I spent this evening in a pub, on my own. Sitting in the corner, with a bottle and a single glass in front of me, writing. Eventually, the bar staff started wiping tables around me and chatting amongst themselves, and I realised that I was the last person left. But there was still a drink left in the bottle, so I trespassed on their good intentions long enough to pour and drink it down before heading back home.
This is the sort of thing that happens if you don’t have space of your own, I suppose. There’s a whole thesis here on public spaces as an extension of private spaces; after all, the word ‘pub’ is a contraction of ‘public house’ – literally, a house offering hospitality and comfort to all with enough money to share in it. But I’m tired, and I’ve been writing all evening, so I’m not going to write a thesis tonight.
I was at the pub because I want to write properly, and by properly I mean a novel, and I can’t write a novel in the tiny gaps that I have torn in the domestic weave, at least not entirely. So I told Lovely Husband that I wanted a night off every week, a night where he does dinner and bed and any housework that needs doing before the morning, and that is my writing time. It’s not much, but it’s something.
But the problem is that of course if I’m in the house, the children want me, and the laundry calls to me, and I’m uncomfortably aware (as I am now, typing) that Big Girl’s lunchbox lies festering in her schoolbag and tomorrow’s promised after-school activity needs ingredients I don’t have, and all the other tedious things. So I said that’s it, I’m taking the iPad and I’m heading out. But where is there that is open on a cold Monday evening, that will let one sit undisturbed for hours on end as long as one is buying the occasional beverage? Only the pub, and so that is where I went.
It’s an odd experience, sitting alone with a bottle of mineral water (of COURSE it was mineral water. You knew that) in a pub. I didn’t feel deprived, but I felt out of place. An imposition. I wasn’t taking up a table that could have been better used elsewhere – it’s not the busiest night of the week, obviously – and I don’t live in a country where tipping, for example, is expected, so really it makes no difference to anybody what I drank or didn’t. And yet.
And here’s another thing. I thought; what a wasted opportunity! For the first time in my adult life, I live walking distance from a nice gastropub, and writing a novel; well, what better excuse could there possibly be to sit alone with a bottle of wine once a week? Writers are drinkers, everybody knows that. Hemingway, Parker, Fitzgerald … and all the others … actually, you know, I can think of a million writers and only three who I know were known for their alcoholic tendencies. And I’ve only read one of them.
But it persists, this myth that alcoholism and writing go together, to the point where I can actually see myself convincing myself that writing a book is a legitimate reason to sit alone in a bar. Why is this particular myth so powerful? Is it just because I’ve always wanted to write? I don’t think so; I think this is one with great cultural resonance, but I don’t really understand why. Fitzgerald died just after forty. Parker made it to 73, but her brilliance had faded some two decades earlier. Hemingway committed suicide. These aren’t the glittering case histories that anyone should try and emulate, not really. Nor have they been replenished; it is pretty clear that these were writers of a certain era, writing in a certain culture, and no matter how much we might long to be them, the time is long past.
And how lucky that it is. These days, writers live longer. They write for longer. Doris Lessing, who died last year, was 93. Toni Morrison is still brilliant at 83. And I don’t know about you, but when I am introduced to the books of a new writer and fall in love, which happens to me time after time, I am always ravenous for more. Each book introduces me to the next, and the best ones become dog-eared with age in my hands and like a new lover whose every story of childhood is endlessly fascinating, I want more and more and more.
If you write, I want you to live. If you write well, I want you to drink celery juice and run every morning and attend regular health check ups, because if you write well you are a jewel and a wonder and I want you to be around forever. And one day, maybe I will meet you in a bar and we will both have our iPads and our bottles of mineral water and we will smile, because this is what writers do. They just write.