Sorry about the break, dudes. I’ve been on holiday, walking in the Swiss Alps: the most spectacularly, almost unbelievably beautiful landscape I’ve ever been in, but also the most expensive. In one hotel restaurant, a main course was 44 Swiss francs. That’s about £38. We had coffee.
Jo wouldn’t let me bring my laptop, because she said it should be “family time”, hence the blog-silence. However, I read Jack Underwood’s Not Even This: Poetry, Parenthood and Living Uncertainly (London: Corsair, 2022), and hand-writing notes on it in a notebook.
It was a gift from my infinitely patient and forgiving father-in-law and his wife. They are always absolutely lovely to me, something they do, I think, for Jo’s sake. I resent it deeply. It’s not easy being such a wanker that other people can demonstrate their virtue and superiority by tolerating you. The resentment goads me into being breath-takingly rude, thus giving them further opportunities to prove their loveliness, their superior virtue, and their patient, forgiving tolerance, dangnammit!
My in-laws are all high-flyers: Cambridge-educated doctors or successful executives; senior civil servants, as well as nurturing and loving parents and spouses, who produce well-balanced, socially productive children. Jo’s professional success is the reason we can go on holiday. I earn about £10K a year.
I have very few qualities or achievements. With no other way of praising me, my father-in-law clings to the idea that I am a “poet”, even though I abandoned poetry for fiction and non-fiction prose (probably) a decade ago, due to a complete lack of poetic ability.
A few years ago, his wife took up fiction writing, entering short story competitions, self-publishing a novel, running her local writing group, and blogging about her “journey as a writer.”
I was wary of admitting to her that I had already switched to prose-writing, fearing direct comparison. Her competitiveness and industrious professionalism mean that she has been more successful than me, and I would deeply resent her tactful triumphalism if she knew.
I have spent my whole life, since I was a teenager, trying to commit myself, wholly, to the study of serious literature both as an art and as a source of soul-deepening and mind-broadening knowledge that allows profound communication and empathy with other minds and is thus enormously beneficial for any society. I have failed in my endeavour due to laziness, inattention, and lack of intelligence, but those are my values.
I feel my father-in-law’s wife lacks any serious commitment to literature as a transcendent quasi-religious art. She has never exhibited any of my interests and values. She has always been a Booker-Short-List, book-club type, reading easily and eagerly, interested in the stories and issues these works throw up, and in the discussions they stimulate, but has never had any critical, stylistic, theoretical or philosophical interest. She only began writing in her 60s after retiring in her 40s and using her time to dabble in other areas – she did a psychology degree, for example.
Now, more used to my own utter lack of success as a writer, I am less cagey about her knowing, but it would seem as if I was copying her, even though my prose-writing pre-dates hers by years, so I keep quiet.
In any case, my father-in-law’s lazy characterisation of me insists on pigeon-holing me as the poetic foil to his novelist wife, so Not Even This must have seemed a particularly appropriate present, for me.