The Wrong World

painting of man writingI hear tell that there are people who go to work and love it. Their job is fascinating. Famous actors, maybe (I’m assuming). Some scientists, I guess, discovering cool things. Or accountants (a little sarcasm—although I had a student once who said “Accounting is is my blood” and I thought Whaaaa? Doesn’t “in my blood” refer to passion? And yet you said accounting, so I’m confused.)

For most of us, though, even if you’re so lucky that your job is OK, like me, my job is very much OK, it’s still a job. I mean, it’s a way to earn money. Maybe you work in a hair salon, or for an advertising agency. I help to edit a very good medical journal in rheumatology, and there are times—I’m not making this up—when our authors don’t seem all that different to me from the college freshmen who I used to teach. Sometimes I read something an author wrote and I think Where the fuck did you see this done on the planet earth that you think this is OK? For instance, someone will write “. . . patient-reported results(since 2006) . . .” with no space before the parenthesis. How can you be a literate adult and do that?

My job is tedious and kind of dull a lot of the time. I even wrote down an example a few days ago. I found the acronym NRS and I thought OK, what does that stand for? Numerical Rating Scale, so that has to be spelled out first, and should it be capitalized? And should there be brackets around the letters NRS, because blah blah blah . . . maybe I’ll shoot myself. No, it’s not as bad as shoot myself, it’s only as bad as get up and go to the breakroom for more coffee.

The high point of the day is often lunch, not so much because I’m not working, but because during lunch I read novels as well as work on writing poems. In other words, I’m briefly in another world, the world where I ought to be all the time, a world of creativity. I’ve always felt this way, that I live in the wrong world, the one where you have to earn a living, like a normal person. I’m not, however, a normal person. I’m a writer.

I don’t merely want to not work. Everyone wants to not work. But I have something to do, something I have to do. Since I have almost no time for what matters to me, I write as I can, when I can, which means that I write mostly in the evenings. Now that I live across the street from my job and can sleep later, I work until around 11:00 every evening. As I write this, it’s 10:24 in the evening. Are you sitting at your computer at 10:24 in the evening working? A normal person, at least a normal American, is watching TV.

What would it be like to write when you’re not tired? I hardly know. I’ve written multiple novels, but for every one of them, I wrote most of it when I was tired.

My fantasy of living only in a world of ideas and creativity extends to the chores and housework that lie there taunting me, nudging their bits of squalor and chaos further into the room the longer I ignore them. Sometimes I think Why are these socks that I washed on Sunday still lying here in a pile on Tuesday, not put away? And so on. You know how it is, perhaps. I get to wondering why I have to think about socks instead of what my literary characters are doing. Why do I have to wash dishes? Why doesn’t someone clean this bathtub, goddamnit? Just not me.

Occasionally I think about other writers, and what their lives were like. Leo Tolstoy, lucky bastard, was rich, nobility in fact, so he could spend his time any way he wanted. Most writers are not nobility (or even particularly noble). The other great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, was not only poor but thrown into prison by his despicable government. Edgar Allen Poe was poor and basically died in a gutter.

So OK, I’m way better off than that. I have a nice apartment, I can go to movies or out to dinner sometimes, and in the evenings I can write freely, even if I’m tired. I should count my blessings, yeah? I do, I think. I am grateful. Nevertheless, I live in the wrong world. I want to spend my time creating worlds and people that didn’t exist until I used words to bring them into reality. And I don’t live there.

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