Writing is an indulgence. By which I mean that the process itself is necessarily the gratification of the unhindered exploration and production of an idea. Time must be set aside in exclusive service to the writer’s whim, even for a donkey of an idea. Before any words or drafts are produced there is no one else involved in this process. It is internalised. To an onlooker that person at the back of a coffee shop may well be just staring into space. But that middle distance is the field where the writer takes their donkey out to graze. Where they can watch its mostly unremarkable movements until the donkey does something of import and therefore worthy of record. The field is guarded. Setting out in the morning the writer offers “I’m going to see the donkey”. The people who know the writer accept that there is a donkey because they have no reason not to. Though they’ve never seen the donkey and when they think further they realise they haven’t even got close to the field. The field is guarded.
Now isn’t that lazy donkey-led metaphor for the inherent indulgence of writing a little, well, indulgent? But it pleased me to write it. I wanted to explore the selfishness of writing and the donkey gave me an in. Thank you donkey. I spoke to no one before or while I wrote about the donkey. I ignored what else there was to be done while I thought and typed. I know that my donkey is no more remarkable than any other that has ever existed. I don’t care; I’m doing this because I want to. Not only do the preceding four sentences in this paragraph begin with ‘I’, but I will then ask someone to read my indulgence. For it isn’t enough that I have sated my donkey love, the gratification of that desire is now record and I desire further that you witness it.
That would seem to be selfish.
Let’s indulge another idea. Carpentry is an indulgence. By which I mean that the process itself is necessarily the gratification of the unhindered exploration and production of an idea. A chair. Or perhaps, more neatly, a carving of a donkey. Words and ideas make a play, a novel, a poem. Wood and ideas make a table, a chair, a small summerhouse with picket fence surround. In both a process results in a product.
But the product of carpentry is essential, why right now I’m sitting on a chair!
Yes, but what are you reading?
That which we create is necessary by its very invention.
A final indulgence. Imagine the writer’s idea as a spark, an ember (this is a very old donkey). It must be nursed, sheltered from the elements until it can become a fire. This is the job, to shelter and nurse, without guarantee of reward.
A cold and bleak land, dark and unforgiving. Like Croydon.
We can huddle around these dying embers or you must do without me until I return with fire.
God, do you have to be so dramatic? Just say you’re going out.
The writer has to go out, not because someone has to, though we know someone must, but because they need to. The carpenter may make one chair, but buy another for his home. That he makes and what he makes are two different things, process and product.
And out there it can be dark and cold. The way back might not be how you remember it. And you might not have any help, because the shelter in which you try to poke your ember to life is the field you’ve guarded all this time. It’s just you, mixed metaphors and a confused donkey all wondering what the hell you are in service to. And just as you think it’s completely hopeless and that it couldn’t possibly get any worse it starts raining.
But then your donkey does something worthy of record. It lifts you onto its shabby back. Improbably, this lame creature manages to carry you and your fistful of fire all the way back. As you return all your doubts melt away and you see now that it couldn’t have been any other way.
There you sit on a chair with your companion and by firelight you both share in the story.