My Friend Mel

Phoebe Eccles

My friend Mel says she has written a book, about exactly what I can’t recall now, but something involving a mid-life crisis and a meta-historical arc. She is fresh out of art school and has put her summer holiday to use.

“I am going to write a book too,” I say, annoyed that she has made my writer identity real for herself. It’s possible that I can reclaim it, but first I will need a job to support my writer lifestyle, and then I’ll need a wordpress to make myself googleable, only I know it is impossible to make a wordpress because I have tried at least four times, and surely after four tries it is ok to give up, but no, if this job search has taught me anything it’s that trying and failing nowadays is not only normal but expected, like some kind of drinking ritual that you do to get into a crap university sports team, probably rugby, and getting drunk isn’t enough, and vomiting isn’t either, instead you have to drink the vomit, the literal failure of someone else’s innards, in order to make the team.

Do not misunderstand me as saying that setting up a blog or finding employment is comparable to drinking someone else’s vomit. Maybe getting published is, I don’t know, I’m not Mel, I haven’t tried that yet. Instead I am just sitting in bed alternating between typing up applications, reading rejection emails and writing down my feelings in a diary. The start of yesterday’s entry: It’s not very fun, being told by your local bookshop, (the place that I have exclusively gone to for all my literary needs ever since I was seven, yes even when Amazon introduced the prime free trial I still went there) that you don’t have enough pizzazz to work on the till and anyway your cover letter is filled with grammatical errors, why didn’t you get anyone to proofread it? And it’s true, it’s not fun, but it’s also not the same as being told that you’ve got to drink the vomit of the bigdog bookseller, although in some ways that would simplify the hiring process.

“My plot is non-linear, a bit like Ali Smith’s latest”, Mel tells me. But it still has a beginning, middle and end, components that enable it to be encased in a hard front and back cover. The fact that I haven’t even started mine makes us horribly unequal. What’s even worse to think about is that I will start, but I won’t finish. Even as I type that now I quietly assure myself that this isn’t true, that one day I will manage, but if we are to look at the facts of my situation, my documents even, then my pessimism stands supported. Writing my thesis was awful because I could never remember what I had already said, but going back to check was out of the question. The start didn’t match the end – that is what my supervisor said. He was kind though, and kept giving me extensions so I could wrap it up, and I would stretch those extensions to the very limit, unable to write unless I had the weight of the clock on my neck.

But no, that was different, and cover letters are different too, because they are boring. I will finish my novel, I will start and then finish, without plan and plot, copying out the best bits of my journals, like what Helen Garner did for Monkey Grip. Although, as my friend (not Mel, another one) pointed out, Monkey Grip is interesting because it is about free love and drugs and jealousy and the days when people lived in each other’s basements. So perhaps I will need a plot, because I haven’t had sex in a while and the last time I took drugs I think it was mainly laundry detergent.

When I first loved someone unrequitedly, I wrote up our relations with changed names and made all the stuff that had been making me weep into a source of comedy. It was great therapy, until I remembered that I had once chanced upon one of his notebooks filled with essays on this other girl and I thought “I have immortalised him and he will never do the same for me” and so I deleted it all out of spite or maybe self-respect, you decide which.

Although I have not written a book, I have sat in front of a laptop for a long time. In fact, I’ve recently cultivated a routine: check facebook, stare a while at the word seen, adorned with a tick, sitting at the bottom of a message to someone who I desperately want a reply from. Reread my last message. Search our previous messages through typing an obscure word into the search bar, and then spend hours reading conversations that took place when our relations were different. Check to see when they have last been online. Write out something and then delete it. Send someone else online (usually but not always a real life friend) a sticker that is both endearing but a little tragic. “What’s up”, they will sometimes reply. Tell them about my failing job search. Once they have proved they are incapable of helping (how I wish I was friends with myself, I have thought more than once) I google something inane like “why is being sad so boring” or “songs to listen to when your heart is broken (FEMALE ARTISTS ONLY)”. Then I try to redeem myself by going on a news website which just depresses me further so I do an NHS quiz to see if I am medically depressed (not quite), then a quiz on buzzfeed to see who would direct the film of my life (Stanley Kubrick, unfortunately). Then back to facebook, rinse and repeat. Then, that evening, I go to the pub and boast about how I don’t have a macbook or a smart phone. Mel has both these things, and uses them to for practical, writerly purposes, such as editing her wordpress and following Joyce Carol Oates on twitter.

Maybe I will find a way to make my life worthwhile without becoming an author, like through being good. I haven’t eaten meat in five months and I keep planning to join an activist group although that is another thing that deep down I know I won’t do because I find activist circles like seminars i.e. annoying and occasionally humiliating. I could volunteer, though. And I could always make an effort to be kind to my friends and family.

But no, I will write a novel, I will start it today and I will deactivate my facebook and I will finish it when I’m 25 and it won’t be publishable but my second one will be, so I won’t have to worry about causing offense by using everyone I know as characters and in the meantime I’ll read enough detective fiction to understand how it is structured and then I will be like Helen Fielding meets Patricia Highsmith, giving birth to a humorous yet grizzly murder mystery every year, and I’ll read philosophy too and write funny philosophical essays that get published in offbeat magazines that give all their proceeds to radically leftwing political organizations and then I won’t feel bad about not being an activist because I’ll still be contributing to the cause, like when I didn’t occupy but still brought food to the occupiers, a giver as opposed to a participator, and isn’t that what all writers are in relation to life anyway?

And even as I make the future coherent I feel deeply disappointed, as if everything I’m saying, every hope that I’m putting into words is just not enough, not enough to look forward to, but maybe that’s because yet again I love someone who cannot love me back, and until that is resolved, either through altering the nature of our friendship or through letting them go entirely (both unsavoury options) everything else is tinged with a gloom that undoubtedly permeates this entire bit of writing, making it likely that you don’t believe that my novel will be funny, because I certainly haven’t cracked any jokes here. But to you I say, give me a break, I’m part of broken Britain, I was promised the world and I’ve been given my childhood bedroom, I’m a master of art who must frequently make humiliating trips to the jobcentre where they sometimes try to make me work for free, or work at Debenhams, and even though I didn’t particularly like the sound of the role of visual assistant, I was still hurt when I didn’t get it, seeing as the application was just one big personality test.

And yes, I’m hurting, and although I find a broken heart rather productive when it comes to writing, add boredom into the mix and it becomes a case of there being too much of the same to mould into one decent thing. Unless this is something, and I’m reluctant to say it is, because 39% is fiction and 61% is truth, but who is saying that, me or the author? These distinctions make me nervous. I won’t be able to start my novel until I figure them out. When I want to lessen someone’s power over me, I reduce them to a caricature, but what are the consequences of me doing this to myself?

If I don’t finish my novel, maybe I can say it’s postmodern like Mel’s and publish it anyway. And editors can fix my grammar and my repetitions, so I won’t suffer with my past problems. I want to write a book and so I will write a book. Although I also want to not be lonely. I want to not be on the dole and I want to not be so arrogant as to find it funny that I’m on the dole. I want to be able to not have to demand the company of others because I am scared of being alone with my brain. I want to lose my sadness without also losing the will to write. But above all, above the words even, I desperately want the promise, and it doesn’t have to be written down, that I will be ok.