You have to forgive me today if my nerves are a little shot to pieces. It all began this morning when I absent-mindedly locked the back door behind my husband after he took my son to school. Some of you may recall the incident a long while back when a ‘delivery man’ walked straight into my kitchen claiming to have lost his way. I was confused but pointed him in the right direction, only to have my blogging friends alert me later to the fact that he was probably an opportunist burglar. Well, ever since then I’ve taken to locking the door if I am upstairs alone in the house. Today I had an early meeting and so I waved the boys goodbye and headed off to do early morning emails and run myself a bath. So imagine the skin-crawling horror I felt, half an hour later, as I was just about to get into said bath, when I heard a series of inexplicable thumps and clatterings and realised that someone was climbing up the outside of the house. With no coherent thought beyond the need to see what was happening and face my nemesis, I rushed into the back bedroom, those ominous scrapes and shufflings coming ever closer, and then my husband’s blonde head popped up over the frame of the window.
He beamed at me, as if this were an entirely natural place to hold a reunion, or indeed a conversation. ‘You locked the back door!’ he accused with good humour.
I leaned weakly against the wall, clutching my pounding heart. ‘And you’ve just taken five years off my life,’ I replied. ‘Why didn’t you come round the front and knock?’
‘I thought you’d be in the bath,’ said my husband, thrilled with his deductive skills and compassionate foresight. ‘I didn’t want to get you out of it. I thought we could talk through the window.’
‘But… but,’ I said, ‘I’d have had to get out the bath anyway to let you in. You do want to be let in, don’t you?’
I seem to have a lot of conversations like this with my family, where we debate the logical possibilities that surround an act of complete irrationality.
So anyhow, I let him in, unable to convince him that on another occasion, standing in the back garden and calling my name might work better. I can still hear the thought processes in his mind as they say: ‘well, who else would she expect to be climbing up the back wall of the house? I mean, duh!’ I duly got ready for the day and set off to my early meeting which was a very intimidating gathering of the powers that be at my college to discuss what next year will look like. I’m having a complete change of role, and will no longer be lecturing on French literature as I have done for the past decade. Instead I hope to be starting up a student learning support scheme, working with students who are failing standards or worried about their basic academic skills – essay writing, note taking, revision and so on. No one has ever done this here before, and so it’s a big thing for college and for me. But the point of making the changes is so that I can work just a little and concentrate on writing for most of my time. Naturally, ironically, I got nothing done today while I went through the usual rollercoaster involved in making big changes to your job.
I spent the week working reasonably steadily at the academic writing. I would have liked to have got more done – when wouldn’t I? But one thing I thought I would share with you is my unsatisfactory relationship to authonomy, (the writers’ website I mentioned last week), which I realised was doing bad things to my head. I was beginning to find that waiting for other people to comment on my chapters was getting to me. People’s comments have generally been very nice, with the one more critical comment from an author who clearly has a big problem with any kind of psychological approach. But even that was couched in perfectly acceptable terms; and I’m quite open to thinking that it’s a good idea to use such concepts but in a way that isn’t technical or alienating. It’s a good point. But still I found myself having a strangely emotional response to all this and I had to pause and wonder what exactly I was waiting for. Did I think some definitive comment would arrive that either declared the book a triumph or damned it irrevocably? What would such a comment look like? Was I really hoping someone would tell me I was marvellous in such a way that I would never question myself again? I could discern the lines of a familiar pit lying partly concealed. Writing is a funny business. You do it in order to please, but the only way it works is if the actual process of putting words down on paper pleases you. It all goes wrong if you start to invest in that writing as a way of getting some sort of abstract recognition for yourself, some sort of definitive pat on the back or validation. I know this because I’ve published books before and the thrill of being accepted for publication lasts all of about fifteen minutes, whilst writing and editing the book takes literally years. Any success that comes from it has always left me feeling a bit divorced from the book itself, mostly because the writing of it happened so long ago by that point. And so it was a salutary lesson to focus just on the act of writing, to remember what it’s really about. Alas, my vanity is determined some days to get in the way of my common sense, but I usually wrestle it into submission in the end. To help it out, I might print out my comments and remove the chapters now from the authonomy site; I think it’s served its purpose.
I must take a moment here just to thank with all my heart my blogging friends who have read the chapters on this site. Reading your comments has been wholly positive and useful for me. As usual, displaying the work here has been nothing but a delight as I’ve received such helpful, informative and thoughtful responses. I think there must be a huge difference between having your friends read for you, and opening your writing up to strangers. Either that or else I just happen to know a particularly fine, smart, perceptive and generous bunch of people. Yes, I think that must be it.