism
By Dan Denton
I’ve been reading Raymond Carver short stories again. And as too often happens with great artists, I dived head first into a three week Carver rabbit hole. This time reading him, I became fascinated with his life, and started reading interviews and articles about him.
I found this quote from him in a Paris Review interview from 1983. The interviewer asked Carver why he chose to specialize in the poetry and short story genres, and this is what he said:
“Nobody ever asked me to be a writer. But it was tough to stay alive and pay bills and put food on the table and at the same time to think of myself as a writer and to learn to write. After years of working crap jobs and raising kids and trying to write, I realized I needed to write things I could finish and be done with in a hurry.”
This is why I hate American Capitalism.
This part of Raymond Carver broke my heart, and your heart can only be broken so many times in this life, before you learn to live with an underlying level of rage at the system that haunts you.
I never wanted to be a poet. Even after I read Bukowski, who seemed to be the only poet I could find at 20, that understood the beer drinking factory life that I was living. Even though I have always loved poetry so much that I’ve adopted its daily reading into my morning routine, I wanted to write stories. I wanted to write books, and novels, and be an author, but the factory, and the costs of American capitalism, conspired to keep me working 60 plus hour weeks, and I learned to write poems and short stories on 15 minute breaks, and on stay-up-too-late Tuesday nights after the family went to bed, and I was finally alone to write at 11pm. No matter the alarm clock creates a ruckus every morning at 4am. It got so that chasing the art of writing a poem, or crafting a short story so well that reading it feels like an unexpected good dessert, chasing those shorter genres would keep me up all night.
It wasn’t until COVID hit, and the motherfucking factory made a huge mistake. They shut the factory down and gave me two months of freedom, the longest stretch of unemployment I’d experienced since I got sober in 2006. I did a hero’s dose of mushrooms that first week I was off, which may be part of your sacred spiritual rituals like mine, or not. I don’t judge. In those two months I built a homemade studio, and my life exploded in creative magic. I started my first novel, and though it took longer than two months to write, the computer that I’d purchased for my studio automatically synced with my cell phone, and this old dog learned a new trick. I could write at night, and edit on my lunch break, on my cellphone, in my office, where I served as a UAW chief steward.
But I’ve been thinking about Carver a lot. How maybe he would have written his generation’s great American novel, if American capitalism hadn’t smothered him, and forced him to work so many meaningful, but meaningless jobs.
In my lifetime of working in about 50 American factories, I have seen the best minds of my generation strangled by electric bills, credit card interest, and overtime work weeks at unfulfilling and thankless jobs. And that shit pisses me off. One of the ways the rich stay rich and the powerful keep gloating in our insomniac nightmares is that they keep us on that grind. On that paper chasing hustle. And our dreams and ideas die at 4am every morning, as the alarm clock starts his ruckus, reminding us that we will once again, give away the best hours of ourselves to some factory machine or other, that just cut the annual family day picnic from its annual budget.
I never planned to be a poet. Or a socialist. Or a factory worker. I did plan to write, though, and finally in my 40’s, here I am. Name’s Dan Denton and I’m a writer. Pleasure to meet you, I’m sure. Hope you dig this column that I’m so honored to collaborate on with A Thin Slice of Anxiety. Look forward to sharing all the things I’ve learned as a working class artist chasing dog eared paperbacks through rusting Midwestern factories. Like about ole Raymond Carver legit being one of us, and how he too, felt the sting of break time poetry and staying up too late chasing writer dreams, knowing he’d pay like hell, tired and dragging ass at work the next morning.
Go check out some Carver. He’s worth a three week rabbit hole in a blue collar literary education.
Dan Denton is a poet and novelist. His latest book is available from Gutter Snob Books.