Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Novelist at 40

I’m turning forty this month, and I can’t say I’m particularly happy about it. I mean, I’m nowhere near mature enough to be middle-aged. I’m certainly not ready to start acting like a productive member of society. How can I be turning forty?

Oh, wait. That’s right. I’m a professional writer.

My profession is one of my absolute favorite things about my life, because it’s like belonging to an exclusive club: The Pedantically Insane Club for the Compulsively Verbose, if you will. This club’s membership stretches back to the dawn of time and includes such pillars of the community as Charlie Dickens, Willy Shakespeare, Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson, and Virginia Wolfe.

By pillars of the community, of course what I really mean is brilliant lunatics who made it socially acceptable to be an eccentric misanthrope with permanently ink-stained fingers, a complete lack of tact, and a dodgy sense of fashion.

If you think about the writers whose works have endured – particularly if you are a writer yourself – you will notice a pattern. Each of them is described by contemporaries with words such as “socially inept,” “caustic,” and “completely batshit crazy.” While we accept this as the natural order of the universe when studying long-dead masters of the written word, we still seem to be surprised when we encounter the same qualities in contemporary wordsmiths. Generation after generation of writers has been confronted with society’s clearly unrealistic hope that they will behave like normal, rational human beings. All this accomplishes is to guarantee that modern writers are just as misunderstood and ostracized as their long-dead counterparts.

Our world has manufactured a criterion for socially-acceptable insanity: brilliance. Once you have been labeled “genius,” you can be as rude and unhygienic as you please. Unfortunately, it is rare that such a distinction is awarded prior to the death of the weirdo in question.

However, it is possible for modern writers to take comfort in the history of censure that those who have gone before us have endured. As writers, we are traditionally expected, and in many respects are obligated, to behave in a socially inappropriate and often blatantly disrespectful manner. Crazy is simply just one part of the job description. Hence my self-proclaimed status as “professional oddity.” It’s not just an arbitrary title – it is a sacred trust.

So it’s okay that I’m turning forty, because I’m a writer. No matter how old I get, I’ll never be old. I shall wear my immaturity and irreverence like a badge of office until I draw my last breath. And if I’m very, very lucky, my writing will still speak for me after my own voice falls silent.

Until then, I’ve still got stories to write!


hobee1971 said...

You're completely bonkers, but all the best people are!

Elizabeth Lawrence said...

Sanity is overrated anyway!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I was laughing out loud reading this post. I've found it true that writers by nature are always the socially inept weirdos who are declared geniuses pothsumously, and it's always funny to read that others share the same opinion.

I found your blog through :D