ICYMI – Writing and Identity

This piece is reposted from my old blog, The Thing Itself.

My job is writing, but I don’t feel like a writer any more. In the past two years I’ve graduated from my BA, completed a Creative Writing masters and gained a job writing full time, yet I feel much less involved with writing than I did as an unproductive undergraduate – and I don’t know why that is.

I run a busy, well thought of poetry night. I know possibly hundreds of writers. Sometimes I’m not too exhausted to scribble two lines of what might one day be something into my iPhone notes when I come home from work. But I have (and I appreciate that there is no un-wanky way to say this) lost any connection I had to ‘literature’.

I used to feel like I lived inside it. I was living by the sea, in squalor and in a doomed, destructive relationship with another writer, who was charismatic and cruel and pretty much everything a girl raised on romantic poetry, who spent her teens thinking about Lestat and Byron, would home in on. I ground myself ever downwards amongst piles of decaying books and the smell of smoke.

I was getting my lit degree – which meant that when I deigned to attend class I was thinking at least half intently about Joyce and Carter and Blake – getting passionately annoyed or excited by them. I was much more interested, like the worst of tabloid journalists, in their affairs and letters and incarcerations than I was in their work, buying wholesale into cults of personality and myths about suffering. This wasn’t helped by the (embarrassing, although I only realised this when I told the much saner and better adjusted people on my MA course) habit of certain close friends of referring to my partner and myself as Ted and Sylvia.

This fit us. He was charming but mean, soaked in alcohol and wrapped in tweeds. He spent his time (early on) wandering about the Gower in wellies and occasionally dispatching already-ill rabbits – something which, as a vegetarian and something close to a masochist, both repelled and interested me. Later on he spent most of his time living out of my pocket, daydrinking and reading biographies of dead white men.

I was younger, a fairly pretty blonde, who was if not naive then at least committed wholesale to self deception. People liked me, although they only started thinking of me as funny when I was alone again, and much less attractive (which is another story for another blog, I think). I was swimming through my own mental illness, made worse by the name calling and intimidation that awaited me whenever I went home. Sounds a bit familiar, I suppose, and I can’t blame anyone but myself for the handy nicknames, which I think I half encouraged, always willing to be a sacrificial victim for the look of it.

I read my poetry in bars – often at the night that I would one day run – and my social life consisted almost entirely of drunkenly careening from pub to pub, fighting my boyfriend in the road and nursing petty intrigues in a way that always seems exciting from the outside. I was a Proper Writer, with all the stupid cliches that come with that. Any art produced towards the end of that time was almost certainly accidental.

Is the fact that I don’t feel like a writer, at the time when I’m most actively involved in the writing scene, actually because I’m not being a Zelda or a Sylvia? Is it because I’m drinking wine with my friends at home instead of whisky with monsters in smoking jackets? If it is then I’m ashamed of myself for being so easily drawn in by a series of images, and the mythology of an imagined past. If writers, as opposed to Writers, are more bearable, then why do I feel nostalgic and left out? And why do I want to flee my office, down a few gins and suck face with the next cocky poet I can find (long hair appreciated, but optional)?

Maybe I need to write more, and more likely still is the fact that I desperately need to read something that isn’t for work. And if I transform overnight into a wine-soaked carcrash girl again, don’t blame me – blame Hemingway, the bastard.

Author: eve

poet / phd student / activist / feminist / rat mother / owner of a bad brain

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