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Friday, May 7, 2010

Writer Bum

I've always had a thing for writer bums, the sort who drink in a crusty bar all day and seem to know the meaning of life but can't manage their own (think Henry Miller). He's the sort of guy who can't hold down a regular job, who's done it all, from taming lions to dressing as a Macy's Christmas elf. He works six to eight months then gets himself fired because he just doesn't belong there between walls and concrete. These guys seem to be onto something, to have a finger on the pulse of what's true and important. But they have no car, bad credit, and can't pay the light bill.

The success of Henry Miller makes me wonder about the fate of brilliant writers who have no money or support. It makes me wonder what's most important in life - the 9 to 5 grind and a nice house or divine-quality thoughts and words - and why we don't protect and support starving artists more. Miller had help along the way, people like Anais Nin who provided money, praise and "extra" things he needed. She and others recognized his gift and protected it, facilitated it.

We seem to live on two planes, the work-and-pay-bills plane, and the heart-of-truth plane. They don't intersect exactly. They bump into each other from time to time and the artist who must hold down a day job longs for those sacred chance bumps. The heart-of-truth plane is where the writer bums go and if they can't toggle between that world and the other, they die there or give it all up.

I tried to rent the movie Barfly today and Blockbuster didn't have it. It wasn't even available to order. Someone recently mentioned it and got me thinking about bums and the writers who were bums. The writer bums have a unique opportunity in the world as a "non-entity" before they're "discovered". He's almost invisible - a fly on the wall or an edge-bird making notes about the crazy flock he left behind. No one expects anything from him, no one tugs on his wallet, hem or brain - except his muse. He has no time constraints or particular hours to keep. Ideally he's open and wondering, like a child traveling on a pollen grain.

Maybe I romanticize too much. Maybe not.

I think like a writer bum sometimes or rather, live on that heart-of-truth plane when no one is watching or tugging on my hem. I initiate more conversations with strangers, take longer walks, drive new routes or visit places I've never been before. I ask more questions with less fear of the answers. A door in the universe seems to open - one that's usually closed or pretends to be, and I experience more connections and synchronicity than I do when I'm tied to my everyday - the kids and dishes and laundry.

The day job is suffering lately because I'm writing more. I look around at all the mess - towers of plates and pans in the kitchen sink, mountains of dirty laundry on the utility room floor, colorful toys scattered all over the den - and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction.

I am elsewhere.

I'm engaged in that writer bum world where it's all about the words and the truth and where the universe wants to take me. I don't want to be intimate with concrete, laundry and electric bills - not today. I want to wonder on my pollen grain, see where the wind takes us. There are so many strangers to meet, questions to ask, words to write before earth and concrete tug on my hem again. I don't want to do or be what anybody says I should do or be.

"Toggle," the pollen grain says, "Toggle between the dreams, truth and earthbound rules."

Okay, but the laundry can wait.


  1. Was especially taken with "longs for those sacred bumps to grind" but the whole piece chimes with my (post-election sleep-deprived) thoughts - I know myself to be a different person when I'm alone, but I so rarely am ... Anyway, I digress - this is musing and amusing, gentle and introspective, and I love it.

  2. i liked your post very much...
    there is so much said here!
    i liked the idea...of living on two planes...its something we all do every day...we live in one world...while wishing to be be somewhere else...the thought was clearly and beautifully described.

    i liked the last para the best cause

    i am elsewhere..

    there's so much said wish to be at one place but you are somewhere else

    i liked he challenge....wherein the pollen grains waits for the wind to define their destiny..
    amazing work
    liked it a lot....

  3. It's always interesting to see how others characterize a shared longing. I see myself as having a closet of masks -- some worn too often, others not enough. Like writer bums, I'd love to toss them all. But I think I like your interpretation better. Thanks for the ride on the pollen grain, T.

  4. You must partake of Bukowski, if you haven't already. All writers - all serious writers - are bums in the mind, if not in the world. The alcohol isn't necessary, but it eases the pain of discovering the truth about oneself, and the nature of everything in general. Persist - make sure you get hold of Barfly, and discover why Mickey Rourke is truly great.