This is something you should never do. But hey, we’re all adults here. And we can shoulder responsibilities and still be experimental and creative at the same time, can’t we. More after the washing machine destruction. It gets particularly destructive at 55″ in. (Thanks ColtMonday.)
Getting back to the pram. Cyril Connolly said this:
“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway.”
A bloke would say it I suppose. A woman would just get on with it. Frank Cottrell Boyce had a good piece on this in The Guardian newspaper this week. It impressed and encouraged me.
Here’s an extract:
What is “me”, if not the sum of all my relationships and obligations? A customer, that’s what. The more you give, the more you are. Think of Chekhov, with his patients and his crowds of dependent relatives, whose living room became such a public space that he had to put up no smoking signs. His advice to young writers was “travel third class”.
For centuries, writers have sung the virtues of staying connected to the routine and the mundane. Real creativity should feel like a game, not a career. Having to hang out the washing or get up and make breakfast helps you remember that your “work” is actually fun. And for it to stay fun, you have to be unafraid of failure. It’s very powerful to be surrounded by people who love you for something other than your work, who are unaware of the daily, painful fluctations of your reputation. I discovered recently that my youngest child thought I spent my days typing out more and more copies of my book Millions, so that everyone could have one.
There’s a belief that to do great work you need tranquility and control, that the pram is cluttering up the hallway; life needs to be neat and tidy. This isn’t the case. Tranquility and control provide the best conditions for completing the work you imagined. But surely the real trick is to produce the work that you never imagined. The great creative moments in our history are almost all stories of distraction and daydreaming – Archimedes in the bath, Einstein dreaming of riding a sunbeam – of alert minds open to the grace of chaos.
Writers have produced great work in the face of things far more stressful than the school run: being shot at, in the case of Wilfred Owen; being banged up in jail, in the case of Cervantes or John Bunyan. Yet that pram is lodged in our imaginations, like a secret parasite sucking on our juices.
In fact, if you go back to Connolly’s terrific book, you’ll see that the pram is only one of the many Enemies of Promise. Others include a public school education (so emotionally overwhelming you can’t move on) and success, surely the greatest enemy of all. But no one warns you about these. It’s just the pram.
Why does it retain its power to chill? I don’t think it’s about fear of distraction or domesticity. I think it’s a fear of babies. Being a parent – or really loving someone other than yourself, whether that’s your children, parents or your lover – forces you to confront a horrible truth: the fact that we get older. The amazing boy who was born when I was still a student is a man now. There is no way that I can still think of myself as “quite young, really” or “a child at heart”. Parenthood confronts us with our own mortality, every day.
As a society, we are in flight from our own mortality.
The mess we’ve made of this planet comes partly from the fact that we all feel we’re going to live for ever. Has art done much to make us think differently? When I think of art that tries to address these things – well, there’s not much of it, and it’s not much cop.
But we should turn Connolly’s equation upside-down and say that maybe what’s in the pram – breathing, vulnerable life, hope, a present responsibility – is actually more important than good art. It might make us produce less art, but maybe it would be art with the future at its heart.
I internally edited the extract above. For the full piece click here.
Meanwhile, it’s been a good day.
- A new short story is almost done.
- A friend who had a heart attack up a ladder is recovering well.
- And our man in China – Fuxingman – has a new, very funny post on what pensioners get up to in Beijing parks after dark. Go there and leave him a comment.