It is hard to believe in anything, particularly oneself, at the best of times. The more life progresses, the more it seems a succession of minor disappointments, which are a natural part of growing up and realising that I won’t get to go on a bouncy castle every afternoon.
Sometimes, it seems as if that is all there is. Vague hopes, vague ambitions, none too eagerly stated; a fervent desire seems a childish thing, as it is so likely to fail. Maybe failure is the wrong word; desire doesn’t fail, it is dashed against the rock that is everyday reality. The German verb “scheitern” seems more accurate. Like a fool I still play the lottery, still daydream about the writing career I would have if I had time and money to spare for childcare. Of course, the biggest obstacle to a writing career is a lack of self-belief, and the fact that every arts graduate in the world fancies themselves a writer. There are plenty of writers, but not enough readers willing to shell out money. Why read, when computer games prepare the world of your imagination for you in advance? Why write, when no one will read? Why try, when I am far more likely to fail than to succeed? I’m so pathetically disappointed about the simple fact that I wrote and then somehow lost 2,000 meaningless words about nothing in particular. They disappeared in the WordPress black hole, and I keep thinking about them. I believed in them (ironically the topic was the decline of formal belief systems) to an extent that means I am not only incapable of starting again, even though I have a draft, but completely despair of writing anything else. So here I am, writing about writing, thinking about people like Kafka, who worked in insurance all day long, and wrote about dystopian nightmares at night.
My nights are shortly to be nothing but feeding babies once again, so there won’t be any writing for some time. There also won’t be any exercising, mainly due to lack of time, but also because I feel silly even pretending that I’m an athletic person, much as I feel silly thinking I’m any good at anything other than making cakes. I’m not even particularly good at childcare. It’s so intractable, family life – most people want children, but then they spend most of their time trying to make their children more “manageable” in a variety of ways. You find yourself wishing away this time with toddlers, wishing they could talk, wishing they didn’t think it’s fun sticking their hands in the toilet, wishing they would ever sit quietly. Then they become children with whom you can enjoy holidays and activities, and for a while, family life is a succession of those sunlit pictures of happiness that fill you with nostalgia before they are even printed. Not very long after that, they leave home, and might phone occasionally, usually when they run out of money.
It all seems a bit futile, sometimes. I tie myself in knots worrying about whether I’m doing it wrong, worrying about “insecure attachment” if my toddler seems more interested in his Duplo than in seeing us when we come home from work. What for? My children will never know why they are the way they are, any more than I do. Starting to think about my performance as a parent opens up a sinkhole full of the disappointments of my own childhood, resentment of my parents, and an unshakeable fear of making the same mistakes.
So perhaps it’s better to limit myself to the much more trivial matter of being a bad writer. Perhaps I can assuage it with a trashy novel. One that features sex and murder, not cracked nipples and neurotic, navel-gazing angst.