Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Me, last week:

Julie Myerson is right to say that our writing tells us much about ourselves that we don't already know.

Last week, what I didn't already know about myself was that I was writing a sentence about someone who was about to become extremely (in)famous indeed. It's come to a pretty pass when the literary affair of the year isn't the Sartre-Robbe Grillet debate, or even a spat between Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens, but a kerfuffle over the self-indulgent 'mumoirs' (THAT IS MY NEOLOGISM TM TM TM COPYRIGHT IDST!!! Seriously, I just made 'mumoir' up. They might as well give me the royalties cheque now...) of an Islingtonite mother-of-three who can't get her head around the fact that her son smokes a bit of dope.

In all seriousness, I recognise that 'a bit of dope' actually does - contra the assertions of many of the smug hippies on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog - have the potential to derail one's life in potentially serious ways. This probably deserves qualifying by saying that something approaching the opposite is true for many individuals (cannabis can focus people just as it can distract them; not all users spend their entire life in a smoky room watching Harold and Kumar), and that those who are affected negatively by it are often negotiating less contingent stresses and strains. From what I've read about the Myersons, it seems that her son was ludicrously overpressured by parents who felt that they were doing anything but: from my teaching experience, I can say that Britain is overrun with teenagers who have had it banged into them that nothing but relentless, quantifiable achievement will do. This doesn't mean that kids are being encouraged to learn about things; it means that they are (implicitly) being pressed to learn by rote - wherever that's possible - so they can get the best grades/ the best job. IMO/ IME this is a specifically middle-class problem. There are lots and lots of potentially talented individuals for whom university becomes a self-destructive circle of mechanistic revision and joyless socialising, rather than an opportunity to, well, find out about what I remember Karl and I, in a flash of almost revolutionary wisdom, agreeing to term 'stuff'. It is all too rare to meet a student who says something like 'I picked English Lit/ History/ Classics because I find the subject bottomlessly interesting and, to tell you the truth, I don't give a fuck what grades I get because the studying is rewarding enough in its own right.' That's a pity, because they're invariably the ones who get the best results.

Anyway, despite not liking the idea of Jake, who I get the feeling is probably one of those pious weedheads who listen to Manu Chao, I am on his side. His mother is hacking out the typical Islingtonite route of building a literary career grounded on an erroneous belief that their own experience is somehow more vital and visceral than that of anyone else (what price the mother of a heroin addict from Burnley being given the opportunity to publish such a book?) and, on those terms alone, offends my most deeply-held principles. She's the new Wife in the North.

Oh, and my own parents? They are bloody good at 'no pressure', to the extent that not an eyelid was batted at my numerous C-grade GCSEs. In the most memorable example of 'no pressure' (as far as I'm concerned), my mum once semi-encouraged me to go to London for a play-off final when I had a four-hour exam in Norwich the next morning. True to form, I refused to go and spent the evening in the pub instead, but it was nice to be trusted to be able to do well even if I had gone to London. I get the feeling that the meddling committed by the Myersons of this world doesn't accomodate pre-exam play-off piss ups...

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