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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Price You Pay Until Somebody Pays Your Price

"Work is inconvenient, and soils the clothes," Sancho Panza.
In this, as in so many other things, Sancho was profound.  Work is inconvient; there are many things I'd rather be doing today than going to work.  I'd like to write.  I'd like to read.  I'd like to send off volleys of emails and phone calls to bookstore owners.  Outside it's raining.  No doubt I'll get wet.
No doubt these and other considerations led Sancho to opt for a job squiring Don Quixote.  The hours were irregular, the pay nonexistent, but at least it wasn't a desk job and besisdes, the don kept promising him governorship of his own private island one day.
But for the rest of us, the day job is still a necessity.  I always feel sick at heart when someone tells me, "I want to write as soon as I retire."  Dear Lord, write now!  I feel equally sick when someone spins out her fantasy of how she's working on a book of poems that will catapult her to riches.  I smile and nod and make encouraging noises, but I'm thinking, "Don't delude yourself."
Only for the very rare few will fiction writing earn enough that they can get the day job.  And folks who wait to leave the day job to write... probably never will.
That's the thing about paying work and creative work, and what makes writers such special people.  If you're going to write, you're going to have to do it when you can squeeze out time between the other pressing concerns of existence: getting a living, fixing that broken hinge, doing the dishes.
This is the reality of the writer's life, not very glamorous is it?  Like Sancho, I still dream of my own private island, and I'll get there, one day, I will.  But in the meantime this is the price I pay until somebody pays my price.  Cervantes started Don Quixote while in prison.  Think how helpful a good long prison sentence would be in giving you time to write!  Maybe Sancho is a projection of Cervantes himself, the earthly man, reasonably concerned with filling his belly and having warm straw to sleep on, driven into one painful calamity after another by this mad vision of glory that keeps spurring him on.  Quixote can't help it; he's crazy.  What's Sancho's excuse?  What's mine.
Sorry if this sounds glum.  It's a rainy Monday in Atlanta.  6:25 AM.  Time to go to work.

2 comments:

  1. Beyond prophetic. This should be read by every person who even considers writing as a means of making a living. I am sitting at my desk at work reading this thinking, I wish I was anywhere but here. Somewhere, anywhere writing. But until my price is paid, I'm with you.

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  2. It was always rather curious to me that Geoffrey Chaucer did most of his writing when he was busiest:
    (1.) Serving as Comptroller of Customs for the port of London (a job that required enormous amounts of time),
    (2.) Serving as an envoy and later member of Parlaiment for Kent (at a time when war with France was imminent),
    (3.) And being "Clerk of the King's Works" (which required him to supervise repairs on Westminster Abbey, among other building projects). Just about all of his major works were written while he was busiest with other jobs.
    Then he was given a ceremonial appointment and a pension (including the famous "gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life")...and despite the free time, he didn't write a single memorable thing the rest of his life.

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