“Look at that!” To my surprise, there was a check in my mailbox last week. It usually contains only bills to be paid and pizza delivery flyers. Twice a year the IKEA catalogue graces the mailbox too. But this time there was a check, aham (I told my pride), from my publisher.
The pride lasted for two seconds. The check was of $0.20. They must have sold just one copy of my book last month, I suppose. I tried to spin it positively to myself (two zeroes!), but who am I kidding? 20 cents. When I showed it to Sarah, she caressed my hair and said, “I’m glad that not our salary.”
I smiled and tried to think what could I use the check for. I can’t deposit it, at least not profitably; my bank charges 5 euros to exchange foreign checks. “I can use it as a bookmark”, was the next, still optimistic thought. But to be sincere the check went straight to the drawer. A $0.20 royalty bookmark to accompany my reading would not encourage my literary vocation much.
My writer blues became bluer still later in the week. I wrote to an agent, sending her the manuscript of my second book, hoping she would agree to represent me. “I’ll have an agent!”, hopped my pride once again. But she asked me to first translate the English manuscript to Italian so she could read it. I went online to look for a professional translator. (Of course. You should see the quality of that prose, sugar.) The first one I found charged 8 cents per word. It sounded like a reasonable number until I made the math. My manuscript: 85,000 words. Multiplied by 0.08: 6800 euros. Oh my. I guess I’ll go with Google Translator.
I opened up with Sarah the following day. We were sharing a Kebab for lunch (it costs €2,80 on Tuesdays). After circling around the subject for a while I told her that the income side of my writing career is $0.20 and the outgoing side is €6,800. She held my hand. “Try looking for another translator.”
I found solace a few days later in a story by Anton Chekhov. “I’m reading Chekhov!”, hopped by literary pride once again, but kind Tony proceeded to demolish it. It was a story about a Portuguese writer without a penny who arrives home and finds his only reader–his wife–asleep after having read his novel. The first sentence goes:
A free citizen of the capital city of Lisbon, Alphonso Zinzaga, a young novelist, very well known… but only to himself, giving hope of future greatness … but also only to himself, being exhausted by a whole day of trudging the boulevards seeing editors, being as hungry as the hungriest of dogs, came back at last to his room.
Called Artists’ Wives, the story describes the extent of the suffering wives of artists have to bear–there is also an opera singer who practices throughout the night, an injured actor, a painter who asks his wife to pose naked. The moral of the story is so clear that Chekhov even adds exclamation points at the end:
That is the way things are, readers! Do you know what, girls and widows? Do not marry one of these artists! ‘May the goblins drive them to their distraction, these artists!’ as the Ukrainians say.
Which brings me to my point. Two points, actually. The first is: thank you, my dear Sarah, for the support you give me. I couldn’t ask for a more understanding and loving wife.