When I was young I was designed to become a writer.   Of course in those days we knew nothing about DNA but in the sunshine of my bright ideal I saw myself:

Hunched over a typewriter,

in a dim room with a high window of nicotine-stained glass,

Chain-smoking myself into a coughing stupor,

Careless – utterly careless, of the greater world around me.  

Let the scripts pile up on the desk, on the floor, in the passageways and arbors; I would be oblivious to the chaos.  I would write.  Day, and night, write.

Why didn’t it work out like that?  Why didn’t it?   Well, to begin with, but also with annoying persistence, I could not perfect the art of typewriting.  Canute-like, I could not restrain the Tippex tide, nor the quasi-D’Artagnan-duelling clash of rival keys, the log flumes of paper jams, smudges, crumples, and mechanical accidents.   Who has not cried out in pain as they see their paper-carriage skip the return stop and fly across the room?  Why was the Japanese vase, the recuperating cat, the hapless hamster positioned there – just exactly there?

The day the Word Processor came into my life was like Richard III’s best bit:  ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by these salesmen from Sharp’.  Differences between RIchard  and I are many – I for example, am unlikely to be exhumed from a car park, but I have to take his point:  I was liberated.

Life and Art, eh?

Unfortunately, there were storms in other seas.   Spouses unappreciative of piles of manuscripts in passageways or scattered upon disorderly desks, for whom creative chaos held no romance   The word ‘dust’ has been mentioned pretty frequently throughout my life, closely followed by the more nebulous  “Urgh – what’s that?!”   

Spouses are also prone to materialism.   ‘Putting bread on the table’ has dominated many a meaningful conversation, and rebuffs by taking the phrase literally treated with scorn.   I was compelled to accept that there had to be bacon, or beef, or vegetables lumped in.  As my self-addressed manuscripts to ‘1, The Garret’ cascaded back through my door and a wallpaper of rejection letters accumulated, I grudgingly accepted the need to do ‘work’.  

I had to find something that paid.  Writing was not the crock of gold it promised to be.  It was just a crock.

I won’t deny that I take pleasure in money; I am darkly suspicious of anyone who doesn’t, but to the bug of creativity it is pure insecticide.  Wherever you spray it, the Inspiration Aphids are consumed.   Why, after all, spend hours preparing a piece that will reward me with a pittance when I could be doing something more productive, more creative, more lucrative?  Except the ‘creative’ in this sentence refers only to creating money, and the productive in this sentence has to do with making more money, and the ‘lucrative’ in this sentence refers to the worship of MONEY.  Somehow, money always offers very good reasons to ignore the pleading noises Noble Poverty makes inside my head, where  Elizabeth Barrett argues strongly for distinguished starvation, and we even share a bad back, but no time for starving selflessly when there is always another conference to attend, a buying trip to make, a new range to review.  And when all those mundanities are finally overcome, home life has a catalogue of new ones, as in “When are you going to fix that drain?”

“I’m an artist, for God’s sake, my darling:  I DON’T DO DRAINS!”   

“Yes you do.”

You’re right.  This is the real world, and the real world has drainage.

To souls as torn and tortured as has been my own in my advancing years, retirement shone like a beacon.   In retirement I would find solace.   There would be nothing to fill my day!   I could sit in my corner, I could create magical images upon the page.  I WOULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO BUT WRITE!

Wrong!

It is an unwritten law, but it is ineluctably true:  if in life you were busy, in retirement you will be busier!  Once you make your diary aware the pressure is off it will fill itself with small, inconsequential things.   Your family will aid this process by demands for home improvements, shopping trips, ‘visits’ to nice country houses (the kind where your host will make you pay an entrance fee, then rebuke you for touching their furnishings or walking on their grass) and finally – the big one – Sitting.

In extreme cases Sitting may tie you up for several days:  

“Dad, can you take care of Bruce the Hellhound or Tibby the curtain-ripping cat while we go on a weekend break to Moscow?  Or a week in Bulgaria?  Or a round-the-world trip?”

More normally, it will be no more noxious a duty than care of The Precious for an evening, and no more exhausting than that ritual chase around the sofa you instituted last year and have been regretting ever since, with a bit of story-reading to initiate sleep.

If any diary spaces remain, there is always the National Health Service, and I’d like to conclude this blog with a personal message to them.

Dear NHS,

Yes, my body mass index figure is almost as far adrift as most of your overworked nursing staff,   You understand, as do I, that my body will inevitably deteriorate with the years, and I should be thrilled that you want to catalogue my demise and itemise each failing function so avidly…

But I’m not.    Okay?

Your obsession with type 2 diabetes drags me out to repeated Doctors’ Surgery and hospital visits to have my eye pupils stretched with painful chemicals, my blood sampled and my (forgive the word) piss taken with unnerving regularity.

