na foine ting

Thursday, April 22, 2004
Trickling In

I told a frustrated unpublished writer recently that most of us never "hit it big." Most of us trickle in.

A friend of mine is considered hot. Big. Part of Kelly's "New Wave." He barely scrapes by. I mean, like Top Ramen and beans barely scraping by.

I know very few writers, hot or otherwise, who support themselves--much less themselves and their families--with their fiction alone.

So I'm not looking to be the next Rowling. I don't define that as success. I know better.

I do.

But there's still this little petulant part of me that believes Virginia Woolf and knows that that room of my own doesn't just have to do with a physical space (although that's nice too), that it has to do with enough income to be reasonably comfortable, it means a nice supper and most importantly time. Time and quiet.

Ray Carver moved his office into the garage to avoid the day to day traffic of his family. He resented the laundry.

Honestly, I do too.

When I met LJ in person, he was in the last year of his life. Sick, and destitute. He stayed with us longer than we'd intended, and we put up with his illness, his smoking, his temper and demands with what we felt was a fair amount of good humor.

I owed him, for one. He'd mentored me on and off, and he'd gotten "Parker" out of the slush pile and onto Schmidt and Dozois' desks.

The real reason I helped him, though, was this heavy empathy. Not just because he was a sick old man, dying more or less alone. But because he'd been a part of science fiction since I was born, widely published, and when I mention his name to anyone who's been around for a while at a con, they know who I'm talking about. Most of them can remember a novel of his, or a short story.

And here he was, out in my backyard, chainsmoking and admitting he didn't own a single copy of anything he'd published. Everything he owned was either in his suitcase or in the battered cardboard box he'd brought with him on the plane.

I didn't want to be like that, down the road. And I could see it happening. That's the thing.

I correspond on and off with a guy who used to be a pro defenseman, probably an enforcer. He's been around a long time, you can tell from how he talks about hockey and players as far back as Howe and Orr. He lives up in Vegas, and lives every day with pain.

He's lonely, and in moments when I suspect he's been drinking he confides that he's not sure that it was worth it. That pro hockey was amazing, but he's got nothing except a wrecked body to show for it now.

TH sat in my truck and admitted to me that when it's done, when his career inevitably ends, he's nothing more than an undereducated punk from Canada whose kids know more about his computer than he does. He sat and didn't look at me and said "I don't know anything but hockey. Nothing. I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

I work my eight hour day, I take care of my wife and son and when it's eleven-thirty or later sometimes, I go in the study and close the door. I reckon with how tired I am, and how if I write for three hours I'll get about four hours sleep before I have to go to work again.

Most of us hammer this out of the tin of very mundane lives.

We have our families, our jobs, things like hockey and friends taking up time that could be spent forging brilliance at the keyboard.

The ultimate irony is that this may save us.

The ultimate irony is that I don't have the luxury of living and dying by my work.

Which means that I have a lot more to live and die for, at the end of the day.

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