A few days after my novel was published, my father asked me how much I might earn from it.
I told him.
‘That’s good,’ he answered.
He was lying of course. His facial expression said it all: ‘God, son! You could earn more than that gutting fish.’
There then followed a long silence, only broken by a cat running across the garden, prompting my father to talk about his thirty-year war against the moss in the lawn. A war which he will never win judging by the spongy mass of bright green outside the window.
After he’d told me all the names of the various moss killers he’d used over the years, he asked me what I was going to do now.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked, slightly baffled by his question.
‘I mean, what are you going to do. As in a job?’
I nearly started laughing and wondered if my father had misread my situation. He’s 78 and in good health, but perhaps in this instance, he hadn’t understood me. ‘Dad,’ I started, slightly wearily, ‘I’m writing another book — It’s called Le Chemin. It’s a follow up to Le Glitch. I’m hoping it will be out next year.’
I knew he was disappointed. Compared to the earnings of my brother and sister, what I earned was small beer. Almost nothing. And I knew he secretly hoped — now I’d got this ‘writing business’ out of my system — that I would buckle down and get a real job. Go back to teaching perhaps, or back to cheffing, or something else. Anything, as long as it earned a steady and preferably higher wage than writing books.
In short, I wasn’t a success, because I didn’t have a well-paying job. Not that I was surprised of course by his assessment. I’d heard it a million times before: ‘He’s so successful. She’s so bright. He’s so clever.’ The endless chatter at my parents’ dinner table over the years.
All meaning, of course: ‘He’s so rich.’
Not once did I hear: ‘So successful. So poor as well!’
Have you ever heard that?
I doubt it. This notion of success is so intrinsically linked to money that without it I doubt western Capitalism could function. How would success be measured? On favours done, strings pulled…