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Damian Barr on what to do next
Damian Barr discovers that writing a best-selling book isn't enough for some - it's all about what you do next.
Last week I bumped into a woman I sometimes work with while we were both waiting for a tube at Victoria. It was almost lunch time or just past, depending how early you eat. Shorter than me—most people are—she looked up over my shoulder at the panel with the train times.
“Congratulations on the success of Maggie & Me,” she said, her words whooshed away by our train arriving a minute early, her complement carried on to the tracks.
“Thank you,” I said, as the doors disgorged. I ushered her on and we both held our breath.
“I suppose the really important thing is what you write next,” she said, reaching past me for the handrail.
I bristled. Was this really the most important thing? I counted the stops to my station.
“I’m going to a preview of the Matisse,” she announced. So we were both getting off at Oxford Circus. As we gathered pace for Green Park she went on: “I saw the cut-outs once before, in Moscow. God, a long time ago.”
“I doubt they’ve changed much,” I half-shouted over the Italian tourists arguing about where to get off. “I suppose it’s a good moment to think about yourself—about how you’ve changed in that time. I am sure your life isn’t the same as it was then.”
My last few words embarrassingly loud during a momentary lull in our carriage. The Italians get off at Green Park and we set off again in relative silence. Soon we arrive at Oxford Circus and I step back to let her off first.
“It’s not the most important thing you know,” I say as we walk towards the escalator, two of her steps to one of mine. Some idiot is standing stubbornly on the left with a queue forming behind. “What I write next, it’s not the most important thing.”
We ascend effortlessly reaching for our tickets as we approach the barrier. I smile and mean it: “The most important thing is not whatever I might or might not write next, it’s what I’ve written already. The book I’ve written, this moment, is the most important thing.”
And we both blink into the daylight above Oxford Circus she going her way, me going mine.