I read an interesting piece this week about T.S. Eliot’s work at a bank, which he did alongside his writing. There was something about the work that appears to have centered and calmed Eliot, but he also seems to have needed a measure of financial security at that point in his life. Obviously, hindsight tells us that the author of The Waste Land and The Hollow Men achieved a successful balance between his competing needs.
Still, couldn’t an argument be made that if Eliot had not clung to his bank work and instead devoted himself solely to writing, he could have been a much more prolific poet of even greater stature?
But then he wouldn’t have been Eliot, would he? I wonder whether T.S. Eliot would have been able to bring sufficient focus to his writing, if he felt chronically financially insecure. Obviously many writers don’t have that problem at all, but Eliot does not appear to have been one of them. I struggle with some of the same issues myself – I have a child to support, and a lucrative job, and that job is so consuming that it often drowns out the creative. Maintaining the appropriate balance between the two is some of the most difficult emotional work I do in my life.
I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page, and writer Jon Katz made the counterpoint that I’ve not been able to articulate yet:
Very interesting Jennifer and something I think about. I have come to think security is a chimera, mostly advanced for profit by people who sell it but don’t really provide it. Recent years have suggested there is no security in bank accounts and IRAs and employment. I have come to believe security is interior, as Thoreau came to believe. Security comes from creative expression and from an internal sense of what it means to be safe and secure. I have no pension, no IRA little money in the bank. I am more secure than I have been for working for other people doing work I don’t like and that does not nourish me. Leap of faith, for me.
The sentence I bolded is one of those truths that makes you feel weak inside at first, because you know exactly how it applies to you and it names something that has heretofore remained stubbornly elusive. Without my writing and photography, life seems as though it’s proceeding without me. The hourglass is draining, and I’m stuck. I have a chronic sense of unease, as if I am chasing something that isn’t identifiable and can’t be caught. Not to be overwrought, but I don’t think calling it existential despair is a rhetorical overreach.
I can look at my life and I know when that sense of despair has been with me and when it’s been banished. I am better at everything when it’s gone – I’m a better parent, lover, friend, and I’m better at being myself.
At some moment next week, I’m going to lean out of whatever kayak I’m in and trail my fingers in the blackwater river, leaving behind the emptiness and the unease for the alligators to eat, and breathe in the security of my life.