I am not a great fan of the autobiography. There is an air of self-reverence surrounding the whole enterprise that I find strangely disconcerting. It seems to me that the ‘writer’ – even if ghosted – is too close to the action to ever be properly objective. Even if they are ‘self effacing’ or ‘brutally honest’ about their ‘once upon a times’, it is always in a, ‘Ah, but look how brilliant I am now,’ kind of way. It is not a path that I would ever seriously care to tread. However, as a writer (sic) I cannot help but wonder how I would go about transposing my own story into print. How much truth would I tell? How much whitewash would I apply? How much soul would I bare?
I have to be honest here. If I had an autobiography, I would probably have to call it ‘Nothing to Report’. I am Mr Ordinary. I have lived a life that has been singularly bereft of happenstance. My life story, although reasonably long, is short on intrigue, of the kind of incidents that form an exciting read. I can picture my reader now, stoically wading through chapters, the like of: The Day I Got a Hangnail; The Time I Was Late for the Bus; The Many People I have Almost Met, and wishing that I had never been taught to write.
I have suggested before that, if you had patience enough to try and rootle through, you would find snippets of autobiography in almost every blog I publish. Everything I write exposes a little piece of me. If I say something sincerely, I can hope that it emerges sounding sincere. If I say something absurd, I hope that it sounds absurd. If I am obliged, by the narrative, to say something I patently do not believe, I hope that it emerges with the unwritten subtext ‘I do not believe this’. Of course, it is entirely likely that I over-estimate my own skills in this respect, in which case you are probably best to ignore most of what I have to say: I don’t want you forming that kind of opinion about me. I write in the hope that you possess the perspicacity that I, myself, do not, and that you see through my perceived inadequacies to the true inadequate that lies within.
There is much to be gained by seeking the extraordinary that lies hidden within the ordinary: the jewelled starfish in the vastness of an ocean; the verdant planet in the void of space; the ‘engaged’ bit in a politician’s brain, but searching for the ordinary within that same environment is not nearly so fulfilling. Although there is beauty to be found in every single grain of sand in the Sahara Desert, I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to go and look for it.
Anyway, even if my life was full of the kind of escapades that others might want to read about, I’m not certain that I’d be the right person to write about them. I’m not sure that I have sufficient vanity to sit down and describe them all. I could not recount all the stupid things that I have done because:
a) There are too many of them and
b) It would be very embarrassing.
I could not recount all the clever things that I have done because:
a) I’m not sure that there are any and
b) It would be very embarrassing.
I’m not claiming that I am not vain by the way (I am here, doing this, for a start) but I am saying that I am not immodest enough to ignore my vanity. I am not quite vain enough to slap my sixty thousand word thigh with a cry of ‘Ooh, aren’t I a one,’ every couple of pages…
Here I am, none the less, banging on about myself once again. The thing about autobiography, is that is what you have to do. It’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it? And you can be sure, there will always be people who will check your facts – worse still, there will be people who were actually there with you when ‘it’ (whatever it was) happened and will seek to contradict you at every comma. Furthermore, it occurs to me that most autobiographies are, in reality, more fiction than fact. In fiction, the writer creates a set of circumstances and drops his characters into it. In autobiography, the set of circumstances have been created by fate and the writer merely drops the part of himself that he wants you to know about, into it: the part that properly drives the narrative. The narrative is always the same: whatever it is that he has done in the past, he is really a top person now. What you get is a novel with an incoherent and ill-conceived plot; a first person narrative in which the story-teller is always the hero, and a climax that never quite arrives – unless somebody else has tagged it on after the writer’s death…
…Anyway, that’s why I will never write one. In my life, nothing much ever happens – although it does happen quite a lot. I do not mind being thought of as being hapless, because I am. My moon is no balloon and I cannot take a long walk home as I have never really strayed that far away from it in the first place – and, frankly, you should all be the happier for it.
When I awoke today – Suddenly nothing happened – But in my dreams – I slew the dragon – ‘Waiting for My Real Life to Begin’ Colin Hay (Colin Hay & Thom Mooney)
NB I tried writing this piece in a gender neutral type of way, using ‘he/she’ and ‘herself/himself’ throughout, but, my word, it became messy. In the end I went for ‘him’ and ‘he’ because that’s what I am. I hope you will forgive me…