Inspired by the question of how many of us look on their writing as a “hobby,” together with the answers of several writers—some professional storytellers, others casual scribblers, still others 9-to-5 providers of written content—on how we describe the job/calling/hobby/trade/force within/disease/creative impulse of writing.
Writing’s just a toolbox, though it’s nicely packed with tools.
Are tools for “hobbies?” “Trades?” “Art?” “Jobs?”
I don’t think there are rules.
Sometimes I make ice sculptures
With a chisel and a chainsaw,
Carve saints from long-dead cultures
Or the gods of worlds my brain saw,
And I’ve entered them in contests, though I never really win—
I’ve used my tools for that before, and I surely will again.
But other times, old Mabel
Who’s pushing ninety-four and lives next door
And has a fridge that leaks and spills its coolant on the floor
Calls me up, or when her cable
Turns to static in the storm,
If she throws me 20 bucks,
Or knits me something warm,
I may give fewer fucks
About some Luddite’s wiring
Than the things I find inspiring,
But I’ll take the same old tools
That I used to use to teach in schools,
Wielded a while to tile mosaics
Of some forgotten ancient wonder,
And I’ll unclog with pride some drain—
Or fix some router yet again,
That’s always knocked out by the thunder.
Toilets and thrones are more or less the same.
Once or twice, when strange men came
Into my house to hurt my loved ones,
I’ve clobbered them with wrench and hammer,
And sent them aching to the slammer,
When lesser, tool-less men would turn to guns.
Sometimes a good idea falls into a pipe I can’t quite reach;
Or shop class needs a guy who doesn’t gripe to supply teach;
Sometimes the water breaks in the viaducts of doubt,
Or the paint of kindness flakes, or the lights of thought go out,
Or I’ll fix a water organ that’s older than the Church,
Or I’ll put a new screen door in for someone in the lurch,
I’ll install a temple altar,
Or I’ll rip out the old one,
Or tear out a fine chrome faucet
And replace it, when I toss it,
With an ugly, garish gold one.
And every one of all these sundry things,
The raising up of monuments to kings,
The fishing out of hairballs from the drain,
The polished jewel, the smudgeless windowpane,
Are hewn and edged and rendered plumb with tools
Whose limits are false things, put there by fools
Who have forgot what dynasties we raise
With blades and hammers (even if, most days,
We pound a few nails in and call it quits).
Once in a while, I’m paid a bit,
And other times, I earn jack shit:
The writer’s craft, the toolbox of our wits
Is not so often held in high regard
When EVERYONE, somewhere in their back yard,
In some garage, or some forgotten shed,
Has one or two tools of their own. Half-dead
From rust their edges be;
But they are theirs, and they are free.
And so the builders who would trace
The untouched stars, the topmost grace
Of unseen skies o’er unimagined lands,
Daydream a while, then turn their callused hands
To faulty lights that never quite turn on.
We, too, but briefly flicker, and are gone.