I’ve borrowed the title from an unfinished novel by Thomas Mann, who in turn was inspired by the 19th century Romanian con artist Georges Manolescu. The novel is about a charming man unhampered by moral precepts and so skilled in the art of subterfuge that he manages to gain access to the highest reaches of European society.Are we what we project to be? If we only project it hard enough and believe it hard enough, will others buy it? A fraudster is so convinced of his own fiction that it becomes his truth, which again becomes even truer if he succeeds in making other people believe it. That’s where the conman’s zeal comes in: I make you believe what I believe and, against your own better judgement, you will stop doubting. Be a pain. Be shameless. Or simply, be a writer.
As opposed to Felix Krull who turned underachieverdom and reckless charm into fraud and lucrative revenue, even the man on the Clapham omnibus will have to overcome at some point the nagging suspicion of being an impostor. There is no cure for that, only the wise counsel of the con man: fake it till you make it. In order to silence the squeaky voice of my own inner impostor, I had to find some kind of purpose for writing by asking: Why am I doing this?
There is writing for writing’s sake and the top drawer is the right place for it and then there is writing for communication’s sake. The latter is a scarier undertaking because no matter how much you tell yourself you don’t care whether anyone reads it, you do. That’s why writing for the drawer is easier. You know it lands in a safe. Putting it out there is like being Thor Heyerdahl on the Kon-Tiki en route to the Polynesian islands.
Adding my own confession to the box, I’m soliloquising for most part of the day and have done so for most of the 14,965 days of my life. With 16 hours a day this equals 233,600 hours of solid soliloquy – an enormous and utterly pointless feat. No need to add to that. Consequently, the answer to the all-important Why Am I writing? question is: to share, connect, communicate and, ultimately, to create meaning. Not by writing fictitious accounts of fictitious characters for the purpose of drama and tragedy. There is already enough of these in our lives, so why not talk about what is without reverting to the made-up?
I’m wondering what this blog is about. I think I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that my creative endeavour scares the hell out of me, but the purpose might be the same as Heyerdahl’s when he chose to cross the Pacific Ocean on a raft.
I remember as a kid reciting poems for school competitions and, although mortified of speaking in front of an audience, I’m embarrassed to admit I regularly ended up deeply moved by my own rendition. Or the time I participated in a staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the homeless theatre group Crisis Skylight, excited and terrified in equal measure at my audacity to expose my non-grasp of Shakespearean English through bad acting and a Teutonic accent. Years later I still haven’t recovered from that experience and keep on seeing asses everywhere.