Crime and, inevitably, Punishment!

by Samuel Wagan Watson


Writing is a misdemeanour of self-indulgence; therefore an escalated fit of writing could be considered blatant criminal activity. I took two words from the English dictionary before I even dressed this morning, and being an Indigenous writer its questionable as to whether or not these two words were ever my property to begin with. Suffice to say, I’m not giving these stolen items back, and I will attempt to profit from their acquired value. I was born into a family of writers and I was conceived on the lamb. Mum and Dad got hitched in 1971 and I emerged in 1972. It was still being debated in parliaments around the country if the Aboriginal Protections Act should be lifted. It was illegal for a person of a black race to marry a person of a white race in Queensland. Technically, I wasn’t even a citizen on my own land until 1976. Born suspiciously, live suspiciously; take up the family business!

‘When reason fails, the devil helps!’
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Crimes and misdemeanours are essential cogs like every other working component of the universe. I don’t have a solid motive for being a writer. I don’t even possess a Year 12 certificate! My only credentials in life: a pre-tertiary education diploma from a community college where I was introduced to classic literature, and a couple of Premier’s literary awards. I sometimes wonder whether or not I stole one of those awards from Tim Winton? The Devil plays my advocate and She whispers softly into my ear, ‘You got away with it Sammy, don’t look back…’

I like to think the reason that many of us write is because, in this day and age, less-worthy mediums like free-to-air television, produce, steal or fraudulently give audiences counterfeit dreams and faulty hope. A good book will never stab you in the back, but reality tv will maliciously seduce you to dust and will never be held accountable.

I believe there is somewhat of a spectre of Robin Hood in the background of what wordsmiths and poets do. Media consortiums gets filthy rich on stealing the attention of audiences and, in-turn, educate the masses with a falsehood that it’s ok to be illiterate and paranoid. I love to give someone a book and show them they have a low-maintenance gateway to another life in their grasp, a wealthier life. Then again, writing is so self-indulgent, like BLOGGING, so I’m no Mother Teresa with an iMac!

When I started publishing regularly I did feel as though I was breaking a law regulated by the right-wing intellectuals and academics in Australia. There were only 3 established Indigenous writers I knew of growing up, and they only received recognition of pure indifference on their own soil. It was inconceivable that they would ever be considered literary. Indigenous voices were meant to be suppressed, a remnant of our colonial past and neo-colonial present.

I have committed a number of crimes and misdemeanours this week.

I conspired in a commission to write an article for a local theatre magazine. In my defence, though, the money was great and the exposure will be valuable. But while completing that commission, certain time allotted to a certain unfinished manuscript that was mentioned in my last blog-entry, was stolen. My publisher can’t get that time back from me either. And because I was fatigued from the quick turnaround with the article, I was negligent in doing any constructive writing for a couple of days.

And while I’m confessing matters of criminal negligence, my family, loved ones and a small circle of friends tend to treat me like a guy who keeps a box of tarantulas by his side, just in case anyone speaks to me, as we fall foul of one another, just an hour before a deadline. I’m always at a writer’s festival when something important happens at home! Or I’m the guy who can’t afford to go out when I’m at home because no one I’ve written for has effectively honoured an invoice.

This is the punishment for committing daily acts of self-indulgent crimes and misdemeanours with a creative bent. I am not paid every Wednesday like many folk. Delayed flights happen regularly. I sometimes go into schools or even burgeoning festivals and they really don’t know what to do with me? When it all falls down I simply say to myself that this is the ‘downside’ of the job.

In the end, I think every writer lives a somewhat fictional life. Sadly I am the hero of every adventure of my every day and no matter how much I polish the turd of an unfinished manuscript a repeat offender mentality drives me to evade reality and write an air of villainy upon pages that will never see the light of purely good, creative redemption!