A little while ago, I read an article decrying the assumption that writing would be a good retirement activity – as if it implied a hobby rather than a mainstream profession. And I thought, hang on, writing is a brilliant thing to do in retirement — it’s exciting, stimulating, and it doesn’t require PE teachers’ legs. Plus there’s a lifetime of stories to delve into… if we rephrase it, call it ‘a great career for all ages’, then what’s not to love?
Around the same time, I spotted a tweet from a young writer asking for opinions on her age – in her early twenties, was she too young to be writing seriously?
“No,” I said, “write.” It was only later that I really thought about it.
I stand by my initial gut reaction — that anyone of any age should write if they wish. Within the bounds of decency, it’s a facet of free speech and we should be very wary of discouraging anyone. But it was only later that I fully realised how vital it is that young people write.
For years now, I’ve been Mum – so Young People Writing is all about (i) educating kids in general, and mine in particular, to expand their horizons, (ii) facilitating communication, enabling subtle discourse between all kinds of folk and (iii) expanding the banks of great literature to entertain me when I retire. (Culture, heritage, blah blah.)
I’d forgotten, in my Mumsiness, that we need young writing because old people can’t write like young people.
Old people know that one teenager isn’t going to save the world, that Lassie might come home but she won’t see twenty, and that ET is made of rubber. By the age of forty, these things imbued my writing with a hesitancy that would not have been there at twenty-five.
Young people don’t need to hesitate because they can still save the world, and will do what it takes. Of course, this is a generalisation… but for many of us, something happens as we age; we gain strength – stamina, skin thickness, and experience – but also a surprising vulnerability. Perhaps I should use myself as an example.
As a young woman, I stood up and shouted, ‘Women should have the right to choose! To make our own choices about career, childbirth, marriage, and sexuality – choice, choice, CHOICE!” I chose to move in with someone, marvelling at the two-stranded plait of our shared life as I watched my lover sleep.
As a forty-something mum, I know how little choice we have. Career? Fine, pick one and limber up for the learning curve. Childbirth? Whether or not you conceive, and how you conduct a pregnancy and birth, is often not a planning issue – however much you try to orchestrate it, you are meat on Nature’s plate. Sexuality? Whether you’re gay or straight is nowhere near as important as whether you are loved, and finding the right person can be an excruciating journey with no guarantee of success. Then I look at my lover and I see an old friend who should have bloody well washed up before going to bed.
As an eighty-year-old, it’s quite possible that I’ll just want a cup of tea.
These three stories are very different, and while experience provides a wealth of stories to be mined, there is definitely a need for the brave, the idealistic… the clear, strong voice of people who have not, in any way, become hesitant. People who have not forgotten the first time someone saw them naked. People for whom a week is still a long time to wait for a Saturday.
So, twenty-one-year-old writer whose name I have forgotten – when you asked if you should write, I said, “Yes”. I’m sorry that I forgot to add, “please.”