“Why am I not a successful writer?”It had taken Milo a long time to ask this question. For some time he had felt that his work was on the edge of taking off, but if this were true, his work lay on a very long and very sticky edge. He had not asked the question before because to do so he would have had to admit to himself that he was in fact unsuccessful, and not simply unlucky.
Janef his friend sat opposite him. This was the first time Milo had asked him a question about his job directly; they usually talked about certain characters’ backstories or plot holes that needed reconciling. Janef stopped admiring the tiled mosaics of the teahouse ceiling to give Milo his full attention.
“Depends how you define “success”.”
“Oh, don’t douse me with any hippy philosophy, Janef,” said Milo, “You know what I mean.”
“You want to be popular and wealthy and a household name?”
“Then why didn’t you say so yourself?”
Milo shot him an angry look. He was quickly regretting asking Janef for his opinion, so to pull the focus away from himself he asked, “How are you successful?”
“Successful in what way?”
“Well you’ve got a good sculpting business--”
“Sculpting and painting,” interjected Janef.
“--and painting,” continued Milo, kicking himself for not knowing his friend painted too, “How do you do it?”
“You must know that my business wasn’t always as it is now. I struggled for many, many years. No-one would buy my work and though I experimented and made all kinds of pieces, nothing sold.”
“I didn’t know at first myself, but one day someone gave me a piece of advice: Listen. My lack of success was because I didn’t listen to what people wanted. I mean, I didn’t even ask them! And moreover, I loved every scrap of art I made, so I would set a price on it according to my sentimental value, and this was always, always far higher than what the buyer was willing to pay.”
He stopped as the waiter set a plate of hummus and pita between him and Milo, and smiled at him as he left before continuing.
“I started asking people what sort of art they wanted, listened, and then made it for them. And that’s why they started buying and how I became successful.”
“So you sacrificed your creative talent and free expression for material gain,” said Milo in a tone of half disgust.
“I’ll tell you later.”
Janef grabbed a piece of pita and pinching some hummus with it plopped it into his mouth.
“But back to you. I think you are more than just annoyed at your own unsuccessfulness.”
Milo, looking at the hummus, raised an eyebrow.
“I think you are jealous,” said Janef.
He was right. Milo knew he was right. And Janef knew that Milo knew he was right.
“It’s true,” conceded Milo exasperatedly, “I am jealous. And continuing the theme of speaking honestly and simply, I am jealous of Máire O’Reilly because her stories are crap but popular.”
Milo felt good exercising some catharsis, but Janef interrupted him before it evolved into a full rant.
“And why is she popular?”
“Because she writes stories the public likes that are all thin disguises of each other. They are crass and boring, but as one newspaper review would have it “Máire O’Reilly’s writing is enthusiastic and sanguine.” Sanguine Máire. Sounds like a horror film. What kind of a name is Máire anyways?”
“It’s the Irish version of Mary.”
“In which case I shall no longer refer to her as ‘Sanguine Máire’ but rather as ‘Bloody Mary’.”
“You are not a bad writer you know,” he said sincerely, “Your stories are well written.”
“They’re just a bit glum. They’re the kind of story I read when I’m sad to cheer me up seeing someone else, even made up, having a worse life than me.”
“Well I’m afraid, unlike you, I cannot sacrifice my creativity for the sake of appealing to some banal audience and write tripe.”
“That’s where you’ve got me wrong, and the whole idea wrong. Yes, it is true I make art according to the tastes of others. And yes, sometimes I hate it but that makes it all the easier to part with. And no, not one hundred per cent of my working time is spent making others’ art. I still find time for my own, and because that time is limited it makes it all the sweeter.”
Milo sat quietly. A pebble of truth had been dropped into the pond of his mind, and its ripples calmed the water of his thoughts.
“I never thought about it that way,” he said finally.
Janef grinned, glad to have helped his friend.
“So you see, it is not so hard to be successful and find balance with what we enjoy. You could even try to emulate O’Reilly’s style, as I don’t think you really hate it. In fact, I think you like her writing.”
“What? That’s preposterous. What makes you say that?”
The waiter appeared and placed their drinks on the table, but Milo kept looking at Janef trying to riddle the answer from his gentle expression.
Janef’s eyes twinkled.
“Only because you call her after one of your favourite things,” he said, pointing to the space between them. Milo looked down and saw in front of him his favourite drink it all its crimson glory--a Bloody Mary.