“There was, however, a great drawback to that job: I had to be at the office at nine o’clock and could not leave in the afternoon until five. It is remarkable that I held out at it for a year. It was as if I had made a resolution to give propriety one good chance; with a year of conventional endeavor behind me I ignored it thereafter with a clear conscience. The North-China work should have suited me: there was none of this time-clock nonsense about it and I was certainly not being pushed or exploited. But it was, you see, a regular job with a regular pay check, and evidently I couldn’t bear that. We seldom understand our own motives. Perhaps my ego doesn’t like having a boss. At any rate my argument in giving up the job was specious, since I didn’t do any better for myself as a free lance. To be sure I did no worse, but my letters home show after this a familiar state of mind. I seem to have been slightly worried about money all my life. Over and over I come across this phrase: “If I could afford it, I would…” or, “Wait until next month and I’ll know if I am in the clear.”
I am not happy-go-lucky. I hate feeling like that. Yet I have deliberately chose n the uncertain path whenever I had the choice, although it was not always necessary even for leisure to write what I like. “
I read that yesterday at Lake Calhoun, sunning myself on an old blanket, and thought, oh, that explains all of my terrible life decisions. Oh that explains it. I think also there is a rush in the abhorring of convention, a rush that every writer must have if she wants to be any good on the page. And sometimes you apply those rules to your life. You think, a sentence is only any good if it ever feels true. And you’re unable to wear a business suit and stand in air-conditioning: because you’d truly prefer to be wearing a wild dress, and because it’s really 93 degrees outside. And you have to experience both of those true things. You’ve been taught to move in the way of truth so thoroughly, you cannot stop applying it.
And I think a good narrative is only any good if it rolls along away from convention: it’s no good if the character is successful and married and happy. She must be upset, delusional, maniacal. Her job must take her to the awful slums of terror. She must enter rooms with the sheepish hangover of not belonging. Only then can she narrate anything of any interest in any interesting way.
And I wonder if there is a price that writers pay, in their lives. Because they turned down the job at the Globe and World and Times covering Education and Commerce and Transportation and in exchange walked through a series of events that have culminated in nothing tangible, no apartment and no family and nothing but maybe if they’re lucky a name on a spine. Oh, and there are those lovers they left, long ago, because it would have been so safe and comfortable to be happy. There would have been, as an editor says, throwing down the copy, “No story.”