Why unnerving?  Well, because the cleanliness of your premises is self-admittedly not always of the best, so each time I subject myself to them, with the health conditions you are so insistent I have, not to mention those that I ACTUALLY have and haven’t told you about, I run the very real risk that the infection I catch could be fatal.   Capiche?

Thank you, good readers, for tolerating my excess of bile this week: perhaps it’s because, to find a space to write this piece, I had to cancel an NHS appointment to ‘test my feet’.  Don’t worry girls, I have two; I tested them myself this morning by going for a walk.

A more normal posting, the latest episode of ‘Devil’s Rock’, follows shortly.

Image Credits for today:

Featured Image: Keyboard, by Alisonmiller1969 on Pixabay

Typerwriter Image: Devonath on Pixabay

12 Comments

  1. Wonderful essay! I am envious of your gift for expressing ideas and thoughts. I’m a writer, sort of, in the sense that once upon a time I did indeed get paid for putting words to paper (or pixels on a screen), although in my case it was technical writing about computers many, many years ago. In college I dreamed of writing literature, mystery stories, science fiction, only to find that one needed that pesky necessity, money, in order to keep body and soul together. So various day jobs like farming, building maintenance and the like helped keep us fed while I pecked away at a keyboard at night and on weekends writing articles about programming and reviewing hardware for an embarrassingly tiny amount of money.

    Now that I’m retired I’ve turned my attention to “The World’s Second Worst Novel”, as I’ve entitled it, in the vain belief that, just perhaps, there is someone out there who is even worse at writing fiction than I am. I have no hopes of ever actually selling it. Or of even finishing it, for that matter. It is something I just enjoy doing, as I enjoy gardening or working with wood or drawing or photography. A friend of mine, long deceased, a real writer, once told me that writing wasn’t something you chose to do, it was something you *had* to do. It was a disease that led to failed marriages, the alienation of families and living on friends’ sofas in between rare payments from publishers.

    Thanks for your essays and stories. When a new one pops up on my screen it really makes my day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you – for your kind words and for letting me know I have struck a chord with you. Everything you say about writing is, unfortunately, true. It is something we ‘have to do’. I’m sure ‘The World’s Second worst Novel’ is a lot better than you make it sound, just as I’m sure we share the same love-hate relationship with the keys.

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  2. I am still a number of years from retirement age, Fred, but I have heard many say the hours I anticipate using for writing and relaxation will be sucked up in a hamster-wheel of activity. Is it bizarre to say I still look forward to it? The grass is always greener….

    We don’t have an NHS is the States, but health and aging remains a valid, if irritating concern. The older I get, I wonder if “the golden years” will show more rust than glitter!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Mae! You could never rust! The world does tend to close around us as we get older, and dear old Uncle Covid has rather hammered that nail home, of late. It is true that the more one limits oneself in later years the more limited one’s capabilities become. Use it or lose it, I believe is the phrase. So hours spent at a keyboard do tend to turn creases into permanent folds, as it were. Sometimes, rising from this chair feels like it requires a considerable amount of future planning…

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  3. If nothing else you are to be commended for sticking with your creative endeavors. A large portion of artists and writers give up in their mid-30s – the age when rising skill intersects with declining energy and shocks you into a true vision of your creative destiny. I’ve seen several students more gifted than I am bail at that age when they realize they’re not going to get to the top.

    I’m glad you stayed the course Frederick and our lives are richer for your words

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, David. I’m the richer for that response. All you say is true – I bailed, really. But – well, I’d like to say hope springs eternal, but it really doesn’t. I honestly write for the catharsis, for the love of writing, for the need to write. And my skills may lag, but my enthusiasm never fails..

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  4. Our lives are all the richer for your words, Fred. Your essay made me chuckle throughout and the line: Differences between RIchard and I are many – I, for example, am unlikely to be exhumed from a car park, but I have to take his point: I was liberated. I laughed out loud. Keep creating, my buddy. Much love flowing to you over our hills. ❤ Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t believe that I have been away from your writing for so long. Gee, I do enjoy it. Apparently the road to decrepitude doesn’t apply to your command of words or worlds and delightful musing over life’s little challenges. I have to say while from a photographic point I love ‘creative dust’ from a clean house point dust tends to destroy my sense of control over life. Such a simple thing too ..dust.

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  6. Thank you, Judy – for the kind words and for reminding me of your very special photographs, which, though I don’t comment (I’m no photographer) I love. Herons, especially, fascinate me, from the one that regularly raids a friend’s fish pool to those I see betimes haunting the moorland streams near my home.
    Ah, dust! We are not talking ‘His Dark Materials’ here, are we? It is powerful stuff, though. One should never feel shame if one is vanquished by it.

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