Thursday, May 06, 2010

Grunt journalism

The other night, RTE broadcast their latest in the 'Arts Lives' series. Colum McCann, the writer of 'Let The Great World Spin,' was the subject.

As with most books that leave some kind of scar on me, it took me a couple of months to get through. I fought with his words, they annoyed me in their brilliance, every night for half an hour before falling asleep, every night through next door's parties and the fucking of furniture overhead, through January and February and into March.

I've never been one to finish a book in one sitting, not a novel like his anyway. They form too many images for me and set my mind to wandering to the point where I have to go back and take it all in again. I won't waste a sentence, hence the slog and the fact that I'm not as comprehensively read as I'd like to be.

He's an engaging person living the life he seems to deserve in New York. Bastard. He wears suits in all the right ways and grows stubble that doesn't stop. Bastard. He has a wife and kids and plays basketball, spends days in libraries and finds poetry in squalor and hookers and all sorts of random miserabilia. Enviable bastard.

The thing that struck me most, though, was not the excerpts from his work or his trawling of Manhattan. Not the speaking engagements or the classes he gives to others who want to be him, and not his Upper East Side idyll.

No, the thing that got me was the calendar.

He produced the 2010 version and said he'd been writing them for years, ten years producing this standard calendar like the Bank Of Ireland version that used to hang on the wall in 32A, seven thousand years ago.

"I needed the money," he said. "I suppose I just kept doing it. Kept writing these calendars. I'll probably stop now. The thing is, every single thing I've written in my life has me where I am now, even the most pointless piece of grunt journalism is a stepping stone."

I'm paraphrasing as I type this from memory alone but it does me good to think that I'll look back on the College Basketball synopses, on the previews of Fulham v Bolton, on the endless dirge of racing results, on the knee injury flashes and pulled Achilles tendon detailings, on the managerial sackings and the clicking and unclicking of random text mania, on the drudge of the copy and paste, and I'll figure that all of the above...

...actually, no, I'll never think it was worth it.

9 comments:

McMuck and the Mystery of the Kuúgleflarg said...

When you figure out a way to make money from this bloggery business, when 'Radgery: A Series of Word Farts' makes it to the top of the Amazon charts; then you'll look back at your grunt journalism as a stepping stone to that cosy Dalkey cottage you always dreamed of.

Maybe.

Kath Lockett said...

Fuck! Don't write that last sentence because right before that I was WITH you Radge, smiling and agreeing...

....thinking to myself, "Chasing down overpaid doctors to get one sentence about stress that I could write myself in the dark but needs to have a title ponce saying it; reading entire novels in 24 hours just to fart out a 180-word book review, submitting articles to newspapers who won't even look at it unless you've shagged a football player or released a sex tape....

Radge said...

Not Dalkey, McMuck. Monaco.

I was going to go for the life affirming ending, Kath, but the keyboard wouldn't let me.

Holemaster said...

I feel like that about work. Sometimes I forget what I know after years in the business. The things that comes naturally to me which are down to those small fecky little jobs which test the dexterity of your skill.

Conan Drumm said...

I think you're looking at it as a sort of justification (with hindsight) and I don't think that's his point. I'd use the analogy of fitness - you exercise to become fit, which makes you able for more exercise, which makes you fitter. It's an ongoing feedback process rather than an end result.

Therese Cox said...

I saw McCann give a reading of LTGWS at a bookstore in Brooklyn a few months ago and found him to be very much the enviable, talented bastard you describe. I found my own bit of inspiration in his response during the Q & A where an aspiring writer asked McCann what books on writing he recommends.

McCann thought a moment, scratched his enviable stubble, leaned into the microphone and said, "I think every writer should go into a bookstore and get really pissed off about all those m***erf**kers who have books that are younger than them." (He paused, re-enacting his own days of picking up book jackets of others: "1967? SHIT!")

He swiftly became one of my heroes.

Radge said...

As he would mine, Therese. I found myself scrambling to find out what he had done by my age. This did not end well for me.

Andrew said...

I have a copy of Let The Great World Spin but haven't got round to it yet.
I was slumberless last night and picked up Everything in This Country Must - another of his I'd been meaning to get round to. I only read the title story, but it's fucking brilliant.
I find it monumentally depressing that guys with that level of talent still need to do the grunt stuff to get by. It doesn't seem to offer much hope for those of us who know we don't have that kind of gift but would love to give proper writing a crack anyway.

Radge said...

I haven't read anything else by him, I must.

On your last point, we just like beer and distraction too much. We're as good at spelling as he is.