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  • Roxanne Noor

The Poor Writer

Updated: Mar 31

I was staying in a friend’s basement in Brooklyn near a Hasidic neighborhood. There had been torrential flooding the week before and the basement had been flooded. Though it was end of October and cold out, all the fans in the basement were on full blast in a feeble attempt to help evaporate the leftover wetness. Mold was beginning to form, a kind of urban contagion.

The basement was an artist’s studio where one painter and a bust sculptor lived. It smelled of paint fumes and wet clay. The walls were lined with three dimensional renderings of busts, women’s faces so well shaped they looked real, like chopped off heads as mantle pieces. There was a collection of mutated alien penises hung up like trophies. 

The space was creative, and the roommates filled the artist stereotype. One of sculptors working until 6 am while drinking gin and would wake up at 4 in the afternoon. The architect partied until 5 am and followed a similar schedule. The room I was staying in was the painter’s while he was out of town. I sat in bed and read one of his books, this chapter discussing the purpose in a lack of function, for art not to be a commodity to use. 

I ate a banana slowly as I read Milan Kundera, this yellow testicle was my dinner for tonight. New York was drying me out. I had not realized how poor I really was until I returned back to the states, to the raging hell of capitalistic glory and perversion where a bagel was $9 and a Negroni at the bar was $25. 

It was confusing. When I worked in tech in my early twenties, I was making more than my friend’s parents. I was a young hustler with a corporate tech job and sugar daddies who supported me. Now, I had neither. I had let go of a certain life for what I saw as more real. I followed the dream of traveling the world and becoming an established writer. 

The dream did not have a real start or an end. Some months I got to edit novels and screenplays and juggled multiple clients at a time. Other months I did not work for anyone and spent my time developing my own manuscripts and docs while living in Asia. 

My dream had brought me back to NY, where I was broke and crashing at a friend’s in a moldy basement eating a banana for dinner. It struck me that the simple act of buying a new backpack for my travels would put me in even more of a compromising situation. I couldn’t trick myself out of it, I was not in a good situation. 

My mind went into panic. I was back in the country where if my health went awry, I would pay my entire savings to hospital bills. I was back to spending $200 on simple groceries. I was back to a way of life in which so many people like me struggled to chase a dream that had no proof of manifesting itself, it came only in brief glimpses. 

Outside of the money, I had everything I’d ever wanted, because what I wanted was a way of life more than things. I had the freedom to wake up when I pleased, I hadn’t used an alarm clock in five years. I had the freedom to choose not have to take the subway during rush hour with the thousands of unhappy people commuting to their office jobs. I had the freedom to spend my afternoons writing in cafes like a bohemian. I had the freedom to travel, because I had friends all over the world who were happy to host me freely. I was not restricted by my time or space or any demands outside of myself. 

Yes, there were months of uncertainty. Yes, there were months of sleeping in friends beds. Yes there were times where I ate mostly fruit and bread. It was worth it because I got to create. I got to spend my time reading what I enjoyed, traveling to where I chose. These were the compromises that had to be made. Art demanded a life of risk. Art demanded a life of simplicity and a lack of clutter. I couldn’t spend $400 on a new handbag or a rug, I didn’t even have a house to put them in. 

I could be happy in my friend’s basement because this was the life I consciously chose. This was a part of it. I joined the party that was my living situation. One night we all went out dancing in Red Hook. The guitarist at the venue used to play for Jonny Cash and later for Norah Jones. He drove out to NYC from the boonies of CT because he said the city was too crazy and expensive for him. This guitarist said he didn’t mind the long drives into the city, it gave him time to think. 

I guess we all find a way to build a life that makes sense to us. Artists go into art knowing that it's a horrid business plan. We are guided by the love of the craft for it in itself, not for any gains outside of the process.

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