Notes from Auckland: On Becoming A Beginning Writer In Later Life
January 28, 2019 § 11 Comments
By Alex Kazemi
I live in a community of writers, poets and artists. Thoughts and sketches drift languidly on humid summer air down the streets underneath the tall plane trees that have burst into green, past the weatherboard villas and cottage gardens, in and out of windows flung open by writers who, fresh from finishing their first draft, spring up out of the chair to hail the painters cycling past with their canvas underarm, and shout “Hello! Meet for coffee later?”
Or at least conceptually that is how I think of Mount Eden. There is probably at least some truth in the statement that, as a central city suburb of Auckland, Mount Eden was once a liberal enclave of both the scholarly and the creative who would freely mix in its leafy streets. Nowadays you would be more likely to brush shoulders with a shiny suited businessman who had bought the property next door, the type who likes to spend his money on expensive European cars of the sort that are folly to buy for you and me, because when we received the first 12,000 kilometre service bill handed over nonchalantly by the young manager, we would be emptying our pockets of loose change whilst dabbing at our eyes as if we were attending our dear great grandmother’s funeral.
There are some pockets of literariness still left and writers scattered here and there. I know that a Booker Prize winner lives around here somewhere. I know this because I am in that nearly but not quite elite second tier that you might recognise as People Who Have Sat One Table Over In A Café From A Booker Prize Winner And Thought Isn’t That “X”, Winner of The Booker Prize For That Book I Haven’t Had Time To Read Yet?
We also have an independent village bookstore where writers might hang out to be hopeful or just coolly distant in a made-it sort of way. My greatest literary achievement to date is that the lovely people who run the bookstore now know me by name. Not because I have written anything of worth but because, in the course of trying to learn how to write, I have read a lot of books and bought even more. I am a funder of greatness.
In their little brick building, the bookstore also has an upstairs room where they hold readings. Piecing things together from photos on Twitter, and filling the large gaps with the mortar of my imagination, I believe the writers hang out on black leather couches adjacent to stylish bare brick walls, with the noise of the Mount Eden Road traffic barely creeping in to disturb their evening, huddled round an elegant table of pinot noir filled wineglasses. I am more than a little envious. In my mind I am staring in, face pressed against the window, hands thrown up in despair, manuscript clutched tightly in one of them. I know. This makes me either unfeasibly tall or a stilt-walker. Just go with it; this is my daydream.
The way I deal with this burning envy is to reason that the writers must be twenty-somethings successful in the way that I imagine twenty-something writers might be with their avant-garde single italicised lines and disconsolate reflections of days full of coffee, ennui, bad sex, messaged relationship breakdowns, and French cigarettes smoked on the balcony of their sparsely furnished apartments.
Of course I have never heard or read their writing or met them so that is my own fiction to quell the envy. They are probably nothing of the sort.
Still, I would like to go to their cool readings too, to read my less avant-garde work, but I fear they might frown at my middle-aged attempts, pricking the bubbles of youthful possibility. So instead I walk up and down the tree lined streets of our neighbourhood past the cottages and villas and dahlias and perfectly placed nikau palms, and think about what I am going to write and who might read it, and to tell the truth I don’t exactly know, except that the walking still makes me happy in a way that is all to do with placement. Right in the centre of a quiet world of my own imagining.
You might say that “this is all in his head and has nothing really to do with the business of writing or being read.” I wouldn’t disagree with you. But to be honest, in my work life at the hospital I have to frequently take doses of reality enough to send any unanchored daydreams plunging down through the depths to the distant sea bed of lost ambition.
It may or may not be that envy can be turned to your advantage. But in the stretching space between submission and rejection I can dream. And write some more. And when the rejections come through I will stick them on a spike and carry on writing and living in the imagined world where my book is nestled tidily into the favourite new readings section of the local bookstore. And, irrespective of any reality you might throw my way, right now that seems like a fine place to be.
Alex Kazemi lives in Auckland, New Zealand where he works as a doctor. In his spare time he visits the excellent Time Out Bookstore to buy more books than he could ever possibly read, writes, and sometimes procrastinates on Twitter as @kazemialex. Up until recently he was a proficient dreamer but he has now had work accepted to Thin Air Magazine.