On those few occasions when I have introduced myself as a writer to other people, one of the questions that has consistently been asked of me is whether I have a favorite word.
This, of course, isn’t the first question that people ask, obviously. That question would be “have you written anything I might actually have heard of or, better yet, perhaps read?” and it is usually delivered with a piggish snort of disbelief. Bitter? Not a jot…
Anyway, as to my favorite word, well, it’s currently factotum. Please note, though, this choice of word is subject to change, randomly and seemingly without warning on any given day. But for today, at least, it stands true.
The word roughly means a jack of all trades. And it also happens to be the title of a Charles Bukowski novel, evidently. I say evidently, because I haven’t read the book itself; although I have seen the film of the same name, starring Matt Dillon in the title role.
Ok, good. So, I first came across the word factotum, when I watched said film. It’s strange, because I would typically call myself a Bukowski fan, but I had never heard of this particular novel before. Largely, I suppose, I have tended to concentrate on Bukowski’s poetry. That’s my excuse anyway. However, I digress.
I guess why I like the word factotum, then, is because it seems to me to perfectly describe the lot of us writer types. Each of us needs to be a Jack or Jill of all trades, in order to do what we do.
In the film already mentioned, this concept is portrayed in a very literal sense, as Matt Dillon’s character drifts from one dead-end job to another. Essentially a semi-autobiographical account of Bukowski’s own hand-to-mouth existence as a struggling writer, it shows the kind of work we writers are often forced in to so as to pay the bills.
On another level again, I would argue the term factotum also very neatly encompasses the multidisciplinary nature of what it takes to be a successful writer. Namely, one must be: an astute observer of the human animal, a tireless researcher, a gifted wordsmith, an enchanting teller of tall tales, a chronicler of social foibles and ills, an antidote-providing physician for the very same social foibles and ills, a visionary of rare insight and a fearless self-promoter sheathed in rejection-proof rhino skin, to name but a few necessary accomplishments.
All of which leads me to tell you this – and I promise I’m in no way making this up – the next time someone asks me what it is that I do for a living I going to place my hand on my heart and proudly declare that I am a factotum of the very highest order. And if it pleases you, I would urge you to do the same, fellow factotum!
“My ambition is handicapped by laziness”
― Charles Bukowski, Factotum