Life as an artist is one headache after another. Just when you think you’ve got things sorted, just when you have a plan, it all goes horribly wrong and like walking through treacle there comes a point where you Can’t Do It Any More. I woke up this morning around five with a horrible headache and a Quasimodo shoulder up by my left ear (fortunately it was the left shoulder, not the right, ho ho: my left arm is my writing arm, so it’s logical.) I took a couple of paracetamol and went back to sleep but the headache hovered over my pillow like a bad angel and clobbered me as soon as I woke. It’s a mysterious thing how our muscles and joints express internal realities: I was talking the other day to someone who has a very tense working life and is now plagued by backache. I rarely have backache: for me, tension is usually expressed in the neck and shoulders giving me headaches which I interpret as thoughts wanting to reach the brain but being prevented (if you think the brain is the only centre of awareness I would take issue with you: I think each part of the body is a centre of a particular kind of awareness.) Only if I’m extra-specially tense do I get backaches and even more rarely, stomach aches.
How to engage with society is a big problem for most artists. Some, like C P Snow, are lucky enough to fit in quite nicely and be able not only to hold down a job and write but also to write about that job (Snow was by turns a barrister, an academic and a civil servant who gave us the phrases ‘corridors of power’ and ‘the two cultures’.) Then again, he never had to vacuum the sitting-room or run to Sainsbury’s for more marge.* But for most of us fitting in – which means at the very least the financial imperative to work, and therefore to tick whatever educational and social boxes will persuade someone to hire you – is as problematic as it was for Larkin; ** and even when you are able to write full-time, there’s the problem of getting published. And that’s a whole-nother way of fitting in (or not.) When you write full-time the question is refined. No longer do I ask myself which jobs I am suited for and would be able to do without going off my chump: now, the question is, how far do I write what publishers want (insofar as I know what that is) and how far do I write like myself (insofar as I can tell what that is)? It’s a constant juggle: if you go too far in the direction of publishers you may be successful but at the cost of ignoring your own uniqueness; if you go too far the other way you risk never being published. But maybe, just maybe – there’s a third option, which is that in truly being yourself you may produce something publishers didn’t know they wanted but actually really do.
I’ve blogged about C P Snow a few times. Here’s one of the posts.
*They probably had butter anyway
** For me the problem was not only getting work but keeping it: I’ve had jobs which nearly sent me off my chump with boredom and other jobs where the work wasn’t so bad but I couldn’t fit in socially – and that seemed to be just as important.