Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

On being an amateur

Dear H,

I know I'm in love with this work because I feel I'm not worthy of it.  All of these essays are from me but they aren't me.  I feel they're infinitely above me.  Many of them couldn't be rewritten if I tried, and they represent a part of me so spontaneous and beautiful and ephemeral -- a snapshot of my soul, most usually at three in the morning; here for a moment and then lost forever -- that many times I wonder how they came out of me at all.

I believe this is the excitement every artist has when he's in love with the work.  Ninety-nine percent of the time I feel like a man.  What you see, when I publish an essay, is a snapshot of me when I felt like a god.  I sit on my judgment seat in the heavens.  I see creation beneath me and like Adam I name it.  I'm the last man in the chain but in these moments I feel like the first.  Things spring into being before my very eyes.  Old and tired things become new and take flight.  I am excitement.  I'm lying in my bed and I'm leaping through the air.  If you don't feel like this when you write you probably aren't born to be a writer.

In truth, the fact that I feel this way when I write is the reason I don't write as a professional.  I can't bottle this feeling and because I can't bottle it I can't sell it.  It's all magic to me; and to whore myself out to a company, and have them set a deadline for when I'm supposed to feel it; to have anyone set guidelines for what I'm supposed to feel it about; and then tell me whether they feel good about what I feel, is simply too much for me.  I'm too humble about my majesty to set up a schedule and follow it.  I can promise to be married but not to be in love.  In terms of writing I'm a playboy and refuse to be a husband.  I see something and want it and take it and leave it.  I belong to no subject or paper or movement or religion.  When I see an idea I make love to it and then, rolling out of bed before it finds me at sunrise, go off to find new ideas to make love to.

"Amateur" is almost an insult to modern ears, and what Americans are trained to become is professionals.  To make money doing something they love.  What we're not taught as children is that you can only truly love something if you're an amateur.  It's where the word comes from in the first place: the French.  One who loves.  You can love it because it makes money too, of course; and contrary to the popular opinion you can be an amateur and a professional at the same time.  But you get rid of any reliance on it for money and you still wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it and congratulations -- you're alive.

The money would be nice.  I say bring on the money if you can make it.  I have no qualms about fusing the spiritual and the physical -- blow your own brains out and nobody's getting a letter from your soul.  But if I have to throw the money away to spend a life in my books; and if these books are going to give me a life in my mind; and this mind churns out things I fall madly in love with; and if this means I spar with the greatest minds of all time and have a companionship not with the world, but with the angels -- !

Give this to me, and let me be an amateur.

Your father,
-J

PS: One more thing deserves to be said here.  A quick perusal of my old articles proves that I was at one time almost entirely unreadable -- and yet at the time I loved those articles anyway.  Does this mean, very possibly, that what I'm writing this second could also be garbage?  I say this with every ounce of pride in the glory of this paragraph  -- yes.  This puts me in the ranks of 95% of all dancers, musicians, poets, kids drawing cars, teenagers making love, and karaoke bar drunks.  Is what I make any good?  I hate to say who cares? but who cares?  I'm happy.

Follow Letters to Hannah on Twitter and Facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment