There's this backhanded compliment in art school: "That looks like an illustration." Or, "Wow, you would be a great illustrator" (i.e. not a great artist). I went to art school, so maybe that's why I didn't figure out that I really want to be an illustrator until I was about 30 years old.
More likely, it's because I was too busy being a professional activist. I'd previously been into the punk scene and toyed with revolutionary ideas, but I really got radicalized in my early twenties when I discovered anarchism. By definition, anarchism is very simple: it means no government.
In practice, there's a lot more to it. You spend a lot of time fighting the powers that be, but you do other things, too. The heart of it is the same stuff that revolutions have been fought for since time began - the idea that we all deserve the good things in life, and now. Friends, lovers, bonfires and summer stars, parties, adventure, creativity and the freedom to be who we are. These things are free, for the bold, and the rest is nothing.
So, you cut your expenses. Squat, or pool a few thousand dollars to buy a house and fill it with housemates, or rent the cheapest apartment you can find. Dumpster dive, garden, and DIY. There's not too much you really need to buy, and of course you don't need car payments or gas. Luckily, it's hip to wear the same old clothes day after day, especially in the winter when you may be wearing most of them anyway to stay warm. Health insurance? What's that? There are plenty of ways to get a little bit of money if you really need it, and when all else fails you can lie, cheat and steal, because surplus wealth should belong to everyone.
It's very hard for me to write about this. I think it's because I loved it so much, and even now there's so much there that I love. I felt honest, and accepted, and very, very free. It was intoxicating, and right, and wonderful. The old world, where you had to worry about things like social status and grades and not ever saying the wrong true thing to the wrong powerful person felt so very false and irrelevant. And there's one more important thing about being a professional anarchist: You Do Not Work.
After I had graduated from college, I tried to get a job. I didn't have the least idea about how to get a "good" job, and I had a general liberal arts degree. Museum work? Sure, but about three percent of us can get those jobs, and I hadn't exactly excelled in school. So I walked up and down the streets filling out applications. At Eat and Park I had to fill out a standardized test, in which I admitted that there might be such a thing as a valid reason to be late for work. I never heard back. I did eventually get an interview at Panera, where I dressed appropriately and told them that I wanted to work there forever. They told me that I was overqualified. After a couple of months of this, I moved in with J. Also, I sold a painting, and discovered anarchism. We bought a cheap house and filled it with housemates, and started volunteering a lot and going to meetings. And Did Not Work.
The thing about work and the anarchist community is that, although creativity and passion are encouraged, so is equality. It's not fair and equal to think you should be able to make a living doing something that you love, because most people can't. It's also not fair to value your time more highly, and suggest that you'd like to maybe be paid $20 an hour just because you're privileged enough to have specialized skills. Of course, It's fine to be a working artist - actually, it's great, as long as you sell your work at a price poor people can afford, which is pretty much impossible. Professional careers? Well, working for a nonprofit might be ok, or becoming a doctor or lawyer, as long as you intend to focus solely on social justice.
I'm struggling again to express myself, and I think this is important. This strange sadness comes from realizing, just now, that it's right for me to write this stuff as an outsider. I still feel the truth and power of it. Why should I get paid to make beautiful things and turn the heat on in the winter when children in China are forced to work for pennies, processing toxic garbage? That's so wrong that it hurts. (Ha ha, because yes, it does hurt them, but it doesn't actually hurt me, and that's wrong. Or is it?) I guess the truth that I'm coming to is that my suffering doesn't help anyone. And while my art might not help anyone much, I like to think that it helps a little more than eating bagels out of the trash does.
I'm still an anarchist, but deep within that community (as it is just now, and here) is really not a place to be raising kids, and the feeling is mutual - there's a fair amount of resentment toward parents, too. Now when I think about the powers that be, they strike me sort of like modern wolves. If you're smart, you keep an eye on the wolves and try to stay away from them. When they come for your friends, you fight them. If you have any honor at all, you fight them when they come for that guy from the next village who is always talking bad about you, too. But you don't waste your life railing against the existence of wolves, because that is just sad. Couldn't you be making something beautiful?