So, I had my last day at the learning center for immigrant children. My last class was a big one, of both little and big kids, and at the very end, upon hearing the news of my leaving, they were all struck silent and somber. They crowded around me in a tight circle, hugging both me and each other. And I instantly regretted the decision to leave that hectic messy job for the better paying one, teaching adults corporate-world English.
But I had to take that better paying job, to better afford the freedom of writing exactly what I want to write. For years I feel like I squandered my talent, writing for companies and corporations, for advertising and marketing agencies, work that left me too drained, sometimes, to pursue my own vision. Enough of that. I decided a few years ago I would not be writing for anyone else but myself, even if it meant continuing to work at some other occupation to pay the bills. Teaching is pretty good, actually. At least it’s contact with people, in a meaningful way. But it is hard to keep from thinking, when you’re with a student, or correcting a workbook, I could be writing now…
When I was reading the biography of the poet Robert Lax, I was struck by the number of times he was broke: Dead broke, as in, how am I going to pay for my next meal or room, and even facing the possibility of sleeping on some church stairs. It makes me wonder if poverty is a hindrance, or possibly a catalyst, for a writer (or artist, or dancer, or actor…) I’m inclined, from my own experience, to believe the latter. Money should never be the only goal, but it is incentive, a tangible reward for hard work, energy and focus that often goes into creating something. But how many examples do we have of the writer who hits the big time, becomes wealthy and secure, only to never produce anything of true quality again?
There’s no right answer here. Only life, which is hardly ever fair. Comfortably wealthy people can write splendid literature, while nobly poverty-stricken writers can produce only trash. But the jobs we’re forced to take have their silver linings, offering fodder for our creations, providing the true world we’ll try to recreate in our fiction. So if I ever decide to write a novel set in an ESL learning center…I’m all set!