Monday, October 16, 2006

A Socially Unproductive Profession

     The novel. Driving through the dusty haze of a soft summer evening to Victoria’s apartment building, I reflect on my metamorphosis into an author.
     I still regard the idea of the book as a master stroke. Not, mind you, the idea for the book, but the idea of the book. After being unemployed for a full twelve months I had to invent a plausible occupation. People were always asking me what I did. I didn’t do anything. I was simply unemployed, which doesn’t qualify as an activity but is, rather more accurately, a state of being. In the animal kingdom it has its metaphorical equivalent in the hibernation of the bear or the woodchuck, or in the pupal stage of various insects. Or so most people seem to think. Particularly employers who never want to hire anyone who isn’t already working for someone else.
     So one day, in answer to the inevitable question as to what I did, I replied that I was a writer. It just popped into my head. I noted a cessation of embarrassing questions. The news circulated among Victoria’s friends and my acquaintances. Nobody questioned my sincerity. It appears they regarded this profession as socially unproductive enough to appeal to me.
     The strangest thing was that this public confession got me writing. Sort of. I admit I have spent more time thinking about writing than actually writing, and even more time talking about writing than actually writing. But still, if one announces one’s membership in that illustrious company of joyous spirits, living and dead, who have judged the pen mightier than the sword, one had better evince loyalty to the side and scribble.
     However, from experience I can testify that authorship is a trying, taxing business. It is particularly so in my case because I can’t seem to get interested in writing about what I ought to be writing about. I mean, after all, I was once a seriously considered candidate for a Canada Council grant, a genuine copper-bottomed A-student with a double major in English Literature and Philosophy. I was going to ship out for England and write a dissertation.
     Consequently, I am capable of bandying around the names of some pretty thoughtful people: Blaise Pascal, Soloviev, Ellul and even Simone Weil. I was even forced to read some of their books. In fact, at one time I had a very strong affection for Soren Kierkegaard, who, at least in the flesh, seemed to have much the same effect on people that I have. Like me, the gnarled little Dane didn’t mix well at parties, was inclined to goad people into a frenzy, and made too much of a love affair.
     Because of my exposure to great thoughts I feel a vague obligation not to reflect too badly on my education. I feel I ought to at least take a shot at a Big Book. Somehow I can’t seem to manage it.

From Guy Vanderhaeghe, “Sam, Soren, and Ed” in Man Descending: Selected Stories (1982).


jenclair said...

I love this excerpt: the dryness, the humor, the possibilities! "The idea of the book" does seem a "master stroke" - especially since we often seem to take people at their least initially!

Nancy said...

Priceless. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Kierkegaard was pretty handsome. Those gnarled pics were caricatures from a newspaper who didn't like him.