Ceci n’est pas une post on make-do-and-mend

Some time ago I published an e-book about how to live on virtually nothing.

I got several reviews for this particular book, and in fact they were all good. And in fact I didn’t write them myself. I thought I’d paste in a little section entitled How Not To Be A Superscrimper, only because one of my reviewers referred to it as à la glittery shoe-bows, which phrase pleased me greatly at the time but has stuck in my head ever since. I am hoping hereby to exorcise it:

HOW NOT TO BE A SUPERSCRIMPER

I loathe the TV programme Superscrimpers. What I hate about it is the patronising, insulting, uselessness of their suggestions. If you are really poor it will not help you to make personalised place settings out of newspapers for when your friends come round to dinner. Couldn’t you be doing something better with your time? If you are really poor you do not need to know how to make a facial scrub out of granular sugar and something else. You don’t need a facial scrub; also you could eat the sugar and probably the something-else too. You don’t need makeup, full stop. Don’t waste time and ruin saucepans trying to melt all your old lipsticks down and re-insert them into one tube.

It reminds me of being taught how to light a fire in a puddle in the Brownies. It also reminds me of the way non-vegetarians assume you require your food to be steak- or sausage-shaped even when it doesn’t contain a gram of actual meat. If you’re really poor you don’t need to make a brooch out of a button or change the look of your old shoes by sticking home-made glittery bows to them. The brooch will always look like a button in disguise and that shoe project is likely to cost you more in glue and glitter than it ever saves you. Furthermore, it will all go wrong and then you’ll have an old pair of shoes you can’t wear because they’ve got stuff smeared all over them, as opposed to an old pair of semi-worn out shoes that might have lasted you a bit longer. If you’re really poor people will know you’re poor. Don’t attempt to glitter and squirm your way back into the system that has just ejected you. Face up to the situation with dignity and humour and don’t go along with TV programmes, magazine articles or whatever that trivialise and exploit your situation for the entertainment of an audience that is almost certainly more fortunate than yourself.

Being poor really takes it out of you. Your time and energy are precious resources and in times to come you are really going to need to be energetic and resourceful. Simplify your life; rest as much as you can when you can, and focus on the basics.

The book was, naturally, based on grim personal experience. E-books were intended to be the remedy for all the grimness and the poverty, but they didn’t turn out that way. I have since given up writing e-books because nobody – or virtually nobody – downloaded mine. Well, a few adventurous souls did but my total royalties over a twelve month period might possibly have been enough to order a take-away pizza.

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I enjoy blogging much more – I don’t need to sell my writing, or me, or anything; I can just be myself and give it away! It’s freedom. It feels like feeding the pigeons in Leicester Square. Except you tend to get mobbed by those pigeons and covered in foul-smelling dollops of poop, but you know what I mean. When you’re writing for money (or in my case, the vain hope of money) you’re not being yourself; you’re scrabbling around all the time, consciously or unconsciously, for something that might sell. You’re also trying to sell to an invisible audience, an imaginary host of… what? Teenagers? Kindle-owners? Intellectuals? Readers of soppy romances? People on the train into the city first thing in the morning? What might they like? Are they anything like me? Am I anything like them? I don’t know.

I have mentioned before, I think, how at one particularly low financial and creative ebb I considered writing e-books on a variety of subjects in which I had no interest whatsoever, on the premise that if I hated the subject everyone else might love it (and buy it) since all the subjects I loved everyone else had so far not loved or bought.

One evening I sat down with a horde of cats and a cup of instant coffee and made a half-serious list. Can I find it? Pause for research… yes. I’m cut-and-pasting now from a previous post called At The First Clank Of A Chain:

  • Pimples No More – a Guide to Teenage Skincare – or possibly Acnephobia????
  • Outsmart Your Supermarket – how to stop them selling you stuff without you realising they’re doing it!!
  • De-cluttering Your Home – boot fairs versus charity shops; befriend your waste disposal operative!?!
  • How to Get Someone Else to do Your Gardening!!!

It was on this evening, with the coffee and the many cats, that I faced a fact I should have faced at the outset – it wasn’t going to work. Suddenly I knew I mustn’t use that breathless, fizzy, zippy, journalistic tone of voice any more; at least, I must try not to. What’s that bit from Jurassic Park? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should? Occasionally in my blog I still catch myself attempting to pep things up, lighting all those silly sparklers at once. But then I ask myself why I’m doing it. Isn’t “me” good enough? Really, I’m a miserable old so-and-so. Yes I am, really I am – a morbid, introspective, self-critical, sad old baggage, except for moments of wild and whimsical humour – usually in the company of my two old friends – or acerbic wit – mostly aimed at the moggies or the television. I have many conversations with cats and even more with my television.

When the sparklers come out and the circus make-up goes on, I ask myself questions like this:

What are you afraid to say now? What’s too difficult to put into words? What can’t you be bothered to try to explain, even to yourself? What’s too risky? What’s too embarrassing? What might possibly hurt? What’s so dull about you and your innermost thoughts that you feel no one could possibly be interested? Why are you needing camouflage? Someone once said you need to bleed onto the page a little. Who said that? Pause for research… in fact, it was Ernest Hemingway:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Or in another version:

Writing is really very easy. Tap a vein and bleed onto the page. Everything else is just technical.

Derrick Jensen. Who might Derrick Jensen be?

But you can over-bleed. I mean, who wants to read a potted Portnoy’s Complaint everytime they open their Reader? There I go again. Sparklers. ‘A potted Portnoy’s Complaint‘. Sounds snazzy but have I ever even read Portnoy’s Complaint? Pause… trying to remember… that’s the trouble when you’re old, brain continually buffereing… yes, I think I did, or at least I think I tried to and gave up. I didn’t like Portnoy. Nassssssty creature. Similarly, I cast aside Last Exit To Brooklyn, which until a couple of minutes ago I thought was another one by Philip Roth, but it’s not. I got as far as Tralala and the rape scene, and the bit with the broomhandle and… some things are just unbearable. Clever, but unbearable.

So, the thing is to alternate light with shade. Jolly one minute, frowny the next. Sometimes when writing this blog I find myself “talking” to one or other of my two friends (I only have the two) who tell me they read my blog, and I have no reason to doubt it. Sometimes I’m chatting away to myself – the more “thinky” ones are done like that: I create a duplicate me and talk to her. Sometimes, when something needs quite a bit of prior research, I do that, then read through all my notes and printed off internet bits, then start typing and see how much of it has sunk in and what order it’s going to come out in.

Fiction is different. It’s much, much harder work – twice as much time required and twice as much energy-input. For that I try not to think about the blog at all, or about time, or about anything else. Fiction is from somewhere else, another place. Instead of being me talking to you, it’s now them talking to me or there coming to here. When you’re engaged in a writing fiction you’re forming a kind of bridge. You don’t know what’s going to walk over you or sweep through you…

You know, this was going to be a post on Ingenuity or Make-Do-And-Mend…

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