First off, allow me to issue a retraction: I'm now reading Jane Austen - A Life by Carol Shields, not Claire Tomalin - and the copy does have a picture, which I have now posted.
Secondly, this is a humourous piece. As my loyal readers know, I have enough confidence in my writing to send it to magazines and believe that one day I'll be picking up my Hugo/Nebula/World Fantasy/Locus/Arthur C. Clarke award for my work. I've just tended to notice a great many commonalities (read: cliches) among the truly "great" writers' lives.
So, in no particular order, Five Reasons Why I'll Never Be a "Great" Writer:
1. I do not own, and neither am I "owned by", any cats: Almost every writer I've admired seems to be possessed by anywhere from one to twelve of the furry critters. "So and so lives in Connecticut with her seven cats", "Such and such resides in Santa Monica with his two cats", "Whatsherface lives in Montana, where she dotes on her five felines, two dogs, eight lizards, two boa constrictors, and twenty-five hamsters." My Mum believes the tendency for writers to own pets, cats in particular, is because as a species, writers are solitary creatures, who need companionship from time to time but not the inconvenience of having to go outside and exercise.
Petting cats stimulates the mind to write, it seems, so until I move out of my parents' house, I'll have to content myself with stroking teddy bears and pillows to jump-start my imagination.
2. I am not an alcoholic, a drug addict, or a heavy smoker: Neither do I have any particular prediliction towards strong drink (I never have more than one glass at a time, and only coolers, because they are less yucky then other liquors). Stephen King used to be into rum (alcohol) and coke (powdery stuff). Lewis Carol was apparently heavy into opium. I had one gulp of whisky four months ago and thought the experience akin to vomiting, only in the opposite direction. I'm high on life, people, so if history is any judge, my writing is doomed to be boring.
3. I live in a decidedly un-exotic place, where I have lived my entire life: I live in Canada, in a city that is not big enough to be considered a fashionable trend-setting metropolis, not small enough to be seen as a pokey one-screen-movie-theatre town, and not old enough to be historically relevant. Amy Tan's family moved to a new house, town, city every six to twelve months or so, if her memoirs are any indication. What am I supposed to write about? Our mall? Our one street of kitchy shops that are rapidly being overtaken by Starbucks, Chapters, and Earl'ses?
4. I had a wonderfully happy and uneventful childhood, raised in a good, upper-middle-class neighbourhood in a well-adjusted, religious, moral, intelligent family: My mother stayed home to raise her three children, without sacrificing her hungry intellect - she cooks! She cleans! She's researched the geneology of her family back 30 generations! She's teaching herself Hebrew so that she can re-translate the Bible! My father is a hard worker who devotes himself to his job and was never absent to the point that it was detrimental to my well-being, and also he's completely, faithfully, romantically devoted to my mother after 21 years of marriage.
They never even had the decency to have an exciting, challenging engagement frought with social obstacles straight out of a Jane Austen novel - no evil in-laws, no protests from Mum's upper-class parents about her match with a man from lower-class upbringing. The only point that gained any contention was that Mum and Dad only knew each other for six weeks before getting engaged.
My sisters are also free of mental problems, life-threatening illnesses, genetic defects, and addictions of any kind that would have made for a best-selling autobiography. Sister #1 is the active one, with an odd penchant for bending, breaking, bruising, or bumping body parts that are not supposed to be bent, broken, bruised, or bumped by doing decidedly un-active things, like flicking light-switches. Sister #2 is the social butterfly, who's only point of controversy is her tendency to flash her buttcrack in the low-rise jeans she insists on wearing.
And finally, 5. Like my sisters, I also lack mental problems, life-threatening illnesses, genetic defects, and addictions: I am not clinically depressed, I have never been suspected of having bipolar disorder, gender dysfunction, or schizophrenia. I do not believe I am a hack who can never write a sentence that is not drenched in superficial lies that are the reason humanity is trundling down a path to destruction. I do not look at my work and weep that its heartbreaking beauty/truth/insight/creativity will never be recognized by blind/dishonest/ignorant/unimaginative society, particularly those peons of society who happen to be employed at publishing houses.
I doubt that I will ever write a novel that will make me believe, "I have completed my life's purpose, my work is done" and proceed to tie myself to a stone and drown myself in a river, blow out my brains with a shotgun in a dusty attic, slit my wrists in the bathtub after leaving a trail of rose petals leading to my place of demise, swallow raw opium, leap off the roof of City Hall, or contract consumption and perish while coughing romantically into a bloody handkerchief, along with my unborn lovechild by my achingly handsome male secretary.
There you have it, Five Reasons Why I'll Never Be a "Great" Writer. Should I stop trying? Definitely not - I still have time to royally mess myself up.