Thursday, November 08, 2007

More Than Anything

As Steven Sondheim goes to great lengths to demonstrate, we really do need to be careful what we wish for. Wishes, like government policies, tend to bring about a whole heap of unintended consequences. The vast majority of my degree was spent dissecting past, present and future policy, and whilst I must confess that I am somewhat out of touch with these matters, I could still pick up any white paper and give it a good thrashing.

I don't want to wed a prince, find perfection, be rich beyond the dreams of avarice (too much Tom Holt). Evidently there are aspects of my life that I would gladly give up, others I would cling to with all that I am, because they are all that I am. I've read enough fairy tales and fantasy novels to know that the wisher's obsession pushes rationality aside. The outcome is predictable: she marries the prince only to discover that, if she's really, really lucky, he's just a bit of a misogynist, but more likely than not it will transpire that he bites his toenails, smells dreadful and has a fetish for cows. If only she'd thought ahead, planned a little before stating "I wish", then there would have been some smallprint in place to protect her from such eventualities.

And so, I edge towards my wish with a little hesitation.

Four days ago I began to write a novel. It was the 4th of November, and with a deadline of 50,000 words by the 30th of November, I was already behind by 6,000 words. As any past or present NaNoWriMo author will tell you (and you can calculate this for yourself), finishing the novel by the deadline means writing 1,667 words a day, every day, for the entire month. Therefore, by the end of today, I would need to have written just under 13,500 words to remain on target. In actuality I am almost halfway, with last night's word count standing at 24,018 words. I desperately wanted to reach 25,000 before I went to bed, but I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, and I mean that absolutely literally.

It's been four days of writing for around twelve hours each day, watching TV for an hour or so, then going to sleep around 1am, waking at 7am. This pattern is not new to me: I am well used to it, because I am a teacher and a web programmer, both greedy consumers of time. However, one of the more subtle differences between these and my current occupation surprises me, and that is that I have been able to break away for small periods of time, to talk to my friends or family, help my daughter cook or whatever else is required of me in my multiple roles in this life. What's more, I pause without begrudging the distraction.

The broader context is that I've been off work for two months, dealing with the persistent shifting between highs and lows, which has been terrible and unpredictable but not particularly extreme, all of it catalogued here. In the space of a few minutes I can go from optimistic planning of my future (just as soon as my head is working) to a sense of woe, for I am trapped in this existence forever.

Now, I'm certainly not going to lie and say that four days ago the mood swings came to an abrupt halt. I have been this way all of my life and it's not been an easy one. There have been times when I could have given up fighting, because of illness, love or finance. A colloquialism I especially like is 'on the bones of our arses' and this is precisely where we are right now. I'm writing, so my needs are simple: coffee and cigarettes. What I have in front of me now is the last of both of these, because people owe us and don't understand what 'we have no money' means. My children have rightly lectured me on spending the last of our money on these commodities. In the general course of life this alone would have me on my knees, punching the floor and screaming about the unfairness of it all. However, I am not.

Other trials have attempted to thwart me over the past few days and received the same treatment. I momentarily sense the downward slide, the impending doom, the misery that will accompany it. And then I say to myself "Write, goddamnit! You've got a deadline!"

For years I have proclaimed that I want to be writer, yet when I have the time to be this I am not. Instead I design a web page, create some elaborate code or produce a pile of educational resources that may or may not come in useful at some point. I lament that I have no time to write, a partial truth constructed by the other things I have used to fill the void. I dabble a little here and there, come up with ideas, write short prose, poetry, this blog, an introductory chapter or a preface, then I return to what I was doing under the guise that I must.
    And the words that fill these pages
    Won't bring in any wages.

There's no denying it. I have to earn a living somehow. If some kind publisher advanced me enough to settle my mortgage account I would still need to work to pay the rest of our monthly expenses, in the short term at least. When I say work here, I mean any wage-paying occupation that is not writing.

The smallprint: must pay a wage and must not come at the expense of family and friends. Please note that my dogs are part of my family.

I wish to write, more than anything, without further qualification. I can write to deadlines, I could be a working writer and not hate it. When I am writing all other things exist in their true perspective. Writing makes me happy, not the guilty part-time pleasure, or means of casting out some demon within, but real writing. Four days ago I didn't know these things.

Now, where are those beans?

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