Friday, October 10, 2003


Thinking today, as I often do when I count the coins in my wallet, of Dosteovsky writing to someone asking for money because otherwise he would end up with no trousers. I have never believed in the romance of the garret, no one who has been seriously broke does. Work is done in spite of such things, not because of them. Oh, I have been more broke: I console myself at such times with the memories of when the oldest two children were very young and I had nothing, and couldn't pay my rent for a whole year (my landlady was most forebearing, more than the previous one, who had me evicted by the police) and had no phone and when I wanted to ring anyone had to go to the public phone by the station, which was very often vandalised in most interesting and creative ways. And in those times, I thought about people who didn't even have a house, and couldn't feed their children. I fed mine, although I do have a painful memory of dragging Zoe along the street, and she was crying because I hadn't enough coins that morning to buy her an apple. No, my heart sings with Marquez, who had a fresh yellow rose on his desk every morning, and spent hours deciding what to wear before he started work, and who said that writing in comfort was much better than being cold and hungry, and just as acceptable to whatever muses float around a writer's head. Having no money loosens your purchase on this world; all those small humiliations of desperation, the scramble to get through each day, the way the horizon narrows to the immediate crises because the future is unthinkable, how skilled you become in shelving worries to the back of your mind because you can't do anything about them at the front of it. There's a funny poem by Alice Notley about all this, I can't remember its name... And the banal fact of poverty attracts all your incipient neuroses, so that money and the lack of it begins to represent everything that's wrong or right, and before you know it every full-blown depression you've ever met has invited itself to dinner. No, it's a bore, and a continual bore, and it makes writing harder, not easier. On the other hand, you can get so desperate that a retreat into the lala land of the imagination can be productive: writing can end up being the only place where you have some autonomy, some measure of control and competence, some sense of freedom... but you can't write like that forever, because your soul gets too tired and scratched from the application of too much will. And as you get older it gets harder. But if I ever get rich, I don't want ever to forget what it's like to be broke.

This is a moan, if the moan of so many artists besides me, and I seriously don't mean to retreat into self pity. I chose this life, and in many ways it's such a good one, such a privilege. If I don't render unto Caesar, I can't expect him to pay my bills. I guess...

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