WRTI is a Philadelphia radio station, affiliated with Temple University (my alma mater) that specializes in classical music in the daytime, and jazz at night. I listen to WRTI intermittently all day, every day, because I like both jazz and classical, and incidentally because the disc jockeys are uniformly great.
One thing that the station does daily is host interviews with musicians, conductors and composers, and today when I was listening to an interview with the classical clarinetist Ricardo Morales, it struck me that a quality that nearly always comes through in these talks is joy: the joy of people who make their living making art. At around the same time that I was listening to the radio interview, I was also skimming through an interview with a famous novelist, and then I had my second epiphany of the afternoon, which is that practically every interview one reads with a writer of fiction drips with seriousness and barely-contained gloom, the horror of the blank computer screen in the author’s Brooklyn apartment, alleviated only barely by a dog or a cat, or maybe by a spouse who works in finance.
Now in my own modest way I also try to make art. I have two novels out, and a third one coming in the next few months, and lately just for laughs over my morning tea I’ve been writing brief faux-excerpts from non-existent pulp novels of the 1950s and 40s. I’m happy if I make a few bucks in royalties, but I write not for the money (although I love money), but just because it’s so much fun to do. I realize that writing is a soul-wrenching chore for many talented people, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be. Just as a classical or jazz musician puts up with the uncertainty of employment and the low pay and the tedium of travel all because of the joy of making music, I write because there is a joy in making sentences, and watching characters come alive and watching their stories unfold. It’s work, but it’s fun work, and I wouldn’t do it if it was’t fun.
I’m waiting to see an interview with a novelist who says, like the jazz musicians interviewed on WRTI by J. Michael Harrison or Ms. Blue: “Yeah, I just love doing what I do. It’s a blast, man. I just get out there and blow my horn, and it’s very cool.”