Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why I Write

I’ve always been writing. It’s the way I process information, it’s the way I organize my head. I love the written word the way some love their god[s]. It’s the linchpin of human history, it’s helped define us. These days it’s under attack, or transitioning, or collapsing on itself (depending on who you ask). All I know is it’s never been easy to make a living as a writer, but these days it’s damn near impossible. I know a lot of people who try to write. We kill ourselves to do it. We don’t eat, we pay the rent late, and we’re always tired... I hate being this way. Some don’t, but they were born lucky and just enjoying the ride.
 Paraphrasing Richard Price, kids come to the city to become writers or actors and they become writers/bartenders/waiters and one day are simply bartenders/waiters… it’s a modern tragedy and it happens every day. Every last one of them were promised by someone they were special, or talented. Somewhere along the line they started to believe it, schmucks that they are, and they moved here. Well, I grew up in this damned city and have watched my share of failures, those starry eyed little bastards from who-knows-where who come here to join the beat generation and wind up junkies. Somewhere between OTB Suburban and Williamsburg Casualty they work as bartenders and bike messengers, maybe dominatrixes or escorts [sometimes for “research,” sometimes not]. One or two gets published. Some get editing jobs. Some don’t and just keep working. Some move on, some like I said before get strung out and bitter. Those are the ones who never got over Burroughs, and Dr. Thompson, they live in Bushwick and blow rails off their copies of Infinite Jest or that Toa Lin book. Those people may have blogs or Flickr's. They may work at their novel while I make them coffee and try to chat them up about Bolano. They go home and feel terrible, I go home exhausted. No one wins, no one gets enough writing done.
So why the hell would someone do this to themselves? In the age of Twitter, who’s backwards enough to research something? To take the hit? It’s because writing may just be the last moral profession out there. I’ve watched true heroes give their lives to the written word. I’ve seen retired editors; shaking from Devil’s Springs, Boxed Wine, and blow from the Bronx, shut the whole world out because we loved him too much to help him die. That man was my hero. He was a founding Yippie, lifelong anarchist, and pathological editor. He was so damned anal that he wound up alone, an Abbie Hoffman memorial T-shirt tucked into piss stained tightie whities in an apartment on MacDougal Street that hadn’t been painted since the 1980s, (when he was in California to turn around the LA Weekly). I write and edit because the only honest people I’ve ever known were writers. They keep the bullshit on the page. I’m not saying I want to end up alone, such a grammar Nazi that I drive away my friends, but let me put it bluntly: I don’t believe in hell (and barely suffer people who do), but the closest thing I could ever imagine to hell would involve ending up that Richard Price case study, working at a coffee shop, telling the twenty something new hire about my great novel that I never published.
I write because there's a chance I won't be that unlucky.   

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