… I haven’t blogged for a little while. I’d like to pretend that instead, I have been wearing my fingernails down on the keyboard while yellow sheets of typescript spill off the edge of my desk. The Great Novel Takes Shape, that sort of thing. And it’s true, I have been writing. Quite a bit. But the real truth is that Life keeps getting in my way, and I keep stopping to sort it out.
The autumn term starts, the house settles down after a long summer, and after several weeks of eating rock buns and drinking tea the builders have left as well. Time to write.
Nope. The good old family jinx decides that it would be fun to wake up. No sooner have I taken coffee to desk than a ghostly figure with squeegee and bucket appears beside me. “We ‘ave a Leak in the Cellar”, announces Mrs Mop, otherwise known round here as the Harbinger of Doom. I spring into action (yes, seriously), isolate the pipe and turn it off. Sadly it is the rising main, which means no water to upstairs. I call the plumber. [Memo to self: next time remember to check that teenager has not left her taps ON before reconnecting the water…]
I’m sure that Hemingway probably shot interruptions, or plyed them with whiskey until they stopped bothering him. I become distracted instead by investigating the writing habits of real authors. I aim to identify one who can cook, clean, study, shop, use Facebook, keep up an ongoing relationship with a plumber AND win Book Of The Year.
No such luck. Not amongst the greats of literature, anyway. Charles Dickens, writing to Wilkie Collins in December 1852, congratulates WC on his ‘admirable writing’, and for his skill in avoiding the ‘conceited idiots who suppose…that any writing can be done without the utmost application, the greatest patience, and the steadiest energy…’ (Letters of Charles Dickens, ed Jenny Hartley, p 249 ). He could have added ‘….and without interruption.’
The plumber sorts the problem, and leaves. A small pinhole in the pipe means new pipe with the price of copper at an all time high. Not to mention emergency call out fees.
Back to the book.
A couple of days later, the H of D appears again, more lugubrious than ever. “Washin’ machine’s broke. S’making a terrible noise an’ all”. Hardly surprising, says the repairman – trading name, The Saint, I kid you not – who arrives in his lunch-break to rescue my sanity. The pump was full of golf tees; the golf tees won.
I pay the Saint, and interrogate HN on his return home. Golf tees are apparently a figment of my overactive imagination.
Back to the book.
Next time I am interrupted by Teenage Daughter. Yes, folks, while I was socialising with the plumber, we reached half-term. She wants to know if water should be dripping from the lightbulb in her ceiling. Mrs Mop attacks the carpet with the squeegee. I make a mental note to check if the National Curriculum includes Electricity as a topic in science lessons these days.
The plumber attends again. Another pinhole in another otherwise perfect stretch of copper pipe. Plumber starts muttering darkly about suspect copper. I pay him to go away before he accuses me of buying my heating system off the back of a lorry.
Back to the book. Again. I try to remember WHY I am trying to write. Perhaps it would have made more sense if I had started doing this when life was less complicated and everything in my life was in bed and fast asleep by 7pm. But I’m not sure that I knew what was in my own mind back then, or understood myself well enough to stand outside my weirder thought processes and watch where they went. Instead I spent too much time trying to ignore the stuff in my head and Have a Career, instead. The scars that resulted were acquired at consultancies and firms all over London. One or two of my former colleagues are probably still in counselling.
Joan Didion (in The Writer on Her Work; Janet Sturnburg) explains why it took her so long to find what she was really about:
I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was.
Which was a writer.
By which I mean not a ‘good’ writer or a ‘bad’ writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write.
Mrs Mop appears by me again, to fill me in on the latest domestic drama. She doesn’t know whether to start with the broken cistern in the boys’ bathroom, or the fridge which has decided to leak coolant all over the floor. I choose the cistern, on the basis that I don’t want to share my bathroom with a teenage male and that this therefore constitutes a domestic emergency.. I wedge the broken ballcock with a tube of toothpaste and recall the plumber.
Downstairs the broken fridge was full of beer. HN has authorised expenditure for a replacement . Really?
Sadly I am too busy watching my thoughts to go order a new one. Instead, here – with thanks to the wonderful www.brainpickings.org – is a poem by Charles Bukowski. I had never heard of him before I started pondering my frustration at being constantly interrupted, but he gets it, perfectly.