Ah, the Writer’s Life!


Reading Denis Johnson’s farewell story collection, Largesse of the Sea Maiden, last night, I came across this paragraph — in the short story “Triumph Over the Grave” (editor’s note: If only!) — about the writer’s life. Well, a fictional writer’s life, but you see what matches and what doesn’t:

“Writing. It’s easy work. The equipment isn’t expensive, and you can pursue this occupation anywhere. You make your own hours, mess around the house in your pajamas, listening to jazz recordings and sipping coffee while another day makes its escape. You don’t have to be high-functioning or even, for the most part, functioning at all. If I could drink liquor without being drunk all the time, I’d certainly drink enough to be drunk half the time, and production wouldn’t suffer. Bouts of poverty come along, anxiety, shocking debt, but nothing lasts forever. I’ve gone from rags to riches and back again, and more than once. Whatever happens to you, you put it on a page, work it into a shape, cast it in a light. It’s not much different, really, from filming a parade of clouds across the sky and calling it a movie — although it has to be admitted that the clouds can descend, take you up, carry you to all kinds of places, some of them terrible, and you don’t get back where you came from for years and years.”


“Writing. It’s easy work.” (See “Irony” in your handbooks.)

Equipment inexpensive, pursue occupation anywhere. (See “True comma that.”)

“You… mess around the house in your pajamas.” (See “If you’re still 12, maybe.”)

“…listening to jazz recordings” (See “Jukebox selections may vary and DO….”)

“…and sipping coffee” (See “Amen!” and “Awomen!” to that!)

“If you could drink liquor without being drunk…” (See “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the Judy Garland Wing)

“…nothing lasts forever” (See the Buddha nodding sagely — the only way he can.)

“Whatever happens to you, you put it on a page…” (Or squire, or knight… no, just kidding. This is another way of saying “Write what you know,” but you can write what you don’t know just as easily.)

“…clouds can descend, take you up…” (See “Ali comma Baba” in carpeting on the mezzanine.)

I don’t know about you, but I like reading about reading, and I like reading about writing, so a final tip of the hat to Denis. Thanks for the memories, kid. You knew your way around a sentence. A paragraph, too. What more could a writer — or reader — ask for?

2 thoughts on “Ah, the Writer’s Life!”

Comments are closed.