Wednesday, September 21, 2005

This so-called writer's life

Early in the film Wonder Boys, adapted by Steve Kloves from the novel by Michael Chabon, a character named Q mounts a podium in front of an auditorium full of college students and faculty and announces, with fat-cat gravitas, “I... am a writer.” Dutiful applause follows, while the main characters roll their eyes at one another.

Make the mistake of telling people you’re... a writer... and the instant assumption is that you fall cleanly into whatever artist-stereotype category they’re familiar with, and most likely, it’s the Q type, the pompous know-it-all. Or the Proust type, the nutter holed up in a cork-lined room, slaving away on some epic, unintelligible monstrosity. Or the Mozart type, the genius-savant who rises phoenixlike into the artistic stratosphere, has a spectacular flameout and is dead by 30. Or, best of all, the Hemingway/Bukowski type, whereby life becomes a very simple progression: Drink. Fight. Fuck. Write. Repeat.

The second instant assumption is that a writer just sits down and unscrews the top of his head, and out onto the desktop falls a diamond called War and Peace, which of course is nonsense. It’s not like housework or gardening or carpentry where you sweat all day and end up with a clean living room, a rose bush and a deck chair. Sometimes you pound out fifteen pages in an hour and sometimes a sentence takes up a week. Writing is a strange, ever-fluctuating vocation. It’s like a relationship: it takes a lot of time and a lot of physical and emotional energy and a whole shitload of coffee. And yeah, sometimes you’ve gotta make that tough decision on whether or not to stick with it or move on.

The third instant assumption is that you specialize in just one thing, that you’re a mystery writer, or a western writer, or a thriller writer, that you only write comedies, plays, cookbooks, stereo instructions, cell phone ads, whatever, which drives us straight up the wall. The instinct of others to categorize, simplify and classify what we do runs exactly counter to our ambitions. A very small percentage of writers in the world are able to earn a living by just sitting at home and filling up pages. The rest of us Joe Six-Packs punch a clock so we can put food on the table, and write whenever we have a free moment, just for the sheer pleasure of release. It doesn’t matter if it ever gets published, or if anyone else even reads it; it just matters that you’re writing. That, or you have a blog, and you fill up entry after entry with endless masturbatory philosophizing. Like this one.

Writers can be miserable, hateful, bitter, spiteful, horrible people. Obsessed with their so-called gifts, buoyed by a fatuous sense of entitlement, convinced of their own moral and intellectual superiority. But they’re also capable of incredible generosity, love and support. Willing to listen, ready to advise, happy to give everything they can to help another realize their dreams. They’re us. They’re everything that we are, composed of different shades, moods, ideas, temperaments: kaleidoscopes on legs, slaves only to the bizarre whatever-it-is that compels them to roll up their sleeves and put down one word after another. We don’t understand it, we can’t explain it, and we won’t even try. Why is there air? Because.

1 comment:

jeremy said...

and you, sir, just earned another reader with this post.