I woke up today and realized I’m a writer in his forties without a publishing deal — yet. And immediately I looked for a different pair of shoes to wear and also came to the conclusion that I’m now a middle-aged writer, a late bloomer whose little snow-white feet have taken an awful long time in the Salley Gardens.
I’m not begrudging the late bloomer or middle age. Not much I can do about time, but spend it.
And, anyway, this older writer shtick has its blessings. I have sampled more from the kinky bedroom, the pill cabinet, the lavish kitchen table, the infested ratskeller, the dusty attic, the undisturbed bathroom, the living room, the unliving room, the empty pantry, the stocked fridge, the parked car, the speeding car, the porch full of muddied boots. All of the life I’ve lived can drip intravenously (or sometimes pour, when the writing’s going well) into the fiction. And I’m thankful for that. Though again, life happens — I’m just glad I’ve been conscious of most of it and not one of those walking dead shuffling out of his mortal coil.
But there’s a curse, too. At least I think so. My particular curse. It’s that I am no longer young. Maybe curse is too strong a word. Maybe it’s more like a heavy dose of unease. Because being a young writer, I think you’re more prone to saying, “Fuck it” a lot. Being capricious, reckless, unfazed by failure, success, just tossing your young self onto the tracks blithely anticipating the oncoming train and the screaming passengers and the psychotic driver. There’s this sod-off resilience, this come-what-may-I’ll-slay-the-fray attitude. All good. All tested. All maybe precocious. And all in the past.
Or is it? Do I need to act my age as a writer? Do I have to be responsible, have it all sorted? Do I have to grow up mealy-mouthed when I’ve got a taste for the tongue of the fool?
You’re in your 40s, you bloody well ought to have it all figured out! You need to know what you’re writing and you need to know what it means right now. And you need to decide between genre or literary fiction, between bangers or the golden calf, and you’d better do it quick or else there’s a spanking coming. And not a nice kinky one, either. And you’ve got to be so intimate with Twitter and Facebook, they’ll hang between your legs like the balls you haven’t got. (Yes, this is gender specific because I’m a man, or thereabouts). Social media is publishing’s New Model Army and you must believe in the good old cause, we don’t need no royalists coming out of the cupboard saying they don’t want to be that kind of writer, they just want to write their novels. Plus, you need to know all there is to ever know about social media since it’s your savior, trust us, and you don’t want to get crucified on some solitary tree, it’s so damn barbaric. Oh, and you need to know your market, your author photo, number of copies sold, number of signed copies, number of people in the audience, number of adjectives used, number of darlings killed, number of hairs on the dog, etc, etc, etc. In the midst of my writing life I am in debt to everyone, it seems.
In my best Tom Waits: “I don’t wanna grow up.”