At a dinner for the writers who'd appeared at Wellington's Writers and Readers' Week in March this year, a visitor from the UK mentioned that he'd read my column in that morning's newspaper. That particular column had been about my time at the Perth Writers Festival the fortnight previous ("if you're lucky a well-respected novelist will skull the last of their wine and admit they think their most recent book is by far their worst").
I made the sort of pat, 'Watch out, I might write about you!' joke that I don't find funny but persist in making. Ha ha ha.
Wine glasses were emptied and refilled. Emptied and refilled.
At some point in the evening we got in a heated discussion about Woody Allen.
For badmouthing the execrable Midnight in Paris I got a hand shoved over my bad mouth.
'Say what you will about his recent films,' said my interlocutor, his sweaty palm still pressed against my lips, 'but you mustn't say a bad word against him. The man is a genius.'
My eyes, cartoon-wide, stayed that way even when he withdrew his hand.
He then said something embarrassing about me being a good writer (based on a snippet of a short story he'd heard me read a few days ago that the wine had ratcheted up to something approaching significance) and that my column wasn't worth a hill of beans. In the great wash-up, it was only proper literature (and, I suppose, films) that mattered.
I nodded. I agreed. At least that my column wasn't worth much. I mean how could it compare to a hill of beans?
The image in my head is a Mayan pyramid of baked bean tins, but perhaps he was thinking of a large mound of dried kidney beans or a verdant pile of freshly picked runners? All three crop up on a Google Image Search for "hill of beans" and all three would surely trump a fortnightly 500-word braindump. I mean, a hill of beans would feed a lot of people. Okay, a hill of beans might need a bit of security or someone to patrol for vermin, but it wouldn't come with the same sense of constant failure (failure to be interesting, failure to be funny, failure to be topical, failure to avoid the humblebrag) and the dread that any day you'll get the email that tells you you've been shitcanned. Format changes. New directions. Thanks and best wishes in future endeavours.
But so far, this email hasn't come.
It's been two whole years, which means 52 columns (as of Saturday). Marcus Lush (I think) recently said on Twitter that most columnists only have three good columns in them. Hopefully I write those three before I get that metaphorical sweaty palm across my lips and am told there's no slot for me next Saturday.
En masse, these 52 columns might not be worth a literal or a proverbial hill of beans, but if you stand back far enough, it's neat (yes, I just said 'nea't) that I've been paid to write about:
- Writers with day jobs, coming out (as a writer)
- Engagements, diamonds, crazy fiancés
- Paper books, vandalism, my father
- Music, getting old
- Short story competitions, mingling, Lloyd Jones
- Koru lounges, first times
- Paint colours, advertising
- Getting up early, writers with day jobs
- Weight gain, Don DeLillo
- Blood donation, squeamishness, cancer
- Agapanthus, pure hatred
- Week in the life, writers with day jobs
- Buttermoons, wedding prep, Vietnam
- New music, getting old
- Old teachers, receiving praise, gesundheit
- Airport terminals, Singapore
- De facto wedding anniversaries, gifts
- The internet, research, Moby Dick
- Writers festivals, Auckland, Sydney
- Travel envy, brothers, Alexander the Great
- Landlords, Edinburgh, mullets
- Writers with part-time jobs
- Kiwis, research, Zealandia
- Wedding prep, music, Stevie Wonder
- Poetry, furniture polish, Ian Wedde
- Libraries, writing, plumbers
- Writers festivals, Melbourne, Titirangi
- Skin cancer, sunscreen, Vikings
- Bad reviews, McDonalds
- The internet, privacy, shame
- Friends, double-booking, weddings
- Stag parties, cross-dressing, heights
- Weddings, the big day
- Honeymoons, Germans, mistakes
- Honeymoons, B&Bs, mistakes
- Deadlines, writing, blowouts
- Architecture, substations, Wellington
- Albatross, Otago Peninsula, awe
- Writers festivals, Perth, hotel bars
- Writers festivals, Wellington, ambushes
- House hunting, open homes
- House hunting, first home buyers, tenders
- Translations, short stories, shame
- Architecture, council housing, Wellington
- The Queen (smiling), gin and Dubonnet
- Short story competitions, judging, Grizz Wyllie
- Doctors, men, Monty Python
- Track pants, mistakes, pyromania
- DIY, homeownership, Donald Rumsfeld
- Job interviews, Australians
- Impending fatherhood, names, advertorials
- The past, First Crossings, Bear Grylls
Of course, the hope is that during this time I've been doing something that might amount to more than a hill of beans. Perhaps it's THE NOVEL. Perhaps it's the bump I wrote about in column #51 (a well I will no doubt return to, craven and unapologetic, a few more times before December). Who knows? Who cares? Sometimes it's just nice to have a deadline and the chance to talk about track pants.
It sure beats a sweaty hand across your mouth.