By Geo Ong
London, 2008 – My friend Kyle and I spend four hours at a pub on Goodge St., bonding over pints of beer and bowls of chips. Having just met, we discuss our pasts leading up to this day as well as our futures from that day on. We discuss our favourite books and writers. We discuss American politics, a subject that was ignited when I asked Kyle to get me a pint of 1776 (really, I meant to say 1664). We then discuss the books we are writing. It doesn’t surprise me that we are both writing books. I ask him, ‘What if everyone who’s currently working on a first book finishes it? How great would that be?’
Los Angeles, 2010 – I attend a launch party at Bergamot Station for Slake, a new Los Angeles-based literary magazine. Amidst the crowd, I run into Lizzie, with whom I worked a book event a few months prior. She tells me she’s currently writing some science fiction because she’d never done it before and thinks it’d be fun. The thought once again pops into my head: What if she finishes what she’s started? Regardless of how frivolous her reason for starting may or may not seem, wouldn’t that be a major accomplishment?
I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of people I know personally who are writing books. This number doesn’t even include the numerous other people I know working on some other long-term project, artistic or otherwise. Now, there’s a good chance that, out of all these people, only a small number will finish what they start. Things get in the way. Day jobs turn into careers, or they just tire you out. You lose interest, you get stuck, or you give up. It happens all the time.
Paris, 1920s – Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are having some people over. Gertrude wants to show off the new portrait Pablo Picasso painted for her. Pablo will be there, along with Henri Matisse and Paul Cèzanne. The day before, Gertrude spent the afternoon with Ernest Hemingway. Ernest apologises to Gertrude for not being able to make tomorrow’s gathering, for he has plans to drive through the countryside with his good friend, Scott, better known to all of us as F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ernest bids Gertrude adieu and walks along the south bank of the Seine before noticing a familiar, bespectacled face. It is James Joyce. He joins the Irishman for the remainder of his lunch.
Oxford, 1930s – Seated at the corner of The Eagle and Child, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis meet between classes. Today, over pints of ale, they will discuss an early draft of what Tolkien calls The Lord of the Rings. C. S. promises his friend that he will be harsh in his criticism, since that is the only way we will learn.
The fact that these people became the artistic and literary legends we know them as today is only secondary in importance to the fact that these people all had each other. Art and ambition, inspiration and competition was always in the air. And because of it, these people finished what they started.
Artists have always needed support systems. The artists of tomorrow are no different.
To all the artists out there slaving, struggling, stressing… a.k.a. writing their books, to all the ambitious people working on their projects, the Urchins believe that you can do it. Don’t give up. If we’re all here for one another, we can all finish what we start.