Less Aspiring, More Writing

I watch very, very, very little TV. Some people find this troubling. I’m not sure why. My mom once said about my paucity of TV watching: “Is this an elitist thing?” I said, “Well, if it was, I wouldn’t say ‘yes,’ because an elitist doesn’t think he’s elitist. He just thinks the way he lives is the way to live.”

Mom said, “Yes, but is this an elitist thing?”

I do keep up faithfully with one, and only one, TV show: Mad Men. If you haven’t drunk that flavor of Kool-Aid yet, I highly recommend that you find a cup and start sipping, because it’s some good drankin’. In the most recent episode, we learn that a regular character, an account executive at an ad agency, writes science-fiction short stories on the side under a pseudonym. He’s had some of his stories published and has even attracted the attention of an editor who might want to anthologize them.

The writer’s boss gets wind of this situation and calls him on the carpet to berate him for his divided loyalties. The boss thinks that having a semipro writing career on the side is a sign of insufficient dedication to the hand that feeds you. The account man, chastened, agrees to stop writing. He later tells a friend at the ad agency that he will “leave the writing to the writers.” But in the last scene (shown at the top of this post), we see him in his underwear, writing a new story — and, as the voiceover informs us, using a different pseudonym.

What intrigues me about this little story arc is how it valorizes the efforts of a part-time writer. The account man isn’t characterized as an “aspiring” writer; he’s just a writer, and a somewhat successful one, despite the fact that he works full time and more as an advertising account executive. I think the story is saying that writing has its own value that is completely distinct from the labels we attach to it or whether we’ve “made it as a writer” or what we do for a living. The man’s writing is an inherently good thing that is worth doing and worth protecting, so he does it, and he protects it.

There’s something pure about such an approach to writing. He’s not trying to get successful enough at his writing to quit his day job. He’s not trying to win fame or money or adulation with his writing. He’s not trying to become anything. His writing has no aspirations beyond itself. For some reason, he just feels compelled to write, to keep trying to tell stories that are true and that move people.

I think I know — finally, at long last — how he feels.

2 thoughts on “Less Aspiring, More Writing

  1. I loved the robot on the bridge/bolt story in that episode. But even more, I loved the reaction from everyone at the dinner table. So glad that he wasn’t squashed by it all. Compelled to write, indeed.

  2. I’ve seen a few people mention this episode now; I’ve only caught a few episodes of Mad Men (it airs a bit sporadically in Singapore), and enjoyed what I saw.

    It’s heartening that the show’s writers are treating part-time writers, as well as writers of science fiction, in a sympathetic way. And in the 1960s, for a semi-pro writer to be offered to have his fiction collected was kind of a big deal; makes me want to read the stories now!

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