Thursday, April 28, 2005

LOOK UPON ME - I'LL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE MIND

Maybe I'm in a bad mood today (I blame it on that trucker). Whatever, I feel like slagging something off. I can't see the good things right now, only the bad. And one bad thing in particular:

The image of the "writer".

What I hate, right, is when you hear an author talk, or read him write (about himself), and you just know he loves being a writer. Not for the creative release it brings. Not for the sense of self it gives him, knowing there are people out there reading and thinking about his books. Not even for the money it brings him. No, this author loves being a writer because he gets to show off about it. You got to a party. You get introduced to someone and you ask them a question:

"What do you do?"
"I'm a writer, actually."

Simple exchange, right? Wrong. It's never just "I'm a writer". Those are the words spoken, but the undercurrent is something more. The whole vibe of the exchange is "I'm a writer, so I'm better than you."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not slagging off all writers. (Especially not ones in the crime genre, who tend - on the most part - to be more pragmatic and less pretentious. ) But there's always one. There's a whole slew of them in London, as you'll find if you go to a party in Shoreditch, or (for the older generations) Hampstead. I'm sure it's the same in New York, and I've no doubt it's like that in Paris (although there's a whole lorryload of other connotations thrown into the mix over there). But why? Why is "being a writer" seen as a more worthwhile, cool, or just plain better way to pass your working hours?

"What kind of work do you do, Barton, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Well, I'm a writer, actually."

"You don't say. That's a tough racket. My hat's off to anyone who can make a go of it. Damned interesting work, I'd imagine."

"Can be. Not easy, but - "

"Damned difficult, I'd imagine."

Is this what it's all about? Is "being a writer" perceived as difficult, so anyone who can do it as a bona fide occupation must be placed on some sort of pedestal? The writer at the party knows it, and he knows his inquisitor knows it, so the writer feels he has a right to assume the superior air. But why don't I see it? Why do I see it as way more impressive/interesting/daunting to hear "I'm a doctor"; or "I'm a farmer"; or "I'm a shelf-stacker, when I'm not looking after my three young kids or staring at the bottom of a glass"?

Yeah, OK - you could say I've found out a bit about writing now. I've glimpsed the Life of the Mind, and it wasn't halfway as glamourous as they said it would be. I don't do it full-time, mind. I need a full-time day job to keep things afloat, and so I'm not obliged to say "I'm a writer" at parties. Then again, I don't think I'd even say it if I was a full-time writer. I'd probably say "I'm a freelancer", or something equally stupid and evasive.

Believe me, I don't see anything wrong with being a full-time writer. It's a great (but precarious) way to spend your energies. But it's about the work, not the lifestyle. Outside his work he's the same as every other punter, and there's no reason why he shouldn't be. In fact, he should be. If he's not engaged in the quotidian life of wherever he lives, he can hardly write about the people who are. Your struggles, her struggles, his struggles... everyone has struggles.

"Okay. I'm just having trouble getting started. It's funny, I'm blocked up. I feel like I need some kind of indication of... what's expected - "

"Wallace Beery. Wrestling picture. What do you need, a road map? Look, you're confused? You need guidance? Talk to another writer."

"Who?"

"Jesus, throw a rock in here, you'll hit one. And do me a favor, Fink: Throw it HARD."



I feel better now.

NEXT WEEK: Charlie attacks an innocent person in the street.

5 comments:

Jenny D said...

Nice post. That truck-driver was a useless wretch. My equivalent of this "writer" thing hinges on the word "professor." A ridiculous, pretentious title, right? Could you say with a straight face "I am a professor"? And yet many people do. I prefer "I teach English" which is more apt, or "I'm a teacher" same thing really whether it's college or high-school... It is an evil vice of NY that people say "what do you do?" and seem to want to hear something fancy, I get pleasure in thwarting them...

Charlie Williams said...

From now on, when people ask me what I do, I'm going to tell them "I'm an exotic dancer."

Russel said...

My mate Beccy has taken great delight recently in telling people she knows a bona-fide writer. But what I'm greatly glad of is she does it to get in the punch line. Because everyone's reaction is: "Wow, he must live a really exciting life" to which her (very, very true) response is "Sure, he sits all day in a stinky dressing gown, staring at a blank screen and never bothering to open the curtains."

Strange thing, though, that links to Jenny's professor thing, is that I want to finish getting my Phd just so I can piss off people by telling them I'm not Mister, I'm "Doctor".

Kelley Bell said...

You could call yourself a professional blogger.

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