Sunday, May 31, 2009

I’m the kind of writer who feels like she’s getting away with something

Juliet Blackwell...

I’m the kind of writer who feels like she’s getting away with something.

Seriously. Most people I know are condemned to spending a goodly portion of every day doing things they would prefer not to. And I’m not even talking about the folks who unclog city sewers or pour asphalt on hot summer days or peel endless sacks of potatoes.

As a friend of mine used to say: “Work is work; if it were fun they would have called it fun.”

But I thoroughly enjoy my work. There’s something…downright un-American about that, isn’t there?

Even when I’m not taking actual pleasure in my work-–because yes, it can be bone-crunchingly, soul-numbingly hard-- I’m still compulsively driven to do it. I wake up before dawn and start to write; by the time others are coming on home in the evening, kicking off their shoes, and mixing a pitcher of mojitos, I still would rather keep writing than join them. Makes me a bit of a freak in my tight-knit neighborhood.

When I was working full-time as an artist, painting custom murals and portraits of children in the guise of Raphaelite angels, architects and bookkeepers and computer programmers would stop by my Berkeley studio, look around at the easels and paints and ask me: “How come you get to do this?”

Good question. A lot of luck, certainly. And plenty of hard work, and the fortitude to forgo a whole lot of consumer items. But mostly, the enticing idea that I might get away with doing what I want to do.

I managed to stay in school for years, studying anthropology. When the whole anthropology doctorate thing didn’t quite work out, I became a professional artist. And now, a fiction writer.

Clearly I’m not cut out for a real job.

But I’ve never regretted my choices. For me, being a writer means getting to live in my head, to look around at the world and imagine an altered reality full of characters both real and imagined; and to enjoy myself, and my work, just about every single day. It’s a lot like being an artist, or an anthropologist for that matter: The pay sucks, but the working conditions are awesome.

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