What it’s like to want to write when all they want is for you to sing (JL Shenstone)

Posted on January 21, 2012 by in Lies To Live By

There came a time in my life when I had to face the fact that I was never going to relate to most of the population. They go to work, they study, they buy wide-screen televisions and touch phones, they go to IKEA on the weekend, they go to the gym, they read magazines and newspapers and they never find the time to read literature.

They’re comfortable being caught up and swept away in the commotion to catch a train at seven-thirty in the morning, to exit buildings for an hour at lunch, to get into their car and enter freeways, to pull into their driveway with the matching driveway next door, the same television shows on the same televisions screaming out the same advertisements, the same glass bathrooms, the same mobile phones, vacuum cleaners and breed of dog. I could picture them sitting on their latest Swedish design with the remote-control in their hand reclining into the ground, opening the next beer to dull the sound of their child calling his brother a faggot, while the wife stares blankly ahead wiping over the kitchen table for the hundredth time that day, and finally when the beer, or wine, or gin had done its job they could sigh into their pillow and dream about deadlines and debts.

I didn’t understand.

Working full-time was never an appealing option for me. I went to university for three years to study an Arts degree. Because I dropped my subjects on a whim and was less focused every year, I never actually finished. And for three years I was there I spent most of my time at the tavern with students who assumed the world was theirs and the rest of the time falling in love with every intelligent girl I met (the ones with bob-cuts, red lipstick and black boots, who read Gertrude Stein and Jeanette Winterson, who lived alone, who drank in the day, who bought records instead of CDs, who had black bed sheets with white cum stains and rooms that smelled of incense and adventure). I didn’t believe in the power of a degree like everyone else. Going to university is like practicing for a life that doesn’t exist. So I quit and decided to become a writer instead.

After that I only ever occasionally wrote. Though still claiming to be a writer, I spent my time sitting around drinking, smoking and reading. It didn’t take me long to settle into this lifestyle, so much so in fact that I didn’t want a moment of it, I wanted a lifetime of it.

When I started to call myself a writer, people didn’t react well. They seemed confused, almost hurt that I had no plan in life now except to sit back and write about what ever came to me. I figured they were uncomfortable with all the free time I had. They would come up with goals and plans for me, bringing me pamphlets on short courses in creative writing, adult education and book clubs. I had no interest in any of it, of course. I was aware of every hour I wasted in their eyes, when I could be doing something, anything but this. But I’d created this existence and I liked it. I wasn’t nervous about an empty day. I had the freedom to walk the streets with no obligation to be anywhere. While the students rushed off to learn, the businessmen in suits and ties rushed in and out of tall buildings, mothers rushed to the store, cleaners cleaned, couples loved, machines ran, children played, I walked alone, lost in it all.

There was never one moment I thought I wanted to be a writer, only hundreds of them. Like the time I picked up a book by George Orwell and by the third page my hands were shaking. Or when I was reading Henry Miller’s Black Spring and I had to put the book down because it was too good, too much; a page of it was enough to fill me up to the brim. I was only up to page fourteen but I was done, sold and forever enslaved to the book and to the man who wrote it.

…Such a day it may be when first you encounter Dostoevski. You remember the smell of the tablecloth on which the book rests; you look at the clock and it is only five minutes from eternity; you count the objects on the mantelpiece because the sound of numbers is a totally new sound in your mouth, because everything new and old, or touched and forgotten, is a fire and a mesmerism.

I seek the solace of authors, most of which are long dead. Sometimes I think they know me better than anyone else.

And maybe they do.