Mind the Gap is a novel I’m currently writing. Marianne is in her early twenties and unhappy with “the gap” between the life she wants and the life she would like to have. She has finally worked up the nerve to submit one of her Reggie cartoons to an open art exhibition, and has been invited out for a drink with a group of people involved in the exhibition.
I just about caught all the names, but wasn’t fast enough to catch which name belonged to which person. Given their relative frequency, I reckoned I’d be safe enough calling everyone either Daniel or Andrew. The Andrews were particularly prevalent – a nice, Dublin upper middle class name. Not exactly edgy or bohemian, but in recession Ireland, edgy and bohemian types were either leaving in droves, or spending all their time eking out a living bouncing between unpaid internships and minimum wage jobs, leaving them with precious little time in which to be edgy and bohemian.
I’d never seen so many tweed jackets outside of the National Ploughing Championships, and never seen a tweed jacket at all on someone under seventy-five before. I felt somewhat out of place in my work clothes when everyone else looked like they were either left over from a The Cure tour twenty years ago, or had found a parody on how to be a hipster and had used it as a style guide. The guy I ended up next to had so many badges on the lapel of his oversized jacket that it hung lopsided. A man slightly older than the rest stood up and offered to get a round in. “That’s Kev,” badge guy told me. “He’s a bit of a tool but he has a job and buys the drinks. I’m Andrew, by the way, and I’m an actor. Are you an artist?”
“Well,I don’t know, em…” What did he mean? What did I have to do before I could be considered an artist? I had a feeling there was a very prescriptive set of rules I knew nothing about, but that drawing dinosaur cartoons in your bedsit wasn’t it.
“Do you create art?”
“I just submitted a piece to the exhibition in SPACED. But it’s the first time I’ve done anything with any of my pieces and I have no training or anything.”
The man on the other side of me, who had been ignoring me up to that point, suddenly leaned in, far too close to me. I could smell the charity shop cleaning from his tweed jacket and see myself in his enormously oversized spectacles. “Submitted, eh?” he leered. “Well,submit to me anytime you want.”
“Oh shut up Andrew,” said (badge) Andrew, and (creepy) Andrew went back to staring at the pint bought by (bit of a tool but financially solvent) Kev.
“So, does that make me an artist?” I tried to sound light-hearted, but to me at least I sounded anxious. “Of course you are! Everyone’s an artist if they want to be.”
“Even someone whose never tried to do art?”
“Of course. Every one of us is born an artist, a scientist, a philosopher.”
I thought of all the pencils I’d broken trying to teach myself to draw, all the late nights I’d pulled trying to turn myself into a scientist, and that one time I completely frustrated my brain trying to read Jean-Paul Sarte before giving in a week later (I’d got as far as page 3). I wasn’t sure, that after all my hard work, that I really thought everyone should have an automatic right to be considered an artist and a scientist.
“Some people think you have to go to art school to learn the rules. But any decent artist knows that rules are anathema to the zeitgeist.”
I immediately decided that although I had no idea what “anathema to the zeitgeist” meant, anyone who used it with a straight face should immediately and irrevocably be branded a pretentious wanker.
There was a silence all around the table as everyone contemplated what Badge Andrew had said and many nodded appreciatively.
“I don’t know too much about that,” I said, “When I’m drawing, I’m not really thinking about the zeitgeist and what the rules might be. I just draw and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
“That’s amazing,” another man burst in. “Yeah, incredible.” “Inspiring.”
Was it? Really?
“It’s fantastic,” enthused Richard, “that you are strong enough to create art unconstrained by the spirit and the fashion that typifies the cultural phenomena of the here and now.” The lads were at their contemplative silence and appreciative nodding again. Even vacuous Tami looked vaguely impressed. I wished they al realised that using overly long words didn’t make them sound as deep or intelligent as they clearly thought, and wished everyone at that table, including me, could be a bit less self-conscious. But beneath the nonsense, they were interesting. I was in with the edgy, cool kids, and they seemed to think I was edgy and cool too. I felt electric and alive, and for the forst time in a long time, I was fully present in the room, living and laughing in the moment, not wishing for something more or something better somewhere else.
Unfortunately I also felt very, very hungry. A waitress passed by on her way to another table, bearing two medium steaks and thick, hand cut chips. The smell made my eyes water and my stomach do interesting things, but it was the week before payday and I had not a cent to my name. I stayed until the hunger drowned out the interesting talk and good company. “Hey, we’ll see you at the opening,” badge Andrew and (Lilac Fire Agate) Mary called as I left. It was later than I thought. I just about made the last LUAS, feeling as though I had a completely hollow middle, and wondering why I’d never noticed how slow this tram was before. If it didn’t move quickly I was going to start chewing the strap on my handbag or something. My arms felt empty without Reggie, but I reminded myself this was just a temporary separation. When I eventually got home, I was too hungry to wait for the noodles to cook properly. As they crunched in my mouth I thought about the people I had met, and wondered what kind of lives they had had that had made them construct such personas. I felt the gap in my Reggie collection now that the first one was at SPACED, and felt almost compelled to fill it.
I sketched Reggie in a clearing under a banner advertising the “Gondwanaland Vegetarian Dinosaurs Association Annual Meeting.” Reggie was holding court to an adoring and attentive audience of other dinosaurs. I made their colours bright and beautiful and unusual, but their edges hazy and the background undefined, so it wasn’t clear where illusion ended and reality began.