Monday, December 3, 2007

Hand to Mouth, by Paul Auster

I picked up this short memoir about the author Paul Auster's life while browsing in the Daedalus Books & Music Warehouse Outlet in Columbia, Maryland. I knew the name from having read his novel, In the Country of Last Things, a few years before.

The book focuses on Auster's years as a struggling writer, made much more difficult by the fact that he philosophically railed against settling into the status quo of 9-to-5 working society. Even after graduating from the prestigious Columbia University, he preferred instead to tag onto random spurts of blue collar work where he found it (Merchant Marines, dishwasher, etc.) and to take on stints of freelance work in French language translation when he could get them. He moved through life, just getting by like this, for over a decade, from odd job to odd job, continuing to write whenever he had spare time.

One can't help but admire Auster for holding on so doggedly to his writing, that, at times, seemed to be the only glue that held him together. Where someone else may have tossed it all aside, the person Auster describes as himself in this book plodded on, seemingly toward a goal that would end with him becoming a writer or else destroying himself in the process. There was no other way. He didn't say he chose to be a writer; it chose him.

Had he not suffered these setbacks and woven such a tapestry of unique characters into his world, one wonders if he would have become the unique writer he is today. These experiences, coupled with the urgency that kept him churning out the written word were a second education to his Ivy League one. So many of us would never be so bold as to attempt to ride the winds of life without that safety net, the regular paycheck, at least by our own volition.

One of my favorite ways to look at art (to include the creative craft of writing) is that it supports life, and not the other way around. That's what came back to mind when I read Hand to Mouth.

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