My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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writing and money, for no money

Outside the window – piles of crushed leaves and flurries of fresh ones spilling from the sky. Inside: worry. Notepads covered with numbers. Money again.

There has been a steep price for my glorious jaunt to Europe. While I was away, as some of you may recall, there was a flood in the basement suite of my house, the rental of which is a vital part of my income. The flood was caused by something inconsequential which could have been fixed easily had I been home. But I wasn’t, so my tenant moved out in August, and the damage got worse requiring major repairs, plus the on-going loss of rental income.
Hence, money worries. I know them well, Horatio, having lived almost my entire adult life with a gift, an absolute genius for not making money – for choosing fields in which decent remuneration was only a remote possibility. The only period of financial stability was during my ten years of wifedom during the eighties, when my husband provided security while I had babies, cooked, cleaned and got a Master’s in that most lucrative of fields: Creative Writing.
I’d spent the seventies as an actress in Vancouver, when during my best year, which included a half-hour TV drama with Michael J. Fox, I made $13,000. During the nineties, I was a single mother, the most vulnerable and fraught of states, and then – woo hoo – entered a real money-making field and became a writer. Spent more than 20 years buying vast quantities of great clothing for other people and myself at Goodwill, and researching and writing a book that not many people wanted to read or at least buy, and that Stephen Spielberg has not, so far, optioned for a film.
Now I make a bare living as a teacher of writing, work I love, and as a landlady, and no longer spend hours as a buyer of second-hand clothes but at my new unpaid job, blogging, and my old one, working on a book which may not even be published, or if it is, that no one may want to read or at least buy. As they say in England – brilliant!
But I have chosen this life, or it has chosen me. The possibility of entering the stable workforce was always there; I was not interested. Why? I have no idea – was it a sixties thing? Perhaps not, perhaps it’s a genetic hippydom, because so far in their adult lives, my children are not interested in the stable workforce either. It’s one of my boasts that I’ve almost never worked in a place with fluorescent lighting, and neither have they. On we go, self-employed paupers in natural light.
This dark mood too shall pass. I’m not, all sounds to the contrary, complaining. The suite will get fixed and rented, and I’ll pay off my debts and regain equilibrium. I’m not sitting in a traffic jam on the Don Valley Parkway, I’m in my dressing-gown at 10.30 a.m., about to get ready to cycle to U of T as the gorgeous fall scene glows outside my office window. This is to complain? No, this, with all its worries, is luck.
Yesterday was Sunday, so spent my usual two hours with CBC Radio, Tapestry at 2 and Eleanor Wachtel at 3. I cooked chicken in orange and leek sauce, leeks braised with cheese, and a lot of salmon and broccoli – part of my week’s meals – while listening. Eleanor interviewed the elusive, brilliant Phillip Roth, and at the end I thought, radio does not get better than this. It was stunning to listen to one of our greatest living writers speak about his relationship with his father, his work, and with death. “All my friends are dying,” he said. “I belong to the Funeral of the Month Club.”
At the end, when she asked if he’d be a writer again in another life, he said no and he wouldn’t want his children to be either. (I took notes and hope I got him right.) “As a writer,” he said, “you’re always an amateur. Yes, you’ve written other books, but not that new book. You’ve got to start all over again with scraps. The first six months are gruelling. You work alone; no one can help you drag this thing out of yourself.”
Well, what do you like about writing? asked Eleanor.
“A writer is freed from the gag in his mouth,” he said. “All my freedom is in my narrative, in my words. Freedom is the compensation. Eventually you make an object all by yourself – a book. Nobody can stop you, tell you what to do.
You buy that freedom at a steep cost, which is the work itself. But you do buy a kind of freedom.”
Thank you for stating it so beautifully, Mr. Roth. All my freedom, too, is in my words. It’s my pleasure, as a self-employed writer with sunlight on her keyboard, to give them to you.

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2 Responses to “writing and money, for no money”

  1. Unknown says:

    Beth,if i were 10 years younger i'd open a restaurant with you … and,oh yes you would,too

  2. beth says:

    George: What a great idea. I have the staff for you – my son the ultimate in charming hosts, my daughter the foodie. Sam has always wanted to open a small restaurant with a jazz bar and reading venue at the back – for musicians and poets.

    I'd be stuck at home cooking with words, and just come to eat.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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