Life of the mind

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February 28, 2010 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

Given my current (precarious) state of existence – which, thanks to a) finally becoming British and b) being offered a job is now at least partly settled through mid-September instead of falling off a cliff roundabout the end of March – I’m thinking a lot about writing, and why, and how the hell money/stability/public response fits in.

As you can no doubt imagine it occasionally gets a little pretentious around here.

However, my friend Karie reminded me a while back about A.S. Byatt’s comments about wanting to lead a life of the mind. More recently, there’s a lot of upheaval here in the literary communit(y)/(ies) of Scotland thanks to the report of the Literature Working Group, which has put forward suggestions about what should happen on the literature side of things when the strategic body Creative Scotland starts to lead the development of Scottish culture.

It’s one of those times when the buzzwords start to eat you alive.

As I still haven’t figured out what I think about having a Strategic Body in charge of a culture that I’m a relative newcomer to, I’ll leave that for now, but Rosemary Goring (whose name does not, I notice, actually appear anywhere on this story; I only know she wrote it because Robert Alan Jamieson said so) responds in the Herald to some of the criticism leveled against the LWG’s suggestions. Right now I’m far more of the Hugh MacDiarmid style of scraping by (in terms of finances only, I hasten to add; I shan’t claim to be a tenth as good a writer) than the Arts Council grantee, though I’ve been sporadically trying to become the latter for a few years now.

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, at one point in my life I was filling out UK entry forms with ‘poet’ where it asked for occupation. I sure as hell wasn’t going to write ‘secretarial temp’ even if that did happen to be how I was paying the bills at the time. (This sort of thing is, incidentally, a major trope of become-a-musical-star reality shows. ‘Oh, Connie Fisher was a temp!’ Um, no, she had a degree from Mountview and was regularly being called back to West End auditions. But that doesn’t tug the heartstrings.)

Obviously, I get to decide that I’m not defined by the title on the paystub. The problem is where ‘writer’ actually comes from – the entries on the publications page, or the fact that various people on Fulbright committees once handed me money to live in Romania and try to write the novel I’d proposed, or the way I’m shivering at the bus station trying to find an appropriate rhyme for ‘learned’, or that agents keep asking for full manuscripts, or that my high school English teacher still tells me how wonderful I am…?

Is the life of the mind solely determined by what goes on in my own mind? If not, who else gets a say?

I feel I ought to have figured this out by now.

If you want to read more of the various sides to the LWG debate, there have been various articles in the Bookseller – here and here – and the Scotsman, and of course a variety of blog responses. RAJ’s seem to be either Facebook-only or friend-restricted, but check out Anne Bonnar and Stuart Kelly. (Other suggestions welcomed.)

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Photo credit: Rahima Subhan

Tiny bio

I'm a novelist and poet (both page and performance). I've published a historical novel, The Girl in the Bunker, and two poetry pamphlets, Lipstick is Always a Plus and The Naming of Cancer. I've won a Fulbright scholarship in creative writing and a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust.

For upcoming events, biographical trivia, and details on how to order my books, please see the pages below. Anything else, please email me at writingmostly at gmail dot com.

Books (updated 16 November)

CURRENTLY READING: You are One of Them by Elliott Holt.

RECENTLY READ: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

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