It’s a common pastime among old aunts and grandmothers to compare their younger relatives to each other. Ooh, he looks like his dad, they will say. Or ooh, she the spitting image of her grandmother. And just after birth, mothers will say the same thing about their baby to the baby’s presumed father: he’s got your nose (or eyes or belly button or whatever). Even when the babies in fact might look more like their mothers at first. And the more your grandchild looks like your side of the family, the louder you will proclaim it and the happier you will be: that’s the roman nose, just like uncle Victor! Or more profound: There is nothing as poignant for a grandmother as recognising her late husband’s eyes in a grandson.
In the same way, siblings are compared with each other. We try not to with our sons, it’s not their fault they are stuck in this family. Our youngest son is taller, heavier and stronger than our oldest was at the same age. Does that matter? Should that matter? “When your older brother was your age, he already knew the name of 40 horse breeds.” (He did, although none of us knew a Shetland pony from a Clydesdale, and although he has forgotten all about it now.) So what? Last time I checked, my brother is not me.
But who shall we compare ourselves with if not our brothers? They’re the closest you can get to you: the have the same parents, around 50% of the same genes (and yet you share more than 98% with any chimpanzee; funny, isn’t it?), they have been through the same ordeals during childhood, the same divorce, the same mad neighbour, and most of all, they have seen you grow up, been with you almost every day untill one of you left home for good. Your brother is the closest thing you can get to a control group for this experiment you affectionately refer to as your life.
Our aunts or grandparents shouldn’t compare us to our brothers. But we can. Sometimes it’s an interesting thing to do.
I have a three year younger brother. He also is not a very good cook, and he also is an appallingly terrible handyman. He tries, though, where I too often try to avoid the task — but he seldom manages to do much good in that department.
My brother likes to talk in front of crowds, as do I. He stutters, though, so his talking will always be a bit more impressive. I’m growing a beard, but he’s had dreadlocks for many ears. He is better with friends than I am, but he is just as fond of doing things his own way. And the oftentimes most glaring difference: he’s into advertising. I’m into naive romanticism.
I used to have this dream about writing a novel. I even finished a novel or two and sent it to a couple of publishing houses. No luck. When I complained to my brother about the bitterness of fate, he started asking me about my target group. I don’t know, I answered, I write for myself and for anyone willing to listen. But do you write for teenagers or adults, he said, women or men, Norwegians or Australians, basketball players or retired locksmiths? It doesn’t matter, I said, I write for the wind and anyone who can feel the pain and sense the joy emanating from my words.. It’s all about advertising, he said — many books are really, really bad, right? I conceded that I in my more self-believing moments had boasted about being able to write better than, or at least just as good as, most of the self-important, presumptuous, conceited group of people calling themselves writers. Right, he said, all we have to do is make a plan, let people know about you, perhaps give away the fist chapter for free — all you have to do is define your target group first, and I’ll handle the rest.
But I couldn’t do that. Even having an ad for my novel, My Great Novel, seemed… wrong, somehow. And anyway, a Great Novel doesn’t have a target group, it’s for anyone and everyone, it’s one of those things you don’t know you want, and after you have discovered it, you can’t imagine a life without it. Like pomelo.
Right, he said, but if you never find out about it, it doesn’t really matter, does it? You could write the best novel ever, and no-one will find out because your target group never hears about it. You send it to four publishing houses, they all turn it down, you burn your manuscript, burn the entire computer in exasperation, and you die a lonely death just because you are too stubborn to realise how the world works!
(He didn’t quite say that, I embellish a little.)
No, I said, I will not make compromises with my art.
I hope I never said that either. Just writing that sentence makes me blush. My art? What art? If anything, my attempts at writing novels were too artsy for their own good, full of incomprehensible references to Finnegans Wake and strained attempts at humour at every turn — and yet somehow mysteriously they managed to avoid being both funny and interesting or even readable. They were art only in the sense that pure art is something most people don’t like and don’t really want to waste away their time trying to figure out. Or even stomach.
We have more or less given up that discussion now. I realise he might have a point, and he realises I might have a point, and although we are still stuck in our respective corners, we avoid repeating a discussion we know won’t lead anywhere. He’s got a great job now, after a decade of toiling away for nothing as an entrepreneur, whereas I go where my wife’s job takes me.
I have always been the writer of us, but lately he has become the most published writer in the family (he has written a proper book!), with a blog reaching thousands and even a column in a newspaper. He’s being read, whereas I am not. I have lots of ideas, that’s all, but they seldom amount to much, and in any case, I am terrible at advertising, and if a tree falls in a forest and no-one hears it… In terms of reaching an audience, I admit defeat.
But when I asked him about a practical solution to one of his problems, he said writing. He wants to write more, perhaps five blog posts a week, and he doesn’t have that much time. Perhaps I could help?
Offer at least one creative solution to challenges of s sibling.
- Stop watching football. stop watching sports on TV, or at least reduce it. I mean, do you know how much time just one football game takes? Two hours! One could write a lot in two hours.
- Set aside one hour every day just for writing. Don’t let anything, not e-mails, not Facebook, not even a phone call from a brother, disturb you
- Think about your writing during the day. Find things you can write about during meetings. Perhaps have a special notebook for jotting down possible topics. (OK, an app.)
- The writing itself: write quicker and with less constraint, and then go back and edit everything to (closer to) perfection. A terrible idea might lead to great ideas if you just let it grow.
- Make it into something you look forward to, a place where you can be yourself. If writing turns into a chore, it’s suddenly much more work and less enjoyable, and the results are often not as good.
- Don’t forget that writing for a newspaper means lots of people read it: it’s no longer a solitary thing, it’s a conversation with all your readers.
- Take time off the pc screen. For your eyes’ sake, and for your head’s sake.
- Again, you write in a newspaper. If you find the right subject, and the right angle, you could make a difference.
That’s all I have. Perhaps not very creative. But you see, this blog is about becoming better and wiser, not about showing off my already acquired wisdom. Hopefully, in a year’s time, I will find even more creative solutions.
And one day, perhaps, I’ll even to wise enough to realise that your insights into how the world works are perhaps even more valid than mine.
I’m just not wise enough to consider admitting that kind of defeat yet.