Alongside the animation, the abscess, and the heavy cold I’ve been suffering for the past week, I’m still enduring the disruption caused by my deciding about a month ago to rearrange and tidy my office. The truth is that I’m not the tidiest person but I attacked this task like a North Korean leader arranging the seating around the Christmas turkey and realising there was one uncle too many. I’d amassed so much junk that it was shameful to see how many bags of detritus I took out behind the shed and despatched via firing squad.
I’m still not finished and the work gets harder by the day. Take, for example, The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Despite the name, the Compact Oxford English Dictionary is not compact. It’s probably the biggest book I own. You might know the edition. It comes with a small box at the top to store the illuminated magnifying glass which you have to use to read the book’s miniscule font. I bought it cheap from a book club many moons ago, probably having only joined the book club to get my hands on a book that I couldn’t afford at full price. Currently, they’re probably going for about £20 on eBay, which says everything about dictionaries in the age of apps, websites, and illiteracy.
My problem now is: what the hell should I do with it? I bought it when I was in doing research in academia, when knowing the derivation of words was a significant part of my life. To throw it away would be amount to admitting that I’ll never again be that person. Not that I want to be that person. Calling myself an academic felt too narrow, too knowing, too definitive of who I was or what I might become. I’m not sure what I have become except deeply disenchanted about a great many things but disenchanted about dictionaries isn’t one of them. Throwing my dictionary away would amount to my admitting that writing no longer matters to me.
And that’s the point. Although I’ve not written a book in about a year (for me, a rare thing), it’s not that I care any less about writing. Yet reading just the other day about the Specsavers literary awards, I noticed the same sad spectacle (pun intended) of celebrities receiving plaudits and the book industry trying to ride out the hard times on the coat tails of TV fools. To be a writer these days is synonymous with a certain lifestyle or it is merely an adjunct to fame. If you didn’t lose your knickers in the jungle or are an ex-rower who climbed the north face of Brian Blessed, to be a writer means conforming to certain stereotypes in order to follow the money: to be the globetrotting internationalist lesbian writing for The Guardian from your solar powered wheel chair, to be the old school pipe smoking socialist in the New Statesmen, or to have the same John Bull beefy lips of the conservative meatheads writing their polemical nonsense elsewhere. At times I can find myself agreeing with all three but, as I found when I tried to be an academic, I don’t sit neatly inside one group meaning that I belong nowhere but this hinterland of blogging.
These thoughts pass through my mind as I start at the Compact Oxford English Dictionary sitting on my desk. Getting rid of it would be like giving up so I’ll keep it.
I might need it because as this post suggests, I’m also back blogging. I know it’s the week leading up to Christmas but, as I sit here, Monday lunchtime, I intend to be blogging regularly, perhaps even get some cartoons finished.