Hello. Two people have asked questions recently, in Comments, which I thought were particularly deserving of a response. With the pressures of numerous TV appearances (all, admittedly, very small fry next to my friend Minchin on Jonathan Ross tonight; he played me his song on his iPhone – you’re in for a treat), the World Cup, Wimbledon, the baby and the stifling heat making this quite a tricky day, I thought I’d tackle these questions rather than scour the empty barrel of my imagination for a new topic. I do have some topics ready to talk about, as I hinted teasingly last night, but I’ll wait til I can do them justice. Do feel free to ask any more questions. It’s very helpful for me as it gives me momentum to write about stuff, and also the nice feeling that someone actually asked for it. This is to be seen as a kind of sister edition of Can I Help You? Can I Inform You, if you like. So…
Wow, I actually managed to get the first comment! In that case… Mark, you are, I imagine, doing what you love to do – as a successful comedian who quite often appears on TV. For a lot of people, probably including yourself, that would be a dream come true. I’d be interested to know if you have any other dreams which you never had the chance to fulfil, or better, still aim to fulfil (aside from your TYSICs).
It’s quite instructive to be asked this, because as you’ll know if you often read this blog, I tend to make a great big song and dance of the ways in which I haven’t managed to live up to various ambitions. It is nice to be reminded of what I often try to remind myself: that I’m currently living a life which far exceeded what I thought I could realistically manage, when I was, say, 18.
But, yes, there are still all sorts of things I want to do, both professionally and personally. Professionally, I still yearn to be a proper author with books that people read. I feel I’m capable of writing books much better than the three I’ve done so far, and maybe then I would be regarded as a bona fide writer, rather than a stand-up comic who happens to have dashed off a couple of novels. With a bit of luck the new book (Eleven) will be a step towards this. This isn’t really an ego-based, ‘I-want-to-be-Ian-McEwan’ type ambition – I’m genuinely not after great big posters in tube stations, or literary prizes – but I do want to feel I’ve done myself justice in the area of work where the biggest chunk of my heart lies. It takes a long time to become a good writer. I want to keep getting there. In the same way, I don’t yearn to become a Michael McIntyre-size star, or even a Minchinesque rock god, but I do want to feel I’ve got to the top level I possibly could. I think most of my professional ambitions boil down to that. Being the best I realistically could. Much of my career is spent trying to work out what that ‘best’ is, and beating myself up for not getting there. But that’s what I’m trying to change.
On a personal level, away from TYSIC stuff like being more optimistic and being a nicer person and drinking less and so on, there are many small dreams I’m hoping to fulfil. I’d like to do more Brave Things like bungee-jumping or skydiving, just so I can have the experience of challenging myself and winning out against my fears. I mean, I’ve never even been to Alton Towers. I’d like to spend some time doing work in the developing world at some point. I want to go to the Ashes and to the football and rugby World Cups. I want to live in Australia eventually. And in the near future it would be great to just sit down and eat a Fruit Corner without anyone interrupting me. I’ll let you know how all this goes.
I want to pose a question. As I’ve mentioned above, I have a baby girl. For a while now I’ve been thinking about writing her a letter in the event that, due to any unforeseen event, I am no longer about. I suppose such a letter might tell her what she means to me; pass on some advice etc. Given that you’re acutely aware of the competing forces of optimism and pessimism, do you think this an act of optimism, pessimism or something entirely different?
Something entirely different probably. I think writing a letter to cover the possible event of your death isn’t pessimistic, any more than making a Will is pessimistic. It would be pessimistic if you said ‘right, well I’m definitely going to die soon, let’s put something down on paper’, without any genuine grounds for such a thought. As you know, I myself own a tiny boy, and it has crossed my mind to do something similar. The thought that your baby could grow up into a man or woman and not know who you were, is pretty ghastly. Trying to combat this possibility isn’t being unduly pessimistic. You could almost argue that it’s optimistic because it involves trying to make something positive out of the terrifiying mutability of life.
Anyway, much as I’m trying to be more of an optimist, there’s no denying that some degree of negativity is important in life. It’s no use being in denial about scary things like the fact anyone can die any time. You shouldn’t let fear of this shape your decisions, but it’s better to front up to it than to deny it, as most people do.
So if you do write such a letter I would back your decision. Hey, with any luck she’ll never have to read it. And also, the process of writing will probably open you up to some things you didn’t know about yourself. But I’m sounding uncomfortably close to a self-help book here. When really I’m just a tired, rambling man. Goodnight.