A few days ago in Morning Coffee I linked to this: “Emotionally Unavailable Until Famous.” What was interesting about this short piece, the decision made by the author to love and be loved, is that it speaks so much to the artistic urge. I think in many artists, the urge to create comes from the belief that if they don’t create, they will not be loved. In other words, they don’t feel lovable, and so they (we? I?) create art rather than becoming lovable. Sometimes, in the process, we lose the ability to love. And then life is a game of show and tell, reducing us to an infantile state, like Daniel Bergner and I discussed when talking about his book The Other Side Of Desire. I understand what Daniel was getting at, that we all idealize the infantile state. That’s fine in fantasy. But connecting, I think, is more important. And that is something I wrote about more thoroughly in an earlier essay, which I linked to at the bottom of that conversation, “The Score.” “The Score” was a breakthrough essay for me, an essay that set me on an entirely different path, a bend in the road that led directly to my next book and then here, writing this. I think lots of us feel this way. Every couple of years we write something that crystallizes our experiences and our way of processing those experiences, and we grow toward who we’ve been striving to become.
I don’t like to moan too much about the fate of publishing, after all, one of our mottos is “Three Celebrations For Every Complaint,” but . . . this came up yesterday while compiling Random Media Notes. HarperCollins is creating a new imprint to publish celebrity-driven memoir and other garbage. And it reminded me of an argument I had a week or two ago with a woman who was telling me she would like to start her own publishing company. “There’s room,” she said. This was a person who already had a lot of success in this industry. And she asked for my advice. My advice was to publish quality. She didn’t agree with my definition of quality, and I told her she should publish according to her own definition of quality, as long as she stayed true to it. And she said something along the lines of, “But people who read mystery books buy two books a week.” She said she had to “publish that other stuff” to fund publishing books she loved. But HarperCollins’ new imprint really underscores the truth of that. The new imprint is called (sh)It Books (“sh” mine). And publishing shit is no way to fund literature. Every writer, or most, has another job while s/he writes her first novel. For me it was bartending or temping or working in a youth hostel or stripping or selling drugs or teaching LSAT classes. I had full-time (albeit crappy) jobs while writing my first three books. And I think maybe publishing houses should work a similar way. Just as writers shouldn’t expend a lot of energy writing (sh)It in order to fund the writing they care about, maybe publishers should just get into an entirely different line of work to fund their literary publishing. Maybe they should pack their trucks full of cocaine?
That reminds me of this link, to Francis Wilkinson’s “Is Writing Only For The Rich?” Francis Wilkinson is the executive editor of The Week and the framing of his question makes me think he may be rich himself. To be rich is a crime, though it’s a crime I’ve forgiven in many friends and a crime I wouldn’t necessarily mind committing, within reason. Still, people who are rich owe the rest of us a refund. (Can I define rich? Yes, if you’re in the top 5% income bracket. And I don’t mean in comparison to your neighbors, I mean in comparison to the rest of your country.) Plus, the question is absurd. To say only the rich will write mocks the very meaning of art. If you’re drawn to write, you will. You’ll tighten your belt, you’ll share a one-bedroom apartment, you’ll make certain sacrifices, and if the rewards aren’t enough, and they often aren’t, one day you will move on to something else, like real estate. Only a fool writes for money. If money is your chief concern, you’re better off going to business school. For as long as I’ve been writing, which would be since I was 10, there has never been enough money in it to justify doing it for anything less than an inate need, or for love, or to convince someone to sleep with you, or because you’re too thoroughly damaged and unemployable to contemplate a more social and healthy way to make a buck. Though I’m mostly talking about creative writing, and Francis is mostly talking about journalism. We’re probably staring at different oceans. Nontheless, nontheless . . . the question is better answered in The London Guardian (also linked to yesterday), which asked nine successful literary authors if writing for a living was a joy or a chore and got nine different answers. What else did they expect?