Friday, December 05, 2008

What We Do

I just had an interesting conversation with the young lady who lives next door.

First, a bit of background: the flats I live in have balconies (or what passes for balconies in Britain—in the States my balcony measured 5 by 22 feet, here I can fit a chair out there with just enough room left over for me to sit in it) and while it is not expressly forbidden to smoke in these flats (well, in mine it is) most people seem to regard the balconies as al fresco smoking rooms.

This is how I met the young lady from next door; she and her partner are both smokers and, while I'm out there with a cigar and a beverage enjoying the English climate, they occasionally pop out for a fag. So I knew she was in her final year at uni and I knew she was working on some essays, which are due before they break up for the holidays.

When I asked about them, at 8 o'clock in the evening, she said she was working on both of them at once and needed to have them completed by the following morning. Not an enviable task.

So I told her about the writing I was doing and about how, as it was not due anywhere at any time, I couldn't be arsed to work on it so I was having a cigar instead. She was curious as to why, if no one was forcing me, I was bothering to write anything at all.

"Well, it's for my web page."

"Is anyone waiting for it?"

"No, not really. I just sort of post things there."

"But you don't have to."

"No, it's just, well, it's what I do."

I might have told her that some people putter in the garden or build scale models of Buckingham Palace out of toothpicks or stand on train platforms writing down numbers, and what I'm doing is basically the same except it doesn't cost as much and I get to do it from the comfort of my living room. I might have told her that, to give her an insight into the psyche of the writer, but I didn't. So, instead of an understanding nod, she gave me one of those skeptical smiles you give to people who show you their scale model of Buckingham Palace made entirely out of toothpicks, stubbed out her cigarette and returned to her work. Because she had to.

And I finished my cigar, went back inside and went back to my writing. Not because I had to, but because I'm a writer, and that's what we do.


  1. Hi Mike,
    Yes I guess people who don't enjoy writing can't understand why anyone would possibly want to write in a blog in their free time... haha
    My sister is like that, she's totally uncreative, I'm so pleased that I am the absolute opposite and love to write too! I don't think I could exist without writing something... be it my poetry or just some nonsense written on a page.
    Great blog! I'm really enjoying reading your posts from good old Blighty!!

  2. Thanks! And, yes, it's not easy being an senative artist--but it's a burden we have to bear ;)

  3. Why is that? A friend just pointed out to me that when adults take piano lessons, people don't ask when they're going to perform with an orchestra. No one expects an adult taking taekwondo to compete in the Olympics, an adult taking ice lessons to skate in the Ice Capades.

    Sure, maybe we're trying to make it to professional or get published or whatever, but why does the worthiness of writing, in others' eyes, seem to rest on that? Why is that the first question they ask?

  4. Good question. I think it comes down to the 'rewards' factor. It's not hard for the average person to see the reward intrinsic in playing the piano, as music is a reward in itself, or in ice-skating, which is simply a fun activity. But, as with my neighbor, most people look upon writing as an onerous task they would rather avoid. So when faced with someone who claims to do it voluntarily, the only reward they can imagine is money, preferably lots of it..

  5. It would be like me hearing that people choose to knit or sew- not because they are being paid, or indeed have a gun to their head,but because they want to....
    I just don't get it....
    Thanks for visiting my blog- I hope you come back again soon