Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Maturity, Angst, Getting Older

We were listening to Joan as Police Woman's Real Life album at work today, and I was really listening to it as if for the first time, on account of shelving the new release non-fiction right near a big speaker, and on account of having nothing to do but alphabetise and listen. And it struck me that a lot of JAPW's songs were about being content and in love and happy and having found what she wanted/needed/was looking for. 
I'm so used to hearing young female singers singing about angst, heartbreak, lack of control, despair, masochism etc. that it was refreshing to hear this strength in her music. I think it is much easier to be creative about negative experiences and feelings rather than positive, but it's more imaginative and interesting to look past the end of your own nose. The word I thought of that in that moment that best described her music was `mature.' I'm avoiding reading her lyrics online before I write this post, because the important thing for me was how the songs made me feel, rather than the precise meaning. 
Once upon a time I would have regarded the adjective `mature' as a bit staid and insulting. But I've been thinking a bit about maturity recently, in fact ever since I turned 30 a year-and-a-half ago. Getting old is a strange thing. Conversations about babies or property that would have caused me to mime the gag reflex five years ago are now par for the course. I had a conversation with my yoga car pool buddies last night, where the (40-year-old) driver described how she has happily and willingly let go of all ambition and drive for success now that she's getting older. That she realises she could do or be anything, and ultimately it won't make a great difference to her contentment or happiness. And I thought: that sounds nice, but I'm not there yet. I will be there, but not before time. Listening to her comments I thought, no, I'm still burning. There are still so many things I want to achieve. 
I have had quite a few short stories published, but I have always missed out on being mentioned in reviews. Every time an anthology or journal I have a piece in is reviewed I eagerly scan it for mention of my work. And I am always disappointed. Well, the moment finally arrived (the Sleepers Almanac was reviewed in ABR, and my story was name-checked), and I couldn't quite figure out what the reviewer meant by her comments. She said something favourable about my story (that it was emotionally honest), and then made some more general comments about how she was a little sick of navel-gazey female protagonists that wafted about noticing cracks in the pavement. 
My first reaction was: fair enough. I know the sort of protagonist she means, and I know the kind of writing she means. I think my protagonist probably did fall into that category, and I'm fine with that. I wrote that story about a very specific time in my life, my tortured mid-twenties. And the reviewer, as an older woman, didn't really connect with it. I think my story reflected the concerns of me, at my age, in my particular circumstances. What I would be concerned with is if I am still writing those sort of characters in ten years time. I am really looking forward to turning my writer's eyes further outwards as I get older. I imagine it will be quite liberating to forget myself and work towards something a bit more universal, or at the very least, well outside my own experiences. Perhaps as I get older my writing will hinge less on pure emotions, and more on ideas?

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