A battle of wills between wanting to and not wanting to – to write or not to write. My college alumni WhatsApp group periodically share when the writing muse has arrived, and conversely when it has gone. It’s ridiculously elusive and I grow tired of chasing it. The discipline required to do creative work every day is huge and then when the urge does not arrive, the self-doubt nestles in, and we think to ourselves: does this mean we are not real writers? Oh, who or what is the real writer?
At my son’s parents evening this week I found myself sitting opposite his English teacher as she regaled how well he’d done in his mock exams; Common Entrance is looming next summer. He can write. Who knew? A flush of pride started and I found myself wanting to tell her that I’m a writer, so that we could speak more freely about the Robert Frost poem she was referring to. But in my mind, the pretension accompanied with saying out loud; ‘I’m a writer’ was too much for me and the moment passed. Unlike so many other more mainstream professions, to describe oneself as a writer carries with it an assumption of capability – an A* in English – that should validate the job title. Unless you’re a best-selling author, it remains a strange and closed-off world to most. In fact any creative profession supports the same contention; if you pursue it, you must think you’re good enough. And to be good enough, to have a strong and acknowledged body of work (by critics; not just your family and friends), to define yourself professionally in a creative calling is, I am learning, a gutsy move. Yet I persist.
Inside my head I finish the novel and it’s a roaring success and this time next year I am well into writing another. I keep my powder dry, as much as is possible when everyone I meet says: ‘how’s the book?’ I concentrate on articles, like this one I wrote about feminism, and take each day as it comes. I can tell you, it’s a far cry from my corporate days! There was a total lack of doubt then; I knew my job, I did my job and that was that.
I live in a place where there are a lot of people who are older than me. It’s suburban, not a metropolis, rurally located. This didn’t used to bother me, it wasn’t something I recognised or worried about. But I notice now that the world shrinks as you age, isn’t that why the mid-life crisis takes hold with such vigour in my generation? We’re not ready for the shrinkage. If anything we want expansion. Women who’ve devoted time to family want to break free now, to reassert and to take back some of the ground that has been occupied by their children. I wonder if this instinct diminishes as you pass 50, 60 or 70? I notice the elderly people around me and consider again how they can appear beaten, accepting of the banality of life. With that comes a banality of thinking. Stuff that doesn’t really matter; the small shit, takes on Herculean proportions. Traffic, weather, the news and so on. I try to protect myself against this, and wonder why old men shakes their fists from their cars at junctions, or why old women huff and puff in queues in shops. I generalise, but part of writing for a living is to force the issue. To say ‘no’ to the smallness. To stay cheerful and open and most of all, kind. To age happily. Where does the happiness go? Can it be banished by keeping busy, seeking fun, seeing the broader picture? I do hope so…