A generous way to die

“Writing isn’t work at all… And when people tell me how painful it is to write I don’t understand it because it’s just like rolling down the mountain you know. It’s freeing. It’s enjoyable. It’s a gift and you get paid for what you want to do.

I write because it comes out — and then to get paid for it afterwards? I told somebody, at some time, that writing is like going to bed with a beautiful woman and afterwards she gets up, goes to her purse and gives me a handful of money. I’ll take it.”
–Charles Bukowski

In honor of Labor Day, as I sit in my apartment still clad in pajamas at noon (praise the holiday weekend), I’m thinking about writers and work. Being able to work full-time as a writer is the dream achieved by so few of us. Most have to find that nine-to-five to pay the bills (and student loan debt), so the goal for us becomes balance. How do we find a job that makes us happy but that doesn’t consume us so we still have energy to write?

Walking through Williamsburg yesterday, I saw Therese and Isabelle, a book I'm currently publicizing at The Feminist Press, sitting in a bookstore window. These little fortuitous moments make me thankful I have such a great day job.

Walking through Williamsburg yesterday, I saw Therese and Isabelle, a book I’m currently publicizing at The Feminist Press, sitting in a bookstore window. These little fortuitous moments make me thankful I have such a great day job.

For me, writing happens after work–after my forty-minute commute from Manhattan to Brooklyn, after dinner, and after an episode of The Daily Show. By the time I sit to write, I’ve usually reached that vegetative state where I only want to watch Netflix and lazily scroll through potential OK Cupid matches. But the writing still has to happen. It doesn’t matter what state I’m in or if I had a bad day. The writing is on me and me alone. Nobody is standing at my desk begging for me to write. I am solely in charge of my writing (save for the occasional paid gig that comes with an editor and a next-day deadline), and that responsibility is what fuels my ability to write after a long day of work.

I’ve been reading about Charles Bukowski lately. He worked at the post office before he became a writer full-time. Here’s an infographic of other odd jobs held by famous writers courtesy of Electric Literature. Bukowski worked for 35 years before he could focus solely on writing. Not counting jobs before or during college, I’ve only been working for six years. Miles to go before I sleep…

Work is an inevitable part of our lives. I wouldn’t want my life to be devoid of work. In fact, I get a little stir crazy at the end of a holiday weekend if I haven’t spent enough time creating. I think work is essential to keeping our minds active and giving our lives some purpose. But I don’t feel it’s everything, nor do I believe in subscribing to the cult of work that many Americans seem obsessed with making their life’s dedication. I recently read an article detailing how studies suggest that a four-day workweek is much better for employees (one of the big and obvious factors is that employees will sleep more and maintain better health) and employers (rather than employing fifty hour workweek zombies, they’ll have a staff that is more energized and productive). I think the four-day workweek would improve our lives because it would allow us more balance.

We all need a balance in our lives, not just the writers. But for us writers, we will continue to work each day a two-fold work: that which pays and that which nourishes. In a letter Bukowski wrote to the man who helped him pursue writing full-time, he recounts the journey that led him to his ultimately fulfilling job:

“So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.”

 

 

 

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