I spent the early afternoon listening to Terri Gross interview Colson Whitehead on “Fresh Air.” Whitehead, in speaking of his early years trying to make a living as a writer, said something to the effect of, “I wasn’t able to make a very lofty living, but I had money for beer, and that helped.” At the risk of sounding like a raging alcoholic, the statement struck a chord with me.
My time in graduate school was the pivotal point when I decided to just go for it. Those were exciting years, and I got to live my dream life during that period. All I did was write, read, travel, and talk books over coffee or beer. Who wouldn’t want to live that life all the time? I got published twice and had opportunities to rub elbows with Ireland’s literary elite almost every weekend. Who wouldn’t want that life to continue?
But alas, once the money ran out, so did the allure of the starving artist life. I do not love being poor but happy. I would much rather be middle class and happy. I don’t think that’s too much to ask — not having a panic attack every time a bill comes in the mail. Panic attacks are really bad for the creative spirit.
There are a lot of downsides to trying for a life as a writer, or any type of artistic endeavor. You are choosing to do what makes you happy at the risk of never being financially stable. And to be honest, I’m not sure that I would have chosen this life for myself if I had known how hard it would be. But I probably also wouldn’t have tried to be a writer if I thought I had any chance of being happy or successful doing anything else.
That said, I think that everybody’s life is harder than they imagined, and at least I get to spend as much time as I want to doing what I love. It also helps that I have a patient, supportive boyfriend. And the world’s most affectionate cat.
I may not have enough money to go on a week’s vacation every year. I may not be able to buy myself new shoes or go out to dinner whenever I feel like it. But I have money enough to buy a six pack and curl up with my boys and watch a scary movie. And as Colson Whitehead said, that helps. It’s good enough for now.