I had no students today, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have been working. On days like this, my company allows you to ask for one-time sessions with any clients who want to do extra hours or intensive courses. There aren’t always these kinds of teaching slots available, but it would make sense to ask.
But I never do.
Instead I cherish these stolen hours. I’m alone, no pressure in the world, no one to answer to. I can eat regular meals, without worrying about my IBS causing problems.
This is worth a lot of money, to me, but a part of me knows I should get myself together and start being more responsible. I’m thirty years old and have about $200 in my bank account – and though I’m a parsimonious person, that amount is quickly diminishing.
But today I got up and had a lovely leisurely morning in the partial-darkness of our apartment, whose shutters are closed against a typical late spring heatwave. I ate breakfast like a normal person, something I can’t always do. I answered emails, took care of an administrative thing that needed doing. Then I got dressed and went to see Walter Salles’ “On the Road.”
I didn’t think Kerouac’s masterpiece could be made into a movie at all, but when I saw the trailer a few weeks ago, it seemed worth checking out, even so (the shot of the scroll manuscript won me over). Now that I’ve seen it, I can say I definitely prefer the book a thousandfold. But the film is a good companion piece, and it had a very nice look to it, as well.
While watching the movie, what struck me all over again was the lives of its three major protagonists, who are alter egos of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady. These guys are in their twenties, maybe by the end of the movie, early thirties. They take small, shit jobs on occasion, but often have no money in their pockets. They’re too busy living and writing (and fucking and drinking and getting high) to actually work. There’s another famous writer in the film: Marcel Proust, whose novel Swann’s Way is the travelers’ constant companion. Proust also led a life in which he had no regular job: he lived off his family’s wealth and wrote.
As I watched Sal Paradise/Jack Kerouac furiously scribbling on notepads in his bedroom in his mother’s house, I realized again that as far as work goes, there are different kinds of people in this world. Most people can go to work day in, day out, with a little vacation and weekend breaks. Others have a calling – be it writing, or visual art, or music, or religion, and so on – but can still hold down a job. And then there are those who only seem to be able to do that one thing they’re passionate about.
When you look at Marcel Proust or Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, you don’t think in retrospect that their lives were a waste because they had no steady employment. …Well, unless you don’t like their work, I guess. But for those people in the here and now with that same situation, it’s hard to say.
When I left the theater, the weather was hot. The sun shone down on the Parisian sidewalks. The pollen from the trees blew in the dry wind, irritating my eyes. Inside me, it’s the same. I feel burnt out, as the saying goes, done with my job, ready for just about anything else. I feel irritated that I even have to go and teach anymore. It’s not this particular job – it’s anything I’ve ever had to do. Except writing. Even now, on this free, stolen day, I’m writing.
But there three main things that worry me. The first is, no matter what ambitions and goals I have as a writer, it’s pretty hard not to feel lazy and a bit ashamed of myself. I’ll be going on a trip to Italy with my family in a few weeks, and I have no idea how I’ll pay for food and such while I’m there. My boyfriend will handle our expenses, but that just feels terrible and sort of wrong, regardless of whether or not he can afford it. I always tell him I’ll pay him back when I think I should be putting in money, and whenever I can, I do. I also know that the things I do for him in our everyday life (like that administrative matter I had to do deal with this morning) are probably worth a top-notch personal assistant’s salary. But still, this isn’t how I’d planned to be.
The second worry is whether any of it matters. The act of writing is truly holy and beautiful, and worth every moment. So I guess that answers that. But then you look at it from a different perspective, and you say, you, madam, are no Jack Kerouac – and not just because you don’t drink Benzedrine-laced coffee, if you know what I mean. It’s hard to tell what any writer will end up accomplishing, but it would seem a bit dumb at the end of my life to be broke, with no savings and no stable employment history, and to not even have gotten my writing, right.
And thirdly, and most troubling of all, maybe, is this worry, one that weighs me down far more heavily than the other two: I have an opportunity to try to make a living with words – content writing, journalism, copywriting, etc. – and there is no reason why I don’t just sign myself up for independent worker status and do it. But what if writing for others takes all the joy out of writing for me? So here I am, holding back from something that might actually work. On the reasonable side of things, I know that if I did get bored with these kinds of jobs, I could always go into tutoring again – maybe by then, the break I’ll have taken will have done me some good. But the fear quickly tarnishes that bright, hopeful thought: If I can’t make it with writing, either financially (a likely outcome, actually), or, more worryingly, mentally and emotionally, where the hell does that leave me? I feel like I’ll have run into a wall. Right now, by not changing my life, I’m safe, with hope around me like a warm coat or a cool breeze, depending on the weather.
Jack Kerouac doesn’t seem to have worried about his career prospects very much. He seems to have gone through life without even considering most of the things I’m obsessing over, and just focusing on living and writing. I wish I could absorb that attitude and be done with the angst. ....It all makes a compelling argument for coffee and Benzedrine.