Oh, it’s resolution time again — and I’m horrible at resolutions.
I resist temptation fine in the morning when I’m shaving, because I’m only just awake, but it’s pretty much downhill every passing minute after that. As Oscar Wilde wrote in “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” I’m afraid that “I can resist anything except temptation.”
I have a beer glass with that quotation on it, and the irony does not escape me: the glass gets a wry smile from me every time. I pour anyway.
So, every year and sometimes throughout the year, I make resolutions. I make them quietly and tell no one, to save myself the embarrassment of failing. To live a healthy life: to exercise more: to be a better person.
This year, I’m just going to try and be honest.
These are dangerous times for honest writers, both in journalism and in literary writing. Unfortunately, I do both. Dangerous times, because, right now, many people are reading less and less, and among those who do still read, there are an inordinate number of people jockeying to be writers themselves. (Fights get more and more vicious as the returns diminish — poets, for example, are well familiar with the concept of having the many fighting so hard for so little.)
That jockeying takes many forms, everything from social media pile-ons to publishers who scramble desperately to find the latest acceptable authors.
As a writer, you get gun-shy eventually: I’ve heard a lot of other writers who over-think every single step they take now to consider who will be offended; they use their imaginations not to create, but to try and figure out who will tee off on them for daring to let their imaginations run, for that curse of daring to imagine at all.
The new mantra is that you have no right to imagine; you must own the experience you write about.
What a delightful boring reading experience that would create for me: stay tuned for my short-story collection including the story “Disappointment,” in which a character exactly like me goes to a grocery store exactly like the one I go to, buys broccoli to cook for supper just like I do, and is saddened by the fact that, once brought home, the broccoli florets inevitably have started their gentle turn to stinking slimy ooze. Or maybe a story about snow-blowing the sidewalk. Oh wait, I’ve already done that one.
(One small point: if you write only what you have lived, is fiction still fiction? Or are we all required to write only our own autobiographies?)
Here’s another quote I’m fond of: Groucho Marx’s “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
I’m a writer. Nothing else. It’s what I do. The vast majority of that writing is done alone, often in the dark. I have excellent friends who are writers, but I’m not part of a community of writers, nor am I ever likely to be. I am not sure there’s any such thing as the writing community. The few writers I’m in contact with on a regular basis are people I like as people: that they’re writers is just chance and good fortune; like the community of bricklayers, we have similar aches and pains.
I look back at work I did before I spent time worrying about what other people thought of what I was trying to do, and the simple fact is that it was better.
It was better, more interesting, more inventive work.
I want to get back to that point: I want to be inventive and colourful and unafraid.
No punches pulled, no words self-edited. To do anything else, really, would be to live a lie.
It’s a resolution I hope to keep.
In the world we live in now, it might well be a career-ending one.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com — Twitter: @wangersky.