Its Time to Confess. I Am A Thief
‘Steal from everywhere and everyone and make it your own.’
I have been wrestling with my conscience lately and, for some reason or other, I have developed an overwhelming desire to offload a guilty secret.
You see, the thing is....... I steal.
There, I’ve said it!
When in her confused dotage, my mother took to shoplifting with gusto and practised her newly discovered hobby with the dedication of a seasoned athlete. The only trouble was, she was not very adept at the art of carrying out her regular heists. In most instances, after having filled the voluminous pockets of an ill-fitting greatcoat with booty, she would be pinched at the checkout at whatever supermarket or department store she was diligently pilfering from.
Naturally, these indiscretions were hugely embarrassing for the family as week after week, one of us would be summoned to a manager’s office of whatever store my mother had been diligently looting from. Our grovelling apologies and pleading usually resulted in no charges being pressed but, her punishment was to be banned from entering that particular store for life.
While admonishments were being handed out, my mother would loudly protest her innocence, aggrieved that anyone would have the audacity to infer that she was a thief even though her stolen loot was often meticulously laid out on the manager’s desk.
Her behaviour became increasingly bizarre given that her various hauls would include such items as jumbo packets of birdseed ( she didn’t keep birds), cans of motor oil ( she did not own a car), containers of shaving cream ( my father had been dead for years) as well as other random items that she would never use. Perhaps she did it for the thrill.
At the tail end of her life, these actions led me to wonder whether kleptomania was a genetic imperfection, and I began to fret that this unwanted gene would blossom within me like a garden bursting into life!
Now, a few years later, I have realised that after years of desperately trying to repress the urge to ‘lift’ from other people, I, too, now dabble in the dark arts of thievery.
Just so we are absolutely clear, I don’t actually steal “things” as such, meaning that it's quite safe for you to invite me into your home as the silverware will, I assure you, remain intact. Quite frankly, the fear that goes with stealing an inanimate object and the prospect of being caught terrifies me; thus, I have never been tempted.
However, I have diligently honed my skills in another devious department, and I am shamelessly proud that I have become what can only be termed a ‘Master Thief.’ Now I nonchalantly go about the business of thieving every day and show not an ounce of remorse.
So, what am I stealing?
I’m stealing you!
When I made the conscious decision to become a full-time writer, it didn’t take me long to realize that my ‘booty bag' of ideas and clever wit was practically empty, and if I were to succeed, I would have to embark on a literary life of crime.
I am not a plagiarist, although I must admit that sometimes I am sorely tempted to ‘lift’ a word here or a phrase there but, sophisticated technology ensures that doing so would be akin to a shoplifter stuffing his or her bag with bounty in full view of the store detective and being recorded on the store’s surveillance cameras at the same time.
Literary theft is driven by two emotions; envy and covetousness. Envy because some bugger wrote such a wonderful paragraph that you wish you had, and covetousness because you desperately want it to be yours.
However, my current thieving skills have been honed to almost Olympic standards as I become more and more brazen, using the thief’s best disguise, which is to simply hide in plain sight. After years of copywriting and latterly being a novelist, I believe that I have perfected the art of the steal to the point where I could even make David Sedaris look like an amateur.
To be a word thief, the only tools one requires are a notebook and a reliable pen coupled with the ability to whip both items out at the drop of a hat to record (read, steal) what you have just seen or heard.
The bountiful hunting grounds where I carry out my devious deeds are the taverns and salubrious bars or coffee shops where all walks of society gather. I sit at beer-stained bar counters, scribbling away, knowing that it won’t take long before someone asks, “ What are you writing there?”
Right away, if the quarry looks juicy, you’re in, and in no time flat, that curious person will have dropped a ‘gem’ of a phrase or inadvertently given you a great idea. With not a shred of guilt, I will wait for the moment when the ‘victim's attention is distracted and scribble down those rolled-gold words that have innocently tumbled out of his or her mouth.
Describing a character on a page follows a meticulous procedure that involves obtaining vast amounts of data by surreptitiously ‘stalking’ one’s prey, watching and recording every movement and nuance they make. How do they sit, stand, walk, inhale a cigarette, laugh or sometimes cry? I carefully note their style of dress, the way their hair has been fashioned, the colour of a woman's nail polish or their taste in footwear. I steal it all without a shred of remorse.
I have absolutely no idea who these innocent victims are or indeed what they do; I don’t really care, as they are simply the ‘mark’, and all I want is to take just a little slither of them. As somebody once said, “ Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal.” Once I had read that, I adopted it as my personal mantra and have, over the years, followed the code to the letter.
So there you have it, a full confession.
Please note that the next time you invite me into your home, it’s not your precious silverware you should be concerned about; rather, it’s what you say or do for if you provide me with a hint of an idea, I will definitely nick it from you.
Vancouver May 2021.
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