A Goodbye to the Literary Life

Sonny Brewer, Smackdab in the literary life at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama

Sonny Brewer, smack-dab in his writing life, at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama

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.

He’s sixty-five.

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.

Sonny Brewer

Sonny Brewer. the elevator man

About Darrelyn Saloom

Darrelyn Saloom co-wrote My Call to the Ring: A Memoir of a Girl who Yearns to Box (Glasnevin, 2012) with world champion boxer, Deirdre Gogarty, but her pugilistic passions are confined to a keyboard. Darrelyn lives with her husband and various critters on a horse farm in south Louisiana, where she is working on a collection of personal essays and stories. To learn more, visit her website at http://darrelynsaloom.com or follow her on Twitter: @DarrelynSaloom
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25 Responses to A Goodbye to the Literary Life

  1. Herman says:

    This makes me very sad.

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. shirleyhs says:

    I don’t know Sonny except through you, Darrelyn. But I couldn’t help think that Walt Whitman would understand both sides of him. Enjoy that last dance! But what we call an ending is only the beginning.

  3. richardstuartgilbert says:

    Yes, sad. But I wager he’ll be back at the keyboard. His Facebook farewell alone shows he can write—and has something to say, the latter maybe the more important.

  4. It’s a sad reality that the Internet has made good (and bad) writing more accessible, while at the same time killing any possibility of earning a living for most of us. These days, I sweat blood to bring in articles on deadline for a $150 pittance, then wait weeks for some clueless editor in a cubicle to decide she/he has time to read what I struggled to make so perfect. In the meantime, I’m not paid, even though the client was adamant they needed it by a certain date. I am also disillusioned – for many reasons and on many fronts – and am considering walking away from it all. Like Sonny, I’d like to retreat to a mountain top with monks and see if I can find the true meaning of life, because this ain’t it.

  5. Wish you could come to the festival, Barbara. I’d love to introduce you to Sonny. I’m so sorry to hear about your troubles. xo

  6. Debra Marrs says:

    Wow. Powerful and thought-provoking. I understand. The internet and the global community have leveled access to the publishing field, which in turn has filled that realm with chaos and noise. It’s so noisy sometimes with the shouts and crazy movements of the attention-seekers, the significance of gentle giants like Sonny is lost. I understand. Because this noise isn’t about literature. The noise is all about proclaiming #amwriting. Really? And so what? That just wears me down.

  7. It’s doubly sad, Debra, because Sonny has helped so many writers succeed. Just breaks my heart.

  8. Darrelyn, I too am curious to see if he eventually returns. I spent some time last year as a substitute school bus driver to help finance my writing time. I was a good driver and I liked the children, but in terms of the workplace I just didn’t fit in. In the end the stress and unpredictable hours just wasn’t worth it. I wonder if writing makes us truly unfit to do anything else.

    • I hope he does return, Sophfronia, because he’s such a talented writer and storyteller. Sonny’s had lots of day jobs to support his writing. And he’s had tons of success as a writer. But there’s no 401K or retirement plan for writers. At sixty-five, he’s doing what needs to be done. And he’s come to terms with it. Much better than I.

  9. jpon says:

    I’m sad to hear about your friend, Darrelyn. News like that reminds us how hard it is to maintain the muse in the face of rejection and criticism, and the knowledge of just how little our society values the arts. I hope he’ll change his mind at some point and at least do some writing in his spare time.

    • Thank you, Joe. Sonny’s working six days a week. Wakes up at four-something in the morning. Works till dark. He’s signed on to his construction job for two years. It’ll be tough, but he’s a born storyteller. So I hope his words find a way to the page.

  10. Carolyn says:

    Sad to see someone hang up his pen. Hopefully, he will decide to pick it up at a later date.

    Thanks for sharing his story. I enjoyed reading it.

  11. Thank you for stopping by, Carolyn.

  12. Bob Mayer says:

    Saw this on twitter and wonder. It’s not just about the writing. It’s about running a business. There’s a difference between giving up on the writing and giving up on trying to run one’s own business.
    At the beginning of my writing career I lived in a one room, unheated apartment above a garage. I took active duty tours when they were offered to help pay the bills, even if they required me to deploy to places where people shot at me.
    I used to drive 50,000 miles a year to do booksignings at military PXs selling remaindered copies of my first hardcovers. A good day was 20. A bad day after 14 hours sitting there, was 0. I’m a terrible salesman. But I sat there and wrote.
    I made the hard decision to jump from trad publishing to indie in 2010, when people were still laughing at digital. I made many hard decisions over the years. Blackwater beckoned with big bucks for 3 on, 3 off. And possibly dying.
    I wrote.
    Does he own the rights to any of his writing? Has he explored the digital realm?
    Just makes me wonder.

    • Great to see you here, Bob. Sonny’s story is an interesting one. But I can’t speak for him about his rights to his writing because I don’t know. I’ll be spending time with him in November, and I’m sure I’ll learn more details.

      I do know Sonny worked a long stint as editor-in-chief at MacAdam Cage, so he knows all about the digital realm. Not sure if he’s fond of it though.

      I’m sure you’re aware of Jane Friedman’s latest venture with Scratch Magazine. Stories like Sonny’s are why I’m thrilled she is tackling the business side of writing. No doubt, writers need to be more savvy when it comes to money.

  13. cynthia says:

    I loved reading Sonny’s farewell but would prefer it as fiction–I hate to see anyone give up a literary life. Darrelyn, thanks so much for sharing his words here; otherwise I would never have known. A big thank you of appreciation to Sonny for all he has done for the cause.

  14. I’ll pass on your big thanks to Sonny, C. May throw in a big hug while I’m at it.

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  16. Bethany Leigh says:

    couldn’t 🙂 nice…

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