Thursday, 20 January 2011

Dispatch from Italy: here's a suggestion, why not try hard work? by Leila Rasheed

Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air. Sitting down at my usual bar, drinking my usual cappuccino, scribbling in my usual notebook, half-listening to the usual 102.2 radio playing over the speakers (slogan: “Very normal people”), in between the usual Italian rock ballads and 80s nostalgia, I catch this plaintive question: Do you ever feel like a plastic bag? I sit up, I take notice. No, but I am prepared to go with it. Drifting through the air, wanting to start again. Okay, this is one of those metaphors that seems really good when you first think of it but doesn’t quite work on paper. You don’t have to feel like a waste of space. You’re original, cannot be replaced. This ought to encourage me, after all I’m a writer, we all sit around chewing our nails thinking “Are my books a waste of space? Am I original? Will I be replaced by a younger and more marketable author?” and our spirits rise and fall with our royalties – just like a plastic bag, actually, drifting through the air. But it doesn’t encourage me. It really doesn’t. It sounds about as sincere as Berlusconi’s hair weave. Or that other slogan of all-purpose blandly grinning reassurance: Because you’re worth it.

I understand the desire to have a song you can punch the air to, the need all us very normal people - slogging through our commuter runs or thirty-seventh drafts, feeling as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, fearing that our lives are meaningless - have to be reassured that we truly are special. But this self-help song is hollow, because there is no struggle and no victory. It just assumes entitlement. Entitlement to self-respect, entitlement to publication, entitlement to glossy hair. It assumes you need make no sacrifices to achieve your goal. That having a dream means you are entitled to have it come true. That if you want to sing, a fairy godfather in the form of a massively rich record executive, ought to bungee jump down and whisk you away to the top of the charts in a flurry of flash-bulbs.

Not true. If you start with I have a dream, you should anticipate pushing through the dark years, still another mile. To those who feel like a waste of space, here’s a suggestion: set yourself a goal and work your socks off to achieve it. For example: work on that metaphor until it’s powerful rather than ludicrous. And then you can punch the air to a song which contains a real emotional victory: I will survive. There’s a reason that one has stayed popular: it’s the story of a self-respect and success that was earned.


Andrew Strong said...

A lovely post. It reminds me of a teacher in primary school who, at the end of each day used to say to us: "remember, you are not important." Occasionally he would add, "some of you are worthless." I can still hear his voice inside my head today, but have not the faintest idea whether it made any difference to me, or any of the other children in his charge.

Stroppy Author said...

So true, Leila - so many people think they are 'owed'. Owed everything, in fact: success, money, friends, love, work they like - and feel cheated if it doesn't just turn up. They think work is the boring bit, but of course it's not. It's the interesting part, and the part that imparts value to the success when it comes.

Thank you for this thoughtful post :-)

Leila said...

Oh wow, Andrew - don't know what to think about that teacher! There's a couple of adults I'd like to say that to, mind :)