The Struggle of Creative Professionals, and a Gay Bookstore Down

WITH the national unemployment rate falling, and the persistence of digital utopianism, which tells us that we live in the best of all possible worlds, we’ve put that nasty recession stuff behind us, haven’t we? The struggle of the creative class, which has not much abated, continues to be obscured. A new funny and poignant essay in Boing Boing shows just how things have come down for one couple in Los Angeles.

The anonymous scribe writes in his piece, “Going Broke in LA”:

You see, I’m driven to save every possible penny these days because we’re going broke here. I’m 50 years old, highly educated, eminently employable, with nearly two decades of work as a professional writer, but I’m barely surviving. The same is true for my wife. We’re both smart, highly motivated, and responsible. We would be ideal employees. We aren’t felons or tweakers. We bathe daily. But for the past five years, we’ve been unable to find lasting work as writers in Southern California.

We aren’t alone. About a half-million people are unemployed in Los Angeles County right now, and if you zoom out to include all of L.A., the number is much higher. While SoCal unemployment usually gets reported at around 10 percent, freelancers — who, like other kinds of workers, aren’t included as part of the stats — understand the figures to be more accurately double that. Or worse.

The writer talks about what makes this different in Los Angeles, a place, he says, characterized by “an unprecedented degree of denial,” and contrasting the place with other cities where he’s been more successful in the past. As an Angeleno fascinated by what makes this place distinctive, I think he’s right on some of his speculations. But the situati220px-GiovannisRoomon he’s describing is basically the New Normal for the creative class everywhere. We’re in a whole new world these days.

There’s no question, though, that a city with its share of glamor, sunny optimism, and American dreaming can be a tougher-than-usual place to struggle. In any case, read this piece.

ALSO: It was only a few years ago, when bookstores were starting to fall because of online competition, that publishing observers told me that yes, mainstream places — stores without a sufficient identity — would fall, but that specialty shops, that “know their audience,” would survive this transition, just as they’ve survived others.

Well, with the closing of not only great general bookstores like Dutton’s Brentwood Books but two mystery/detective-fiction shops in greater LA (one in Westwood, another in South Padadena), that brand is wishful thinking needs to be retired. The latest evidence is the closing of Giovanni’s Room, which may be the oldest gay/lesbian book shop in the country. (The store, by the way, is named for a James Baldwin novel that I recommend to everyone — gay, straight, or otherwise.)

Victoria Brownworth writes on Slate about what the Philadelphia institution, founded in 1973, means to her and many others.

It’s difficult to describe the illicit quality of a lesbian, gay, and feminist bookstore (the B&T&Q would come later) in the 1970s. Stonewall was so recent. AIDS had yet to drop its lethal pall upon us. Second-wave feminism and gay liberation were meeting and diverging with lesbians at the epicenter. The majority of lesbians and gay men were still deeply, firmly, fearfully in the closet. My girlfriend at that time and I had been turned down several times while trying to rent an apartment together—because we were young and obviously lesbians.

Walking into Giovanni’s Room in the middle of an afternoon was a revolutionary act. The mere fact of its existence seemed incendiary.

Another myth that deserves to be put to rest is that while bookstores might close, publishing and book buying and reading will continue undiminished. Brownworth gets into why this isn’t the case: Bookstores stir curiosity and passion.

FINALLY: Don’t despair, reader. Things are indeed bad in many sectors of the culture business, but I have two interviews coming up with folks who’ve found a way to make things work, at least on a small scale. Stay tuned.

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