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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Saturn - The Bringer of Old Age

Paul Auster says that

Becoming a writer is not a "career decision" like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don't choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you're not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days. Unless you turn out to be a favorite of the gods (and woe to the man who banks on that), your work will never bring in enough to support you, and if you mean to have a roof over your head and not starve to death, you must resign yourself to doing other work to pay the bills... Most writers lead double lives. They earn good money at legitimate professions and carve out time for their writing as best they can: early in the morning, late at night, weekends, vacations.

At first, I was alarmed by this, since I'm very interested in writing professionally. However, after reading his Hand to Mouth, A Chronicle of Early Failure, it seems that Auster is a glutton for punishment, which relieved me, because I am not. He basically admits as much:

My problem was that I had no interest in leading a double life. It's not that I wasn't willing to work, but the idea of punching a clock at some nine-to-five job left me cold, utterly devoid of enthusiasm... As far as finances went, I just wanted to get by.

Personally, I have no problem living a double life, especially when the non-writing half has something to do with another interest of mine whether it's writing, music, teaching, or journalism. Auster seems to be disgusted at working, even as a teacher or journalist, and was only content to do free-lance work to pay the bills. We also diverge in desires for standard of living. Auster says he "just want(s) to get by," but there's no way that's going to be good enough for me. I want to buy albums to my heart's content, I want to go out to eat, I want to spend money on the things that I want.

Seeing the system of punishment that Auster put himself through to become a professional writer made me feel somewhat relieved--mainly because I don't have a problem with writing music, book, or film reviews, copy editing, or teaching snot-nosed brats the difference between Y-O-U-R and Y-O-U-'-R-E in order to write for at least part of my living.

I also disagree with the statement that "You don't choose it so much as get chosen." As difficult as it may be to break into professional writing, I'll never believe that there's nothing you can do to make your chances better. Auster, as good a writer as he is, seems to be of the strong, proud, no-compromises type, which I feel is ridiculous, and only makes things more difficult for yourself if you're trying to make a living out of doing something you love. I suppose it's possible to do as he does, and work only as a freelancer, while staying "true to yourself" and "not sacrificing your work", but that's a long and winding road of poverty that I'm not willing to walk down, even if it was produced by Phil Spector.