Friday, 14 January 2011

The necessity of failure

As a P.S. to my previous post, I happened to be listening to Howard Jacobson talking about his book The Mighty Waltzer on Radio 4’s Book Club . Having just won the Man Booker for his latest novel, The Finkler Question – and receiving the biggest ever sales boost from the prize since records began - he had this to say about his success:

‘All my books have been about failure of some kind and I’ve always argued success is not interesting. It’s not interesting to a writer, it doesn’t make a story, it’s not what a writer is; if a writer were a successful person he wouldn’t be a writer. I actually say to all of you in the fondest way, if you are readers, as I am a writer, isn’t that because we are all in a sense failures together? Failures at being worldly - we read because we want the world to be somewhat another place, we write because we want the world to be [another place], we do not feel the world is satisfactory to us, or that we have made our way in a satisfactory sense...I mean this in the most complimentary way. For me to be a failure is the highest haven’t been a banker, you haven’t become a footballer, you’ve gone into the imagination, to remake and to relive the world....Even in success, a man of imagination can find failure.’

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Manic obsessive

Something has been bothering me this past week. Yet again I am beset by that morale-sapping anxiety of not having made much of myself. It tends to sneak up in January, when the year lies stretched out in front of you like a crisp white page waiting for the next chapter of the story to be written. That familiar internal conflict arises: on the one hand a sense of aggrandisement that allows you to imagine yourself achieving self-realisation and leaving a valuable legacy in the world, and on the other hand a bitchy self-sniping about your own limitations that forces you to conclude that writing a novel, or composing a symphony, or discovering a cure for the common cold, or growing a beard, is work best left to humanity's more talented pool.

I'm talking about success, but not the sort measured by happy homes, good friends and getting through a week without recourse to prescribed medication. No, I'm talking about old-fashioned, traditional success, measured in terms of fame, fortune and 'reaching the top'.

Getting there, of course, has less to do with innate talent than with knowing what you want and being sufficiently committed to get it. But it has now dawned on me that there is another ingredient still more relevant in the recipe for success: obsession. Think of anyone you know who is a shining star in their area of operation and I will bet you that they are a total obsessive...

...which brings me to the nub of the matter. A man who is obsessive is, frankly, just a normal man. The well-known 'men and their sheds' scenario: women have hobbies, men have obsessions. Men do obsession naturally and they do it brilliantly (a psychologist would probably say that as hunters men are biologically designed to focus on the target without distraction). But an obsessive woman is distinctly noteworthy, as in 'God woman, you're obsessed!'. So I ask you, who wants to work with an obsessive woman, or date an obsessive woman? They're way too weird. I mean, 'just get some perspective!'.

Typically, a woman will allow herself to do the thing she really wants to do only after she has done everything she has to do. Take this blog for example, which is only ever written after the children are both asleep, my paid work has been dispatched, dinner has been shopped for, cooked and eaten, everyone has the things they need for the next day, and all social engagements have been fulfilled. Compare and contrast Mr London Street who is my very favourite male blogger. I have no idea where or when he writes, but I notice that in 2010 he wrote 178 posts and I wrote 11. My energies, I fear - like those of a cave woman foraging all over the place while keeping an eye on the children - are simply too diffuse to ever amount to much.

So are men pre-destined to be more successful than women? Perhaps my New Year's Resolution should be to get a bit more obsessive. But now I come to think of obsessive women I have known, it didn't end well. Helluva story though...