By Caitlin Kelly
It’s been three long months of COVID-19 isolation for me now.
None of the usual pleasures and distractions of visiting a cinema, museum, ballet or opera. No bars or restaurants.
A good long time to reflect.
And a good time to purge enormous piles of paper, most of it the notes for previous articles I’ve written or the magazines in which those stories appeared.
I filled multiple enormous garbage bags with it, and ruthlessly tossed out several fat files with notes for my classes teaching writing, as I’ve done at several universities and schools.
It’s not Art or Literature.
It’s just journalism.
I enjoyed producing it and the money I earned from it paid plenty of bills — groceries and gas and health insurance and clothes and dental bills and haircuts.
But why cling to all this paper? Proof I existed? That someone read my work?
I’ve been writing for a living for more than 40 years, published many, many times, in Canada, the U.S., even in Ireland and France. At the tail end of any writing career, and I hope to stop in the next few years, it’s inevitable to look back — even at the 2,000+ posts here! — and think…what was all that about?
Did it help anyone?
I did receive some very powerful emails after both of my books, from grateful and appreciative readers. My last book — I remembered as I found the issue buried in one of my drawers — was named in People magazine (a big deal here) as one worth reading.
But the fact of being a writer-for-sale is that only the best-selling authors or screenwriters ever make enough income from one book or TV series that they can afford to slow down or even stop.
The nature of being a writer also means — it’s hard to stop!
We enjoy winning and keeping your attention.
We love finding and telling stories to strangers.
We see story ideas everywhere.
We like the recognition that what we’ve created has some emotional or commercial value.
6 thoughts on “It’s just paper and words”
Not to mention, the endless opportunities to learn new things, whether it’s from researching or interviewing people.
That’s true! The stuff we learn!
I hear you on the difficulty of letting go of all that paper – and on how it causes us to re-evaluate what we’ve done! I went through a large pile of notes about past writing projects this past week and it was painful to see how much work had gone into many of them without ever “paying off.”
In my past musical life, I just loved gigging and miss it terribly. It’s a high like no other. But with live performing at a standstill, it can also feel to performers like what we do has just disappeared from the world (and scary to wonder whether our live performing skills will continue to hold any economic value esp. as people get in the habit of experiencing everything online – they can see world-class performers easily, so why go out? I think the live experience is worth it, but it’s always our job to make it so).
I keep telling myself that I’m making room for new interests by clearing the decks, that the new world may call for new behaviors and priorities from me, and that it’ll serve me better not to be too attached to my prior vision of myself or of what I have to offer. And, I’m incredibly fortunate to have a home, food, health, etc. so counting those blessings and figuring out how to contribute going forward.
You have done a ton of great work! Malled was excellent. You have a big loyal readership here. You continue to make a difference through your writing and I want you to continue to get paying work that will support you! You deserve that! The digital landscape is a tough place for creatives though, since it has magnified a few income streams enormously (esp. for tech-y people) while killing the ones many of us counted on. And yet we’ve built our lives on doing these kinds of work and don’t want to quit…
I am so sorry your work is so affected — of course! Jose and I have been really really lucky to have lots of work and work we can easily do at home…Millions can’t!
I think there will be (is already) a tremendous hunger to be once more with artists like you in the flesh — I watched (sob!) Kinky Boots on PBS last night (the musical) and ohhhhhh, it made me so miss being in a theater!
Thanks for the kind words! For the moment, I still have good work (just did my first project for — of all things! — an editor in Helsinki. It went great and what a pleasure.)
i recently purged piles of business papers from my mother, that no i longer had any reason to hang onto, and then papers of early teaching days, when i kept everything. i thought of them as history, looked through them, and sent them on their way. they had served their purpose at the time, but no longer had a purpose for me. i felt lighter immediately.
Right? It can be really hard to physically let go of stuff — but it’s just stuff, most of it. It’s the emotional weight of it!