my latest obsession is anthony burgess

It’s Saturday night, 10 p.m., I have no business being up very much longer since I had a perfectly productive day, and there’s no place for me to go, nobody to see—and yet, seeing that I still have half of the colada I picked up this morning, I take another shot of it. Small sips at first, then a gulp.

            Started feeling it immediately.

            Took out my phone, zipped through a few lessons of duolingo, and now here I am at my desk again, writing this and then probably another thing before shutting off my laptop and lamp and pulling up my Kindle and reading by the light of the screen alone. I’ll be up until probably three in the morning because of this.

            Which in some respects is fine, since I’ve got no obligations for the morning and might end up getting a lot more done now than I would then, but I’m sure that all of this caffeine isn’t good for my body, and I’m probably only complicating my quarantine situation by not having a more steady sleep schedule. But I do seem to be addicted to productivity lately, resentful of sleep for how much productivity it steals, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence, then, that the writer Anthony Burgess is now making a big appearance in my life, having just read one of his earlier books and purchased two of the later ones, Burgess being an old English hack, almost immorally prolific, he authored dozens of books and probably a few thousand small bits of deadline writing: reviews, reflections, that sorta thing.

            I’m reading now the second volume of his autobiography and it opens at the point in his thirties where he was stuck in a bad marriage with a younger woman and, having been told by his doctor (mistakenly) that he had a brain tumor which would kill him in a year, Burgess buckled down and wrote a feverish 2,000 words a day (about ten pages) in the hopes that he might leave his wife a few completed novels on whose advances and residuals she could scrape by.

            He wrote five novels in that year, and then didn’t die.

            But he’d adopted the habit of 2,000 words a day, and he appears to’ve maintained it.

“I got on with the task of turning myself into a professional writer. The term professional is not meant to imply a high standard of commitment and attainment: it meant then, as it still does, the pursuit of a trade of calling to the end of paying the rent and buying liquor. I leave the myth of inspiration and agonized creative inaction to the amateurs. The practice of a profession entails discipline, which for me meant the production of two thousand words of fair copy every day, weekends included. I discovered that, if I started early enough, I could complete the day’s stint before the pubs opened. Or, if I could not, there was an elated period of the night after closing time, with neighbours banging on the walls to protest at the industrious clacking.”

Anthony Burgess, You’ve Had Your Time

It might not sound totally blissful or inspired, but it does sound like it lends his day some purpose.

            Add to this impression a book of essays I’ve got over by the bed, Martin Amis’s Visiting Mrs. Nabokov, in which he collects among his journalistic odds and ends a quick profile/lunch/interview with Burgess in the 1980s. he was a lauded old legend at that point, a polymathic master whos accolytes seemed more bothered than he was by his lack of mainstream renown.

            The interview taking place some thirty years after that brain tumor scare, the real start of his “professional” practice, Burgess has this to say:

“Oh, I’ve been technically a millionaire for some time now. It doesn’t make much difference to anything, after a point. One still minds. For instance, I take it you’re paying for this lunch.”

Anthony Burgess, in conversation with Martin Amis

The fact that he’s amassed some wealth is obviously titillating for somebody in my situation, but what If ind most compelling there is that he just seems so swept up in his work, the sprawl of it, so caught up and fulfilled that the money isn’t more than a source of comfort. He’d collected enough of it that he didn’t have to think about it anymore—thus closing, beautifully, the arc that began at the outset of his professional career, where money was the motivating factor.

            This, I think is my dream: a fuck ton of enjoyable and well-paying work to be done, so much of it that I hardly notice the money.

            And the way to get there, perhaps, is 2,000 words a day. Maybe more.

            Facilitated, at times, by latenight shots of quarantine colada.

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