Kiev Reflections – A Paradox Exposed

A fly through business trip leaves few memories other than the disruption to your personal life be and the continual desire to be home. A holiday in a far away and sunny climate leaves reminiscence captured and recorded on countless selfies and maybe, for me at least, sunburn on a balding head. But leaving a lover after a week of romance, sharing new friends, and being absorbed, and taken into a family, leaves the heart scarred forever.

Appropriate then that the weather yesterday, as we drove to the airport, was cold, dry, overcast, and heavy with snow-filled clouds not quite able to snow and show all their emotions. They reflected how I felt. It is never easy to say goodbye.

I like Kiev and I like Ukrainians, but I have a bias. No doubt had I fallen in love with a Hungarian I would now be feeling the same about Budapest. It is hard to be dispassionate in love.

Last week I wrote about the Ukrainians strength and stoicism and I think there is something almost unique in that. They are by nature serious and determined and whatever is thrown at them they take in their stride. I have shared that thought many times with those I met. On the plane home, last afternoon I sat next to a Ukrainian vet who has now moved to the UK and married an English man. She too reconfirmed my proposition.

But they are not dour people. Far from it and there is a happy and fun side to any gathering of Ukrainians. It is always a great party and normally well fuelled by alcohol. I remember a Polish girl I knew in my late teens and we went to a Polish wedding together. To this day I don’t think I have drunk so much. Slavic parties are invariably fun.

I didn’t want to leave but similarly, I couldn’t stay. It is not just all my wonderful family that draws me home but the continuing need to earn some money, and that raises the paradox which I am still trying to solve.

Sasha and I would like to be together and she is working hard to fit out a new apartment. I can see a life half and half between the UK and Ukraine, but that is not the problem. The problem is, as ever, financing it.

While the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil having money is a necessity. The issue is what needs to be done to acquire it?

Once that was easy; I would just find a job, get the train every morning, fill the eight or so hours and come home. That is still a solution I can aspire to although it is becoming more and more difficult as I get older.

My bigger problem is the conflict between what we could call a traditional job and pursuing a ‘career’ as a writer.

This all started more than 6 years ago when writing a novel was a unique personal challenge that was never meant to be more than a one-off. After all, everyone has one book inside them and it was going to be more of a sabbatical aimed at trying to dispel demons then inhabiting my mind.

During this first writing, I had become almost nocturnal and worked through every night. On the 24th floor of a Dubai tower block, the television always on in the background, the sound turned down low, empty cans of Pepsi strewn around the floor, an ashtray always full, I was writing.

I started writing like the consultant I had been the day before – yes, it was that sudden – wanting to map out the plot and all the characters before writing a word. That failed in the first two days. I wanted to write and not plan and so I wrote.

There was an exhalation as the story developed and the characters spoke to me. I learned to like George Cove and at times felt very sorry for him and his plight. Then one night there was a breakthrough moment, the sort of moment that makes it all worthwhile. I will try and avoid the plot spoiler, but I was working at my table, it was the middle of the night when one of my favourite characters, someone I always assumed would be with me until the end of the book, died.

I was shocked. It was never meant to be like that and for the last moments of that night, I did no more than properly inform George, her parents, and friends of her death. It was the least I could do in her memory. I stopped work. I cried and that night could write no more.

I am sure that those of you who have read the book would just turn the page and keep reading, passing easily over that moment and move on to the next chapter. I doubt, very much, you would have cried but these were my friends and I was telling their story. It may have started in my head, but it was real, and I was telling it for them.

There are now four books, a fifth half written and these pieces which someday, may also be published as a book. I write every day and feel guilty if I don’t but at what point does it stop being a hobby and start being who I am? When does a hobby become so passionate that it becomes one’s inspiration for living and all that you do?

I am now at that point and it was all brought into sharp relief over this week with Sasha, her family and friends in Kiev. The reality is that for only a very, very few is writing a career that pays its way.

Amazon has made it easier to sell books, but it has also made it easier to publish them. Publishing is a hugely competitive market. There are estimates that in 2014 twenty new titles were published each hour in the UK alone. Nor does it have huge margins. I publish through Amazon companies and the margin on each book is about €1.50. You can work out how many books I need to sell to pay for a night out.

I am driven to write because there are stories to be told and thoughts to be shared. I need to write, and it can’t be a sometimes, once in a while activity. It is something that needs all my focus.

Writing is selfish; writers put writing above most of everything else. As I am developing this skill the need to produce words which thousands and maybe even millions of people read, is a selfish and even arrogant drive. There is a strong emotional component about trying to succeed as a writer. I have never been able to draw and never been an artist, but I assume it is the same as they feel.

When asked by a stranger what we are, what do we do, I now answer unerringly, ‘writer’. It has been a transition but first and foremost that is what I am. I am a writer who sometimes is a management consultant.

This trip to Kiev has put all this into sharp focus.

We all know the stories of the artists that lived in frozen garrets with hardly a cent to buy food while all the money goes on paint. Later, and long after their death they are discovered, and their work recognised as masterpieces.

I am not quite in a frozen attic and my work will never move into the masterpiece category, but I am a point where I need to commit or quit.

It is not quite as blunt a choice between Sasha and writing but it is close. Sasha is undoubtedly my muse and without her, in my life, there may have been no books. I have told her I love her and her love for me is fully reciprocated but love alone will never pay for food and a home. Our shared financial needs include more than the basics and we want to share a few of life’s luxuries as necessities.

A rational, head-based decision would be to pack it all in, get a ‘proper’ job. I could stop writing and in my spare time carry on with the marketing, website development, social media etc. and make a few extra pounds from the work already done. Then Sasha and I could marry and live a happy life.

But would it be a happy life because I now see myself as a writer? Not only do I see myself as a writer, I am a writer with all the flaws, ego, selfishness and focus of a writer.

I love Sasha deeply and I will do all that I can for her, but it worries me that the emotional cost will be more than I can give. It worries me that she may not love the man who doesn’t write. Sasha has only known me as a writer and I am scared that if I stopped writing to provide the life we both want so desperately then the very essence of the person she loves will disappear.

So, here is the paradox.

Do I have to give up doing what I love for the woman I love, and maybe in doing that lose precisely what is now the very essence of my personality and basis of our love?