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Linda Rogers. SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER


When I was a child, I blinked my eyes when I told a lie. My father thought there was something physically wrong and wanted to consult an ophthamologist. My mother said, "Relax, she is going to support us in our old age." They were both wrong.

Writers do not support their parents in their old age, but they do enlarge upon the family secrets, When asked if they lie, most writers prefer to say "exaggerate." I was recently reading at the Manulife Literary Festival with my friends Susan Musgrave and Patricia Young. Patricia and I didn't invite our mothers because they would have stood up and disclaimed our every utterance, howling "fiction!" in unison. Susan's mother was there but Susan disarmed her with her initial remark that her mother was her hero. When I asked Susan later why she had said that she replied "I lied". It allowed her to get on with her exaggerations which her mother didn't notice after Susan filled her ears with praise.

There is a saying that parents should be good to their children because they might grow up to become writers. In fact, most writers had unhappy childhoods and they spend the rest of their lives talking about it. You can't make a career out of extolling your mother's cooking. Anyone who has read Frank McCourt's magnificent childhood autobiography, Angela's Ashes, will realize that intermittent feedings of fried bread is the bread of angels and that fat mothers with skinny children are breeding genius.

Audrey Thomas said writing well is the best revenge. If you want to embarrass your parents and lack the courage to come out of the closet, the next best thing is to become a writer.

If you are going to be a writer, you must be prepared to be disinherited. You will not have a dental plan or a pension. If you are not one of the very few who become rich and famous, you will be treated with contempt and if you do, all the other writers will be jealous of you.

I was at the dentist having a check-up recently. The hygenist suggested oral surgery. What do you do for a living she asked, casually. "I am a poet" I said rather proudly. "Oh, forget the gums then", she said. I AM A POET . Those four little words are guaranteed to terminate elective surgery, telephone solicitations and offers of marriage. They are also the door to freedom.

I began writing when my mother gaye me pencil and paper in a futile bid to end the incessant chatter that accompanied my callow observation of the phenomenal world. When I filled up too many of my father's purloined yellow legal pads, she admonished me with a story about Albert Scwietzer who was recycling in the African jungle. Enough, already. Think of the forest! My mother made me a writer and a hugger of trees.

We all have stories like that. Telling them saves us and the world from madness because there is only one story with infinite variations.

We are compelled. That is the major difference between us and the civilized world. We are willing to starve and have our teeth fall out just for the privilege of lying and calling it a profession. I say profession because it is an act of faith as opposed to a career, which, by dictionary definition, means going downhill out of control.

John Newlove actually called a collection of his poetry LIES.

Until recently, when grandmotherhood and marriage to an american ( Americans are addicted to their truths, which is the reason their politics are so hot), I was emprisoned in the head chakra. I was married to a man who did not want me to write. I couldn't stop writing but I did lie low in the cryptic language of allusion. Most criticism of my work at that time focused on praise of my surreal images and confusion about what they actually meant. I was as confused as they were, believe me. That is over. My friendship with poet Patricia Young has been a little like Milton Acorn's ride over gravel. Patricia told me most of what I wrote was bullshit a~d she was right. I don't write bullshit any more. My heart is on my sleeve, and my rage. I believe language has the power to transform and, before I leave this planet for good ( there are some who will say I was never from/on it), I am going to say my piece which reduced to a sentence is "value our children and they will fix the world."


Linda Rogers's works copyright © to the author.


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