Friend and fellow author, Sonny Brewer, called last week to say he’d join me the first of November in Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Book Festival. But it would be his last book event. His goodbye to the literary life.
I’ve talked to Sonny many times on the phone, but I’ve never heard such bone-tired exhaustion in his voice as he told me about his new job in construction.
Sonny’s published books fill a long shelf in my loft—yet writing’s not paying his bills.
The tired in his voice convinced me he was serious. Then I read his goodbye on Facebook last night. Here’s what he wrote:
So, my friend William Gay spoke of “clocking-in at the Culture Factory” when he gave up work at the boat paddle mill in favor of a full time run at the writing he did with such force and beauty, and the world was made richer for his decision. William’s mind had a lockdown on how blood burns into strange fuel for the soul. His books prove it.
Now, I’ve clocked OUT at the Culture Mill. I didn’t tear up my time card, and I didn’t kick over the trashcan on the way out the door. Still, I’m out of there. I’ve left behind the literary life.
I have now and again longed for some ledge in the Tibetan Himalayas, a craggy claim of my own where I might sit cross-legged noodling the Mystery of It All, get quiet and go down deep for insight on how we’re connected to the cosmic back-story, through the middle act and right up to the drama’s last curtain.
Instead, I’m staying in Alabama, and my ledge moves up and down the outside of a tall building near the Mobile waterfront. Instead of a saffron robe and sandals, I’ve donned a fluorescent orange vest and steel-toe shoes. I have now got a Real Job. I put on a hardhat and safety glasses and operate a buck hoist, a construction materials and personnel elevator. Instead of the sun’s gold pouring over snow-covered peaks, I watch daybreak over the Tensaw Delta from eleven stories up.
My office is a good one, welded of heavy steel, and powered by a three-phase 430-volt motor. If the wind’s blowing, I feel it on my face. If it’s raining, I get a little damp. I expect I’ll shiver some when it turns off cold here soon. I know I have sweated some in the last several days.
I waited for my elevator to tell me her name. Last week, going up past the fourth floor, she spoke to me. As clear as the Divine would from a mountaintop. Her name is Daisy. We go “upsy Daisy” and “downsy Daisy” and if she’s moving, I’m driving. I am the Elevator Man.
When my pal Biff called me to tell me about the job opening, saying it sounded ‘just like me’, he might have had his tongue in his cheek, smiling. Or 30-plus years’ knowing me might have put him on to something more essential. I vote with the latter possibility.
Thank you for reading the books I wrote, the anthologies I gathered. I am grateful also to my friends who write, who helped me into that world.
But after this post, I’m not the Writer Guy.
Matter of fact, I’ll call on Rumi to sign us out here. It’s a poem collected into a recent book offering a poem a day from the Sufi mystic (who some 800 years after his death is America’s top-selling poet!). This selection, titled “No Flag” is actually the one for this day, October 20:
I used to want buyers for my words. Now I wish somebody would buy me away from words.
I have made a lot of charmingly profound images, scenes with Abraham and Abraham’s’ father, Azar, who was famous for making icons.
I am so tired of what I’ve been doing. Then one image without form came, and I quit. Look for someone else to tend the shop. I am out of the image-making business.
Finally, I know the freedom of madness.
A random image arrives. I scream, Get out! It disintegrates. Only love. Only the holder the flag fits into. No flag.
I’m sad a fine writer is walking away. But I look forward to a last dance with my pal at the Louisiana Book Festival. If you’re in Baton Rouge and run into Sonny (he’ll be with me in Senate Committe Room C from 10:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.), be sure to say hello to him.
Before he says goodbye.