The Immortality of Words

Fifteen years ago I read a book called The Writing Trade, by John Jerome.  It depicted, journal-style, a year-in-the-life of a writer.  I loved it because it spoke to all those writerly things to which I had long aspired, ever since I was a teenager.  Here was someone doing what I so very badly wanted to do – write for a living.

A few days ago I pulled it off the bookshelf and began reading it again.  And very quickly, just like fifteen years ago, I was pulled into that world of of the minutiae of writing.  What it meant to be a writer on a full time basis.

Halfway through the book, I decided to see what John Jerome had been up to.  To see what other stuff he might have published since that 1992 publication of The Writing Trade.  Google can be a wonderful thing.

Alas.

John Jerome was dead.  Thirteen years after the year he depicted in his book, twelve years after he wrote it, ten years after it was published, and seven years after I read it – John Jerome had died.  Lung cancer had come calling.

It was a sobering context with which to finish the book.

One of the things John came back to frequently was the financial struggle.  Writing had afforded him the luxury of a lifestyle that many of us – and he himself – would consider blessed.  But it had not graced him with much financial certitude.  He lived pretty much week to week, depending upon the next freelance-work check to arrive in the mail.

I can empathize with that.  After writing for Sport Rider for eight years I can attest that anyone who does it for the money must have rocks in their head.  I certainly appreciate the check that follows a story submission – and I’ve always joked that those checks pay for my tires (and they do) – but the notion of actually trying to make a living from such a relative pittance is laughable.  I don’t write fast enough that, even were there enough similar monthly gigs, I could manage even a lower-middle-class living.

John Jerome was a good-to-excellent writer who, despite a lifetime of work at it, never really made it.  There are few that ever really do.  Even Hemingway lived well not because of the remuneration from his writing, but because of his penchant for marrying rich women.

Doesn’t seem quite right.

But then again, as I finished the last half of The Writing Trade, aware that John Jerome was no longer with us, I was more aware than ever of the immediacy of the words he had written.  That the voice he laid down on paper back in 1990 carried down over two decades, until now, even past the grave.

Maybe that’s why we do it.

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