Writing…a dangerous profession?

Sometimes I feel like a housewife. Take today, when I’m at home at 10:00 a.m., chatting it up with the dishwasher repairman, who moved here from the Ukraine twenty years ago and, God love him, keeps dropping the kind of hints for which dishwasher repairmen are so justifiably famous, as in, “Does your husband treat you good? I can treat you very good. You need anything, you call me. For you, I give a very good price.” I ask if I can pay with a credit card. “My dear, you can pay with anything.”

After he leaves, it’s over to the couch with notebook and pen and, of course, coffee, to try to get a handle on the novel-in-progress. And this feels very much like playing hooky. No matter that the book is sold, my editor is waiting, the publisher has a calendar on which it is quite firmly penciled in; no matter that writing this book is technically my job, I cannot help but feel that the very act of staying home to write is akin, somehow, to spending my day eating bon-bons. Shouldn’t I be out in the world, providing a service, replacing a lung, building a bridge, repairing someone’s dishwasher?

Writers have said some pretty self-important things about writing over the years. Take Frederick Busch’s A Dangerous Profession: A Book About the Writing Life. A dangerous profession? Really? Um, ever driven a tractor or worked in a coal mine or tried to rein in a room of high-school students? I’d wager every one of those occupations is more dangerous than writing. Of course I understand that Mr. Busch was talking about a different kind of danger, of the emotional and intellectual sort. And to be fair, writing has posed and continues to pose, for many people around the globe, a very real and physical danger. It was dangerous when Reinaldo Arenas wrote Before Night Falls, dangerous when Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses, dangerous when Chinese writer Yang Tongyan posted anti-government articles on the Internet (as we speak he is serving a twelve-year prison term). It is dangerous to write in Burma. One might argue, I suppose, that ideas are always dangerous. And yet, for most of us who have lived out our writing days in contemporary America, it seems somewhat self-congratulatory to call the work we do dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that writing doesn’t matter. I believe, very deeply, that it does–otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it. And of course I don’t truly believe that a day spent writing is no more worthwhile than a day spent eating bon-bons. But I do think writers could sometimes take ourselves a bit less seriously. Less up-talking during the readings, perhaps. Less posturing. One can write “serious” books without thinking so seriously of oneself that one feels compelled to scowl in the author photo. You’ve seen those pictures on the cover of Poets and Writers, wherein the poet/ writer stares somberly into the camera, hand on chin or somewhere thereabouts, as if to say “I am a poet. I am at this very moment thinking very deep and dangerous thoughts.”

I’m not sure how I got here. I began with the dishwasher repairman and ended with a send-up of my own profession, the very profession that pays the bills. It’s the danger, I guess, of blogging: it’s too easy to begin a post without a thesis, too easy to meander.

I’ll simply end by saying that I’ve very much enjoyed my week of blogging on Ecstatic Days. Thanks to Mr. VanderMeer for letting me stop by. And to you, thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed the posts, I hope you’ll wander over to my blog, Sans Serif, in the coming weeks, and see what’s up over there. Or perhaps take a chance on one of my books. And later this year, I’ll have a story in the anthology Jeff is currently editing, Best American Fantasy. The story is called Logorrhea; it should come as no surprise that it’s about a woman who talks too much.

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