Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I don't like it when "real life" interrupts my writing. But that's exactly what it does from time to time. Today, I have so many nagging administrative tasks that I won't be able to sit down and really generate a good post this morning. With luck, I will have some time this evening, but please forgive me if fatigue compromises my writing muse.

Tracey Ullman recently satirized J.K. Rowling in her State of the Union comedy show. Essentially, she mocked Rowling for obsessively controlling the "Harry Potter" franchise by depicting her suing the most insignificant transgressors against her "intellectual property." During one exchange, Ullman qua Rowling says to a U.S. Customs official who has aspirations to be a writer: "You're really not going to take time off from your job to write, are you? You're not going anywhere with this, are you?"

There was brutal truth in Ullman's satire here. Not only did she excoriate Rowling--who only had time to write because she was unemployed and received government benefits to help her avoid homelessness--but she also hit upon the sad reality that "employment" and "real life" tend to snuff out artistic expression altogether. Rainer Maria Rilke said that you should not even bother writing unless "you must do it." In other words, you "must" write, even if your obligations and commitments pose virtually insuperable roadblocks. That sounds great, and I even agree with it to a point. But Rilke never had to worry about his rent, nor did he have sick relatives to care for, nor did he suffer mental illness, nor did he have crushing debt that required him to seek energy-draining "employment" to pay it off. More importantly, Rilke never spent his hours attending to menial tasks and boring (but depressingly necessary) labors to fulfill commitments to creditors and family members. Because he did not have such commitments, he never arrived home exhausted, uninspired, torpid and incapable of imagination. Yet this is how we feel when we get home after a day of compulsory "service" fulfilling obligations.

In short, we have to slog out a living to avoid homelessness and bankruptcy. Rilke could sit musing in Paris salons and get handouts from scintillated bourgeois women. We cannot all be so lucky.

And it is not our fault. Our circumstances in life dictate whether we have time to write. When I have to take a day off from writing, I do not despair. I do not consider myself "defeated." I wish I could be like Rilke and all the "professional, successful" writers who do not have to worry about creditors, rent, administrative obligations and the myriad annoyances that plague me every day. If I were, I would have bottomless energy and creativity from the moment I wake up in the morning until the evening. But all too often I have to contend with some nonsense, or even work for someone else; and that sucks the very life out of me. By the time I get home, I can do little more than stare, let alone be creative. This is "real life."

Having said all this, I do my best to write despite all the personal and financial challenges that hound me. I try not to describe them in detail; this is not a psychiatry blog, nor do I expect anyone to really care about my issues. This is just the way life goes. Some have it easier than others. Still, I am relatively content with my lot. It could be much worse: I am healthy; I am just broke, in debt and romantically committed. I just resent the suggestion that it is somehow "anti-artistic" to refrain from writing one day because "real writers write" no matter what else they face in life. That is simply unrealistic. For debtors like me with relationships, bills and sick relatives, I have no choice but to be "anti-artistic" every now and then. If I weren't, I would be homeless or emotionally wrecked. And if that happened, my "artistic production" would fall to nothing. Thus, I take a break when I must, Rilke be damned.

As yet, I haven't found a wealthy patron to finance my scribblings. Until I do, I regret to say that I will occasionally need to take days off from writing once in a while in order to stave off bankruptcy and to maintain crucial relationships with important people in my life.

Does this make me a cop-out? Maybe in J.K. Rowling's eyes it does. But please forgive me; I haven't yet published 45 novels with 17 film adaptations. I actually fret over unexpected bills because every single dollar I earn has already been spoken for. To some extent, that stays my artistic hand. If I don't sometimes grit my teeth and handle administrative crap, my creditors would do me in. So I give up the writing some days.

But rest assured. Administrative nonsense only restrains me once in a while. At all other times, you can count on Reason, Commerce, Justice & Free Beer. And thanks again to all those who take the time to read what I write.

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