The Secret Life of Bankers

Yesterday I posted about how most writers need employment that’s not based on their poetry/plays/novels. For those of us not doing the freelance thing, having a desk job doesn’t mean the death of creativity. Check out this article about how T.S. Eliot, author of The Waste Land, worked in a bank. Not surprising trivia for most English majors, but Eliot actually enjoyed his job.

I know. The guy who wrote, “A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many,” was totally cool working at a bank.

Still, it’s a relief to know that such a wonderful poet didn’t need to spend his days working at a famous literary journal or writing scandalous news articles to inspire his poetry. It provided a sense of security for him so he didn’t have to stress about money instead of writing:

“Not only was Eliot at the bank, but as the letter above demonstrates, he was happy to be there. A certain pride creeps in to his accounting of his accounting: the salary, the hours, the filing cabinet which is “my province.” To read Eliot’s letters is to get a full picture of the routine demands of this job, which he clung to despite rigorous efforts from his friends and supporters to free him from the shackles of international finance.

Eliot resists the characterization of a writer as willing to forgo the niceties of daily life in order to make art. What he wants are not luxuries—the early letters testify over and over to the Eliots’ impoverishment despite Tom’s bank wages, with thank-you letters to his American relatives for sending checks that fill in the financial gaps so he can have new underwear and pajamas, not brandy and cigars. Rather, Eliot craves security. He writes again and again of trying to free himself from worry, for his own but even more for the nervous and unhealthy Vivien’s sake. Has any writer (Stevens excepted) ever had so much anxious correspondence about life insurance? Eliot is prostrate over what will happen to Vivien if anything should happen to him.”

A lot of writers have to cobble together work–writing articles, teaching intro to writing, etc.–but I think there’s something to be said for the unrelated, secure job. Even though getting paid to write full time would be amazing, it’s also nice not to worry about health benefits at this point. It means you have to balance two careers, but as long as your regular day job isn’t taking away from your ability to write, it might be a good thing to hold onto.

At least until we can all move into JK Rowling’s castle of awesomeness.

(image via The New York Times)

0 thoughts on “The Secret Life of Bankers

  1. Chad says:

    And I think this topic gains credibility that it centers on Eliot, who most people caricature as academic and fastidious and elitist and so on. Not to mention the historic angles about how he was terrible to Vivien.

    Let me pose a potentially controversial question: Is it more possible to work an entirely different, full-time vocation and be an excellent poet than it is for fiction (or nonfiction)?

    • anniecardi says:

      Excellent question! I would argue that fiction would be similarly possible to produce in an entirely different, full-time vocation. The creation of a new world/new characters can be a nice balance to an unrelated job. But I wonder about nonfiction, which could require more time researching and interviewing outside sources.

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