I hope you find this outline/cautionary tale of a writer’s life entertaining. No doubt it will have more than a few resonances for other members of the writing community, whose careers and writing paths have most likely had their own peculiar turns and twists! Your comments/anecdotes are welcome.
That Toad Writing
image by Paul F Newman: email@example.com
The poet Philip Larkin asked : “Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life?”
How I empathise! That toad, writing, has squatted on my life more or less since I was born.The golden thread of consistent attachment to writing, or writing’s consistent attachment to ME, has run through the whole of my life. I have always been true to it, in my fashion, during the promiscuous twists and turns of my vocational quest.
At school, whilst other kids seemed to dread their composition ink exercises, I looked forward to mine. It was an opportunity to channel into focused black and white the swirling imaginative colours which whirled round my young brain, fed by my six library books a week habit. I read anything and everything.
This voracity had its downside. Victorian novelist H Rider Haggard’s myth-steeped descriptions of his characters’ adventures in Africa last century fascinated me. But da Silva, the Dutch explorer whose frozen body was found centuries after his death in a cave high up Mt. Kilimanjaro, transferred himself from “King Solomon’s Mines” to the wardrobe in my bedroom, on and off, for a couple of years. Getting to sleep was no mean feat with an imagination like mine!
King Solomon’s Mines First Edition
My ‘real’ life – eating, sleeping, going to school – was incidental to my inner life which was full of the really interesting questions:
“Why are we alive, where do we go after death, do we live on several planes of existence at once, what is happening in other galaxies, if there are x million Catholics and even more Buddhists and Hindus, how come they are all Wrong and Damned and a few thousand members of the Free Church of Scotland are Right and Saved?
What would happen if you unwrapped an Egyptian mummy? I wonder if I could make a shrunken head like the Jivaro people? Why did people paint pictures on cave walls thousands of years ago? “
These issues, fed by reading, preoccupied me for years. I must have written about them, and my essays were often commended. However, attempts on leaving school to obtain my childhood exercise books were met with a bureaucratic “No” .
During my twenties, spent in further education teaching, I had a‘Personally Speaking’ column in a well-known provincial Scottish island newspaper, a copy of which I was reliably informed went to the British Embassy in Peking in China every week.
I also wrote for the local paper in a small industrial town in West Lothian, Scotland, where I had my first English lecturing job in the local technical college. ‘How I was left on the shelf – and found true happiness’ was my contribution to the West Lothian Courier’s Spring Brides Feature one year. “Couldn’t you have been a bit more romantic ?” was the Editor’s only comment.
Harrowed in my mid twenties by the realisation that time was speeding on apace without my having yet written an autobiography, I then began the first of what were to be many bouts of journal-keeping.
In my next college job, I became obsessed with writing handouts on literature and effective language use, inspired by a male colleague who also loved writing handouts for his students. I fell in love with him. My energies moved from sending my work out for publication, to staying in at night and juggling passion with passionate handout composition. The ‘Personally Speaking’ column was stoical in the face of my neglect.
There were other diversions, leading to my final college job before sacrificing all for my art. I was living in Bath in England – where, incidentally, I met a strange little man in a launderette who drew up my horoscope and predicted yet another career, as an astrologer. Hmmmm, I thought….Just before leaving that college to return to my native island to Be A Writer, I had a very scary encounter with a man who might have been a murderer. This became the subject of my first play.
The years in social work honed my writing skills further – writing reports was a central part of the job. Adoption assessments, fostering assessments, Children’s Panel reports, social enquiry reports for the courts: I happily turned my hand to them all, gaining a degree of notoriety amongst my colleagues. They usually hated writing reports. I loved it.
“ Look at Anne,” my first boss used to say, as I hid out in a corner of our open plan office, trying to find some peace to compose my latest masterpiece. “ She is seriously weird. You’d think she was Franz Kafka, the way she crouches over that bit of paper!”
To be continued….
850 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page
7 thoughts on “Why must that toad, writing, squat on my life?”
Anne, the toad has been squatting on my life more than ever lately. I love Philip Larkin’s humorous image! Your “writing memoirs” remind me again of the things we have in common–vivid imaginations, insatiable curiosity, past lives in social work, being lured into astrology, and always dealing with the toad in every job. I escape him by watching others’ toads. Lately, I am toadally addicted to your countryman Alexander McCall Smith. I’m almost up to current with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective series, which I (no, I won’t say toadally again) treasure. I’ve started 44 Scotland Street. I so enjoy his writing and how he takes me away from it all. He must have a pack of toads; he’s so prolific. Lucky for me, it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever run out of his books to read.
I look forward to the next installment of this post, where I hope you’ll have some tips for living with and loving one’s toad, warts and all.
I love your idea of a writer being so prolific as to have a pack – or should it be a herd? – of toads! I can see Philip Larkin has touched a true, raw, vibrant nerve of yours. And thanks for the support! My toads need all the fans they can get….
Can’t wait for the next installment…also trying to figure out where all this ability comes from….probably so much stuff in your 12th House for the research, then all your planets in creative Leo?
Hi Beverly thanks for dropping by with all this encouragement and positive strokes! I love it! Seriously – who knows where it comes from?
I had an uncle who was killed in WW1 who left behind a trunk stuffed full of his writing. Unfortunately it was all thrown out long before I was born. So maybe I am carrying something forward for him…..
It’s just amazing for me to read this. I enjoyed writing well enough in school – didn’t fear it, at least, and did rather well with it – but it wasn’t a passion. It wasn’t even a primary interest. Most of the writing I did in high school was for speech class – original oratory, and that sort of thing.
As a matter of fact, I once won the state speech contest in the original oratory category. The final competition was in the old State Capitol Senate chamber, and I vaguely remember I wrote something about liberty, or whatever.
After that, it was little articles for the school paper, and then on to college and research papers, and then on to graduate school and pages of academically acceptable – uh – writing. Now? These first years of blogging have been mostly dedicated to getting rid of the academic odor and moving on to something that people might find worth reading. I’m fully in favor of education, but I suppose it’s clear I have some strong feelings about academia.
Which reminds me of the delightful quotation from Flannery O’Connor:
“Everywhere I go, I am asked if I think university stifles writers. My opinion is that it doesn’t stifle enough of them.”
I just love the Flannery O’Connor quote – what a writer she was! Given the quality, educational value and accessibility of YOUR writing, I’d say that you have shrugged off that toad, academe, very successfully!
Having completed more bouts of academe myself than any reasonable person should have, I share your view concerning academic writing. After years of ( hopefully) developing my own voice as a writer, I revisited academe from 2011-12. The conformity of writing style and the tyranny of referencing drove me crazy, all over again!