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The Sin of Letters
One Man's Crime against Materialism
© 2012 James LaFond
I recently had a disagreement with the woman who dumped me a few years ago. No, we do not disagree on that. She parroted every member of my family, when she insisted that I write full time [40-70 hours per week] because I enjoy it. Writing is just a hobby, a diversion, a way to goof off. It is enlightening to pursue this line of reasoning. It always takes you to the same place, but by various ways.
This lady had worked 44 hours at a dreary job. She could not believe that I was more tired than her, as I had only worked 30 hours at my dreary job. I pointed out to her that being a grunt was not only my part-time job, but just one of them. I also coached for 4 hours this week. My fulltime job, writing, occupied me for 62 hours. That is 96 hours of toil I pointed out; only sleeping 3 hours between Monday night and Friday morning.
The lady insisted that the 66 hours of coaching and writing did not count, that they are pure enjoyment, and in no way constitute ‘work’. I quizzed her extensively on this value system and discovered that to be ‘work’ something has to pay enough to provide food, shelter, clothing and transportation, and must also be difficult, toilsome and unsatisfying; something you would never do without payment.
I disagree, but she does offer a definition of work that most Americans agree with. Coaching and writing, being pursuits I would engage in—and have—without pay, may only be considered a serious worthwhile activity if they pay well. She is in line with modern society, and her definition will please those many millions who think that athletes and actors enjoy every second of their training and performance; their income virtually ill-gotten gain.
When I think to the fact that Melville, Howard and Tolkien—three of my favorite authors—were not able to support themselves from the proceeds of their writing during their lifetime, I understand that they sinned against materialism when among the living. But surely their tortured souls must have been released from purgatory by a forgiving Capitalist God by now, having earned tens of millions for their inheritors.
It remains to be seen what value is ultimately placed on my fiction. My non-fiction—though controversial—has been highly valued by a few, some paying hundreds of dollars per book to be privy to the results of my non-work. I have thought at some points that jealousy was at work here, when my family boycotted my writing in silent protest of me laying down my management tie and attempting something as despicable as being a novelist. I thought that getting away from the temptation of college girls wanting me to be their sugar daddy would avert a nubile midlife crisis. Little did I know that people—even a professor—would characterize my thousands of hours of research and writing as a midlife crisis.
In moments of contemplation it is easy to imagine those without the necessary discipline to compose a full-length work of fiction or non-fiction being jealous. But others, well-wishing readers, have also echoed the concern that I might be ‘wasting my talent’ on low paying genres. The lady above once suggested I write ‘trashy romances’ as they sold, and, presumably were more worthwhile projects. The cold hard fact is if you are an aspiring writer those around you would rather you write lucrative porn than slow-selling philosophy.
My father had long been ostracized by his family and mine for making business ventures rather than punching a time clock. So, not wanting the humiliation of a failed business, I punched that clock. And, when I lapsed into creative projects [I never took off an hour to write, but always wrote after work, when I was raising a family] even Dad counseled me not to get my hopes up. After he got sick he even detailed his brother to discourage me from writing. The man even laughed at my low sales figures and shook his head in disappointment, suggesting I write toy assembly directions instead of history.
The fact is, these people are not jealous, just worried, because one of their kind is rejecting the materialistic ethic that underpins their entire society. We are ruled by the God of Things, and everything else, most particularly ideas, are subservient to this God-as-dollar.
I am at odds with this ethic, seeing books as a wonderful thing. I found Herman Melville’s Typee at the bookstore today. He may have despaired when his friends and family turned away from him as punishment for his dubious work. But they are dead, gone and forgotten. Herman is still talking to me about places he’s been that I will never see—because they are gone.
I am not alone. Even in my small circle of relations I have a cousin whose family has discouraged her from writing—probably pointing out how odd Cousin Jimmy is. I am not a prodigy, and have only excelled in those pursuits that I have devoted large amounts of time and effort to. I am not the first, or am I likely to be the last, man to believe that excellence in any field has a value above and beyond our temporary ability to buy goods and services. If you are a writer, an athlete, an artist of any kind, I think you will understand intrinsic non-economic value.
I only sold 204 books in 2012. My sales have hovered around 2-300 per year for over a decade now. It would be nice to have a best-seller, and that might make up for the fact that no member of my family will probably ever read one of my books. Money would be nice too. But I would probably just give it away like I did my bonus checks when I was a heartless boss.
Writing this piece was really an exercise in soul-searching, because I just couldn’t explain to the capitalist feline that grilled me about my literary compulsion exactly what I got out of it. In the end, after this awkward defense of my material apostasy, I can only give one reason; and it is not among the many that I have thrown up in defense of my writing when taken to task by money worshippers in the past.
So why do I write?
I write for a maybe.
Maybe, 150 years from now, some reader rooting through whatever passes for a bookstore will—like I did today—come across a rare reprint that the database swore did not exist; a book about an obscure place, a long time ago, written for someone that might care; composed by some scrub here at this coffee-stained desk.
Sunset Character Sketches
author's notebook
The Name Drain
logic of force
blue eyed daughter of zeus
the lesser angels of our nature
solo boxing
your trojan whorse
taboo you
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