Sunday, September 9, 2012

Two years as columnist: still not worth a hill of beans

At a dinner for the writers who'd appeared at Wellington's Writers and Readers' Week in March this year, a visitor from the UK mentioned that he'd read my column in that morning's newspaper. That particular column had been about my time at the Perth Writers Festival the fortnight previous ("if you're lucky a well-respected novelist will skull the last of their wine and admit they think their most recent book is by far their worst"). 

I made the sort of pat, 'Watch out, I might write about you!' joke that I don't find funny but persist in making. Ha ha ha.

Wine glasses were emptied and refilled. Emptied and refilled.

At some point in the evening we got in a heated discussion about Woody Allen.

For badmouthing the execrable Midnight in Paris I got a hand shoved over my bad mouth.

'Say what you will about his recent films,' said my interlocutor, his sweaty palm still pressed against my lips, 'but you mustn't say a bad word against him. The man is a genius.'

My eyes, cartoon-wide, stayed that way even when he withdrew his hand.

He then said something embarrassing about me being a good writer (based on a snippet of a short story he'd heard me read a few days ago that the wine had ratcheted up to something approaching significance) and that my column wasn't worth a hill of beans. In the great wash-up, it was only proper literature (and, I suppose, films) that mattered.

I nodded. I agreed. At least that my column wasn't worth much. I mean how could it compare to a hill of beans?

The image in my head is a Mayan pyramid of baked bean tins, but perhaps he was thinking of a large mound of dried kidney beans or a verdant pile of freshly picked runners? All three crop up on a Google Image Search for "hill of beans" and all three would surely trump a fortnightly 500-word braindump. I mean, a hill of beans would feed a lot of people. Okay, a hill of beans might need a bit of security or someone to patrol for vermin, but it wouldn't come with the same sense of constant failure (failure to be interesting, failure to be funny, failure to be topical, failure to avoid the humblebrag) and the dread that any day you'll get the email that tells you you've been shitcanned. Format changes. New directions. Thanks and best wishes in future endeavours.

But so far, this email hasn't come.

It's been two whole years, which means 52 columns (as of Saturday). Marcus Lush (I think) recently said on Twitter that most columnists only have three good columns in them. Hopefully I write those three before I get that metaphorical sweaty palm across my lips and am told there's no slot for me next Saturday.

En masse, these 52 columns might not be worth a literal or a proverbial hill of beans, but if you stand back far enough, it's neat (yes, I just said 'nea't) that I've been paid to write about:
  1. Writers with day jobs, coming out (as a writer)
  2. Engagements, diamonds, crazy fiancés
  3. Paper books, vandalism, my father
  4. Music, getting old
  5. Short story competitions, mingling, Lloyd Jones
  6. Koru lounges, first times
  7. Paint colours, advertising
  8. Getting up early, writers with day jobs
  9. Weight gain, Don DeLillo
  10. Blood donation, squeamishness, cancer
  11. Agapanthus, pure hatred
  12. Week in the life, writers with day jobs
  13. Buttermoons, wedding prep, Vietnam
  14. New music, getting old
  15. Old teachers, receiving praise, gesundheit
  16. Airport terminals, Singapore
  17. De facto wedding anniversaries, gifts
  18. The internet, research, Moby Dick
  19. Writers festivals, Auckland, Sydney
  20. Travel envy, brothers, Alexander the Great
  21. Landlords, Edinburgh, mullets
  22. Writers with part-time jobs
  23. Kiwis, research, Zealandia
  24. Wedding prep, music, Stevie Wonder
  25. Poetry, furniture polish, Ian Wedde
  26. Libraries, writing, plumbers
  27. Writers festivals, Melbourne, Titirangi
  28. Skin cancer, sunscreen, Vikings
  29. Bad reviews, McDonalds
  30. The internet, privacy, shame
  31. Friends, double-booking, weddings
  32. Stag parties, cross-dressing, heights
  33. Weddings, the big day
  34. Honeymoons, Germans, mistakes
  35. Honeymoons, B&Bs, mistakes
  36. Deadlines, writing, blowouts
  37. Architecture, substations, Wellington
  38. Albatross, Otago Peninsula, awe
  39. Writers festivals, Perth, hotel bars
  40. Writers festivals, Wellington, ambushes
  41. House hunting, open homes
  42. House hunting, first home buyers, tenders
  43. Translations, short stories, shame
  44. Architecture, council housing, Wellington
  45. The Queen (smiling), gin and Dubonnet
  46. Short story competitions, judging, Grizz Wyllie
  47. Doctors, men, Monty Python
  48. Track pants, mistakes, pyromania
  49. DIY, homeownership, Donald Rumsfeld
  50. Job interviews, Australians
  51. Impending fatherhood, names, advertorials
  52. The past, First Crossings, Bear Grylls

Of course, the hope is that during this time I've been doing something that might amount to more than a hill of beans. Perhaps it's THE NOVEL. Perhaps it's the bump I wrote about in column #51 (a well I will no doubt return to, craven and unapologetic, a few more times before December). Who knows? Who cares? Sometimes it's just nice to have a deadline and the chance to talk about track pants. 

It sure beats a sweaty hand across your mouth.

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