Hand to Mouth Questions and Answers
by Paul Auster

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What are some quotes from Hand to Mouth by Paul Auster? This is a study guide question posted by eNotes Editorial. Please identify and analyze at least 3 quotes in your response.

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Known as an accomplished writer and film director, in this memoir, Auster recounts his personal struggles in becoming successful. He includes a look into his family background and youth, as well as his adult adventures. With surprising honesty and openness, Auster reveals the challenge of every writer to stay true to one’s passion while also needing to survive and make money.

He expresses his desire to pursue writing as his central goal:

All I wanted was a chance to do the work I had it in me to do.

He also shares that

Becoming a writer is not a "career decision" like becoming a doctor . . . I would have to work twice as hard as anyone . . . The last thing I wanted was to play safe.

Auster’s candor in the beginning sets the tone for the rest of his memoir as he recounts personal failures in both employment and relationships.

In my late twenties and early thirties, I went through a period of several years where everything I touched turned to failure. My marriage ended in divorce, my work as a writer foundered, and I was overwhelmed by money problems. I’m not just talking about an occasional shortfall or some periodic belt tightenings—but a constant, grinding, almost suffocating lack of money that poisoned my soul and kept me in a state of never-ending panic.

Auster shares how he found himself struggling to meet the basic needs of food, housing, and so on and time again while pursuing his writing career. In his twenties, Auster traveled quite a bit, pursuing different experiences and jobs as he continued to write. He tried his hand at many ventures.

In the three and a half years I lived in France, I had any number of jobs, bounced from one part-time gig to another, freelanced until I was blue in the face. When I didn't have work, I was looking for work. When I had work, I was thinking about how to find more. Even at the best of times, I rarely earned enough to feel secure, and yet in spite of one or two close calls, I managed to avoid total ruin. It was, as they say, a hand-to-mouth existence.

He describes the ups and downs openly with his audience, as well as the understanding that, unless one can constantly barter, money is essential for survival:

But money, of course, is never just money. It's always something else, and it's always something more, and it always has the last word.

He also adds humorous accounts and interactions with interesting people along the way while he is trying his hand at various odd jobs. He keeps the memoir light and self-effacing, which allows readers to not take him or themselves too seriously.

I reached into my briefcase and took out the cigar box. Contempt flickered in his eyes. It was as if I had just handed him a dog turd and asked him to smell it.

At one point, Auster even tries creating a baseball card game that he hoped be a hot item in the game market, allowing him the time and resources to write. His motivation was that

computer games were all the rage that year . . . and I was hoping to strike it rich with an old-fashioned deck of cards.

For those who aspire to a career in writing or film, Auster offers hope and perspective. He is an example of one who never stops writing, despite great discouragement.

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