Am I a writer?

This is terribly poor form, of course.  If I see a newspaper posing a question, I usually read no further: why are they asking me?  I am clearly an idiot.  Couldn’t the journalist (or sub-editor) in question have found an expert, rather than relying on the readership to do their work for them?

This is also not going to develop into a Poll – while these can be created within WordPress, it seems like quite a lot of hassle to set one up and I am not 100% sure that I want to know the answer.

No, once again we’ll all have to face the existential angst that lies at the dark heart of GofaDM and its author.  You will be fellow travellers on his quest to find some small speck of identity to grasp and call his own.  It’s his own fault, of course, he has rejected all the readily available identities that the modern world is willing to offer: he is clearly far too picky, no wonder he lives alone with an idiot.

Clearly, at the purely trivial level, I am a writer as a result of all the ‘stuff’ I seem to have written in this virtual space over the last few years (this would seem to be post 649 for any stats fans out there).  Indeed, I way well have written more material during the lifespan of GofaDM than many who would self-identify as writers.  However, unusually for this blog, we are not going to be satisfied with the trivial: we are going to worry at the cheap veneer with a fingernail to catch a glimpse of what may lie beneath.

Why, you might ask (and so indeed do I), has a chap who denies his writer-hood, produced quite so much text in recent years for no obvious reward?  My occasional dictum of “better out than in” might apply – once it is on the virtual page it has exited my cranial space to allow room for more significant work to go ahead (but, in practice, the space just appears to be used to generate more of the same).  A possible insight came on Thursday night when I bumped into someone I knew at the Nuffield Theatre (though this is almost unavoidable – I am becoming worryingly widely known there).  At some previous encounter I had, in a fit of marketing prowess, encouraged him to follow this unending river of utterance.  He evinced some enjoyment from this activity (perhaps through politeness) and remarked that it was clear that I enjoyed producing it.  He wasn’t wrong, I do enjoy hurling my words out into the void – in fact, it might still be fun if they never left my laptop but were left entirely for my own amusement (don’t worry, my innate cruelty means I shall continue to make my writing all too public).

Perhaps to answer the question we should look back into history – did the childish or youthful author show indication of what was to come?  I had thought not.  I found the obligation to write for English Language O-level terribly annoying and was glad to take it a year early and no longer have to suffer the need to write creatively.  English Literature, on the other hand, I enjoyed: I had no issue writing about the work of others – just generating my own ex nihilo.  As noted not so long ago, I thought my first tentative forays into what would become GofaDM were back when the nineties was still a mewling, puking infant in its mother’s arms and I wrote comic obituaries for colleagues when they departed for pastures new (and no, I was not working on a diary farm).  However, while chatting with my brother (no, he’s not my real brother – more my co-opted brother, try and keep up!) I suddenly remembered earlier excursions in the written form.

When I was at university, mobile phones lay in the realm of science fiction and calling home was a rare activity to be saved for emergencies.  Instead, I used to type – on a portable, manual typewriter – regular missives to my parents.  I seem to recall these had a stream-of-consciousness feel about them, and probably represent the source for my chronic over-use of parentheses and hyphen.  I suspect they may have contained the seed which one day grew into the monstrous, lexical plant you see before you.  I have a rather nasty feeling that these letters may still lie (like an unexploded literary bomb) carefully preserved in my parents’ loft: just waiting to be unleashed upon the world to its horror and my acute embarrassment.

This takes my career as a ‘writer’ back to the mid-eighties, suggesting thirty years of inconsistent authorial endeavour.  I think I am forced to admit that my brother is correct and confess that ‘I am a writer’ (and I may need some sort of patch to control the symptoms).  Some of my recent stuff has slightly impressed me on re-reading, even away from the ‘jokes’ (well, The Warder of the Brain did anyway).  My recent productivity also seems to have risen but that may just be down to having time on my hands (it is surprisingly tricky to remove, I may have to try swarfega).  My forms of writing are a tad limited: I can do business prose, write a half-decent essay on the arts for the Open University and then there is the rather limited palette I use to paint the canvas of this blog.  As a writer, I feel the need to expand my horizons and so have decided that I will write a short story (it may be VERY short) and it will not be about me or my life: though I may choose to write in the first person and it will have to be drawn from the well of my experience – probably using a manual winch and a bucket.  At the moment, I think it may have memory as its theme – but it currently lacks any characters, story or, indeed, words.  As and when it moves from the noosphere into the world of the real, I shall publish it here to universal apathy.  Consider this your one and only warning.

Look at that!  As I suspect also happens in the newspapers, I have answered my own question.  A less interrogative title could easily have been used, but instead the author hides behind false modesty – and we rightly despise him for it.

Who am I?

Fear not, I am not going to get all existential “on yo ass” (a much less successful restaurant concept than the superficially similar Yo! Sushi).  This is largely down to the extreme superficiality of my knowledge of the subject, not so much a veneer as a monomolecular layer laid down through some form of knowledge-based epitaxy.

