Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Glamour of Writing

This is my part-time office: a small table at a café.

Why?  The cafe means I'm away from the domestic din.  The small table means I'm not taking seats from families or the elderly.

I've deliberately avoided conversation at this café, because gregariousness brings distraction.  I only have a few hours, so I use them judiciously.

Nonetheless, patrons are still curious.  'Are you a writer?' they ask.  'Writing the great Australian novel?'  'Do you write books?'  'What's your next book about?'  'Have you almost finished?' (Clearly they've been talking to my publisher.)

They don't ask this of the nurse, the businessman, the delivery man.  Partly because their jobs are obvious.  But not entirely.  If they only wanted to discover my profession, their questions would stop with my 'Yes, I'm a writer.'

But they don't.  Strangers are very curious about the writing life.  Their response is both passionate and personal - as if they had a stake in my labour.  (I'm glad that they do, to be honest - particularly if it translates into support for the arts.)

Part of this is a certain glamour.

Of course, there's nothing glamourous about an espresso, paper and pens, in a suburban café.  There is nothing glamourous about my Kindle, which provides me with Aristotle and Plato's collected works, in less than three hundred grams.  (A little exciting, but the novelty becomes practicality very quickly.)  Just tools.

But these tools suggest a well-known product: sexy or punchy words on paper, in shiny covers.  They suggest launches, interviews, tours, festivals - the very public face of text, however much two young kids keep this homebody from evening gigs.

The tools also suggest that private, precarious universe that springs up between author and reader.  As with actors, there is an intimacy to this, which gives writers a certain cachet: the aura of mass companionship.

And there is a romance to writing, as with most arts: the impression that the works go beyond utility.  They are ends in themselves, not mere means to an end.  In this, they are a break from the ordinary grind.  A little holiday reality.  (But not always for the author.)

In other words, this is the pleasure of seeing the secret labour behind the glamour.  Walking into the mansion of literature through the tradesmen's entrance, so to speak.

This tradesman stiffens at the interruptions, but welcomes the sentiment behind them.


Gondal-girl said...

love this post Damon, your office looks like mine. Except that I do say hi to the regulars, though fob off questions about what I am doing with a smile - handwriting causes more fuss than laptop - paper leaves ones face defenseless and the laptop masks it - and agree that there are distractions, but have to say I have made friends with some and have had a better grasp on what sentence I was writing after ( though the caveat has been - this is my hour writing, lets catch up another time)

Damon Young said...

In general, I'm not rude. I give a 'morning', a nod or wave. I give one chap the Financial Review when I'm done with it.

But I certainly pull back on my normal gregariousness. Otherwise I end up talking to everyone, and my working hours are bled dry.

Folks have no mercy when it comes to conversation.

Gondal-girl said...

That is true, but I know my gegariousness is rather limited at the best of times, so it probably balances out - ie we talking about the same thing. Curious though that people more likely to interrupt writing with a pen and paper than a computer in my experience - can't they see one is busy...