Paul Auster is an American treasure. If you’ve never read anything by the man, you are, quite simply, doing it wrong. A giant in both the novel game and the memoir racket — he could crush your corny-ass Augusten Burroughs into dust with one turn of phrase — he is currently on tour promoting a new memoir, Winter Journal, which brings him to the Free Library tonight. But for the youngish and writerly among us (btw: 215 Festival announcements dropping soon!), we turn to an earlier Auster memoir, Hand To Mouth: A Chronicle Of Early Failure. Here are its opening paragraphs, which we offer to all of you who dare to dream of a life in words:
In my late twenties and early thirties, I went through a period of several years when everything I touched turned to failure. My marriage ended in divorce, my work as a writer founderd, and I was overwhelmed by money problems. I’m not just talking about an occasional shortfall or some periodic belt tightenings — but a constant, grinding almost suffocating lack of money that poisoned my soul and kept me in a state of never-ending panic.
There was no one to blame but myself. My relationship to money had always been flawed, enigmatic, full of contradictory impulses, and now I was paying the price for refusing to take a clear-cut stand on the matter. All along, my only ambition has been to write. I had known that as early as sixteen or seventeen years old, and I had never deluded myself into thinking I could make a living at it. Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days. Unless you turn out to be a favorite of the gods (and woe to the man who banks on that), your work will never bring in enough to support you, and if you mean to have a roof over your head and not starve to death, you must resign yourself to doing other work to pay the bills. I understood all that, I was prepared for it, I had no complaints. In that respect, I was immensely lucky. I didn’t particularly want anything in the way of material goods, and the prospect of being poor didn’t frighten me. All I wanted was a chance to do the work I felt I had it in me to do.
Preach. To Auster, we say thank you. To everyone else, we say: You’re welcome.