I just finished reading a short article in Esquire about the late Jim Harrison and his writing life, and a couple of things resonated strongly for me – as I’m sure they would for any serious writer.
Before “Legends of the Fall,” Harrison, his wife, and two daughters subsisted on some $9,000 a year. Think of that. I remember one dry period of my life following a divorce when I lived on chicken livers and rice, but I never had the pressure of supporting a family on so few dollars.
A publicist I’m currently talking to just made me aware of a writer living in my area who, following her MFA and a prestigious award, lives in an Airstream.
I used to bemoan the lack of support society provides for engineers (when I was one). One day, I kept saying, engineers, who provide the nation’s infrastructure, safe water, and many other aspects of modern life we take for granted, would make the kind of money Lady Gaga makes. We would someday command salaries comparable to those of professional athletes.
It didn’t happen. Probably never will in this society. This is an indictment of our collective values. Much of our society goes gaga over someone like Donald Trump, but trash talks the likes of John Kerry, who risked his life in Vietnam in ways you and I wouldn’t even consider and now dares to try to make peace with a political enemy.
The other thing that sticks out in the Esquire article is the manner in which “Legends” came about. So much of a writer’s output is the result of sketchy ideas, vague direction, and months of hard work in making these bits and pieces into works of art. But it’s the “accidental” arrival of some works – like “Legends”. Like Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Like Kerouac’s “On the Road” – that keep us writers digging, searching, continually trying to open to the little spirits sitting on our shoulders that sometimes give us such stories complete and amazing. As Harrison says, you have to simply be there when the little guy is ready for you to take dictation.