Nor shall I dwell for too long on the flaws in the whole concept of identity which neuroscience seems to feel duty-bound to expose.  I have read a fair bit of neuroscience (as opposed to no Kierkegaard whatsoever), but feel they rather miss the target when attacking either the sense of self or of free will.  The seem to demolish places where I had never believed either of these things resided, as even a moment’s self-reflection should surely have made obvious (without the need for surrounding folk with incredibly powerful magnets to excite some cranial hydrogen atoms before watching them being slowly overcome by boredom once more).

No,  I shall – very much in keeping with the raison d’être of this blog (now on its 450th post) – stick to more trivial matters.

The nature of identity does seem to obsess both those who govern us (or would like to) and those who bring us the soi-disant news.  There have been two major areas of identity-based uncertainty that I have noticed in recent weeks – those of being British and being a man.  As I can personally tick both boxes, I felt at least somewhat qualified to comment – though, frankly neither of these particular areas of identity have ever caused me the slightest anxiety.

Our politicos do seem very keen to define what it means to be British – which I often feel is more of an attempt to define what isn’t so that those lacking this apparently vital essence can be blamed, disparaged or deported (preferably at enormous cost).  It does seem to be very much of a piece with the Manichean nature of so much public discourse – everything is either good or bad, left or right wing, causes or cures cancer (to name but three examples).  I’m pretty convinced life isn’t like this.  I like to think that all my qualities, both good and ill, at best exist somewhere on a scale between their best and worst possibilities – and, worse, move around on that scale over time.  Whilst I am clearly generalising from a sample of one, I suspect other people are much the same.  I’m sure we all have elements of Britishness – wheresoe’er we might happen to hale from – and elements of things not British.  This is probably true for almost any even remotely sensible definition of what it is to be British – not that a government is ever likely to produce such a definition.

The need to define being British seems to have gained additional zest with the potential departure of the Scots from the union of 1707.  So far as I know, I lack any Scottish roots and so no-one will ask me – which is just as well as I have no real idea which option is the better.  I suspect disentangling a union which has persisted for 307 years will be an extremely non-trivial (and so expensive and painful) exercise – but merely because something is tricky does not mean it should not be attempted if it is the right thing to do.  On the other hand, I suspect more local government is a good thing – if only from the frustrating experience of working for a vast multinational where the seat of “government” seems impossibly remote from my day-to-day working life.  Still, this blog is not trying to persuade folk north of the border to vote one way or the other.  Our politicians, of course, do not take this approach and campaign with some vigour either for or against divorce.  Living a long way south of the border, I tend to see significantly more of the NO campaign – which does seem to have been successfully infiltrated by the YES campaign and is basically doing their work for them.  Certainly, if I were Scottish I would find the work of the NO campaign a pretty convincing reason to leave.  I like to imagine that the YES campaign has a similar impact on boosting the desire to stay.  If so, perhaps both campaigns could agree to shut-up and save their money and allow people to make their own decisions.  Or perhaps the money could be invested in an independent body which would dispassionately lay out the pros and cons of leaving in the hope of producing a better informed electorate.  I believe flying pigs are very good at this sort of analysis.

There also seems to be a continuing debate about what it means to be a man.  Apparently, my fellow holders of a Y-chromosome are suffering an identity crisis.  It would seem that treating women slightly less disgracefully than heretofore cuts right to the heart of masculinity.  Or maybe it’s the ready availability of power steering and parking sensors?  I’ve never really felt defined by my ability to treat those of the distaff gender as second class citizens and I certainly hope I’m not defined by my ability to parallel park (as this ability, if it ever existed, has almost totally atrophied – actually, I did once do it astonishingly well but I’m pretty sure that was a fluke as it was more than 20 years ago and has never been repeated).  Then again, I may not be great example of manhood: I have very limited interest in sport, regularly cry in public (though, fortunately, usually in conditions of poor lighting) and have eaten (and enjoyed) quiche.  Still, I am pretty clearly a man – biologically speaking at least.  For example, I can count to 21 when naked (though these days I do need my glasses to make accurate use of my toes) – so I reckon how I live must be at least one representation of masculinity.  So, if any possessors of a Y-chromosome are reading this post in a state of gender crisis I am more than happy to share my tips on how to be a man in 2014.  They are also welcome to read this post’s 449 siblings for some evidence of my life as a man in the early 21st century – though this does create the worrying prospect of my mimetic clones slowly spreading through the population.

Talking of clones, on Friday night I went to the Nuffield Theatre to see A Number by Caryl Churchill.  An interesting and pleasingly brief play about cloning and what it might mean to have genetic copies of yourself wandering around.  The protagonists seemed to find this quite a disturbing prospect – but I would relish meeting a clone (of myself, obviously): (A) to see how path-dependent this version of me is and, much more importantly, (B) to find someone who would understand and laugh at my jokes.

So, send in the clones!