Old dogs, new tricks


This week, a slight shallowness of breath: minor panic at the speed with which the days, or rather the writing opportunities, are scudding by. School holidays looming; a quarter of the year gone. Two three-day weeks in a row, thanks to Otago Anniversary Day and Easter; too many days falling victim to the requests of people who imagine me understimulated during school hours, mooching around on Facebook when I’m not dabbling in a little light housework, available to donate good works on demand.

Saying no to family and friends turns out to be just as hard as saying no to clients; harder, perhaps, since I have no evidence whatsoever of being gainfully employed. It may be easier when I have some writing runs on the board: not necessarily anything to show for it, but enough coherent pages lurking in the dark to give me a confident sense of what I am actually doing all day.

The pendulum continues to swing between ‘whoo-hoo, I’m doing this!’ and ‘who the fuck am I kidding?’, but the compulsion to write every day is getting stronger and the inklings demanding to be shaped into somethings are jostling ever more insistently. Momentum. That’s what I’m talking about.

Once I get these first, noisiest stories out of my system, there are half a dozen other projects bubbling under: the contemporary potboiler romance based on the Old Testament story of Rachel and Leah; the ‘My Hyperactive Granny’ series storyboarded by my eight-year-old and just begging to be written up; the documentation of some of my paternal family history while I have ready access to my 84-year-old grandmother’s memory and archives; written snapshots of my amazing boys, last done hastily and incompletely a couple of years ago, but treasures to lay away for the future and be grateful for always. A year was never going to be enough.

I’m briefly stalked by a client, and accidentally do a few hours’ work, but this feels so wrong and induces such a violent allergic reaction that I conclude I’m definitely still not cured. I recommend she not call me again until 2014 and work through the ‘but we could have afforded holidays/skis/beer’ angst by cleaning the house and making another batch of muffins. There are rumblings about being pulled into one of Hapless’s local jobs, but pretend I haven’t heard them.

Hapless works a few hours a day, wangles himself a joblet here, follows up a lead there, works his local contacts. In between, he paces the house, making slapping and clicking noises with his hands. There’s too much pacing for my liking, but a bit of working and a bit of pacing make more sense – and cents – than banishing him from the house to clean toilets all week. He’s keeping us in food and firewood; really, what more can a bossy bitch ask?

Writing freeform turns out to be a welcome change from the laying bare of one’s neuroses that is blogging, which was itself a welcome change from the straitened conditions of copywriting. Instead, writing narrative is a kind of cannibalism, the guilty plundering of your own and other people’s lives and stories, with the laying bare ­– comfortingly – deferred indefinitely.

I look at ‘real’ writers ­– variously so witty, imaginative, wise, observant, gifted – and feel small and presumptuous, hubristic once again for even considering the attempt. I console myself with baby steps, tidy, manageable goals, the small satisfactions of learning new skills.

The need for an exit strategy to this year is never far from my mind. Could I really go back to doing what I was doing? I read journalists, columnists, bloggers, reviewers, feature writers and wonder whether there could be a modest living for me in other sorts of writing. But I’m not opinionated enough to be a columnist and I’m too lazy to be a journalist; I’m not sure what, exactly, an excess of cynicism and an occasionally felicitous turn of phrase qualifies me for.

For now, I’m relishing this moment: the moment when you realise your dad has let go of the seat and you’re wobbling across the lawn all by yourself before you crash triumphantly into the bushes. Again! Again! Let me do it again!

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