It’s a glorious day here. The weather is so like spring it makes it hard to remember we’re in the middle of winter here in Australia. It’s a lovely change from the past few weeks, which have been bitterly cold and rainy.
This weekend hasn’t been the most constructive writing wise. I’ve got a cold – I refuse to claim the flu – which I really don’t have the time for. I’m exhausted. Work – the day job – just never lets up, and the fact we’ve gone into business planning season is just a black hole in relation to what I need to do. Time is disappearing. I can’t for the life of my figure out where it’s going, but it’s definitely disappearing faster than water down a drain.
I’m obsessed with wolves. I love them. I blame fantasy novels. I blame David Eddings, and his Belgariad trilogy. That’s when I fell in love with wolves. When I was 18 and recovering from surgery to remove three blood clots from my brain. I spent 6 months unable – and not allowed – to do anything more strenuous then read and watch the world go bye. I think back on those days and find it hard to believe it’s been nearly 21 years since I had that operation, since my life changed from being a care free teenager, just turned 18 to 8 weeks later being rushed into St Vincent’s hospital in Darlinghurst for life changing surgery.
You’d have thought that would be enough of a wake up call that life is fragile, and can be gone in a blink of an eye. You’d have thought that would have inspired me to enjoy every day, in every way. To reach for goals and chase a meaningful life. It didn’t. Well it did, but I didn’t.
I spent the better part of the next 16 years battling depression. I’ve never fully understood where it came from. One minute I was a typical teenager, drinking with friends, hanging out, being a pain in my parents backside and the next I got swallowed into a world of darkness I couldn’t find my out of it.
The depression was like waves. One day I’d be fine, the next I’d be swamped by a sense of nothingness and that’s where I’d stay. Then I’d be fine again. It was during those years, the voices of all the bullies merged into one voice that drowned the others out. It was then that the sense of being unworthy of anything, of being a failure took on the loudest strongest voice, the voice I couldn’t escape from. Mine.
It amazes me now, that I’m able to look back on it with clarity and distance how I’m still here. For a long time I’ve blamed others, everyone else. The bullies at school who made my life hell, the bosses who seemed to keep me down, who never listened or allowed me the opportunity to fly, and then took my ideas and made them their own, made successes out of the ideas and took all the credit. I seem to have spent most of life in the same circle.
When I was a teenager at school I never fought back. When I moved into the real world I’d fight back over everything, never backing myself really but making sure I was heard. It didn’t matter what it was. An idea of mine that could save the company money or make it money, ways to produce better results by utilising what we had in a different way. The amount of time allocated to toilet breaks. It didn’t matter, I became a fighter.
I look back now and wonder how most of my managers put up with me to be honest. I wasn’t fighting anything really. I was fighting myself. When I came up with the idea for a new product, or a new way of doing things, I folded like a house of cards when I was told it was a stupid idea. When managers told me I was too uneducated to be in the job I was in, that my lack of education meant I wasn’t worth the pay packet I was taking home, and I would never have gotten the job I had if they’d been in charge back when I was hired I’d collapse in a heap. When months later that exact same idea became a reality and made the manager look like visionary I shut my mouth and would force a screaming argument over cigarette breaks or the times I made a cup of coffee.
Once upon a time, in what is now a lifetime long long ago, I worked at a publishing company. One of the magazines couldn’t keep staff and it had always been my dream to be a writer. I’d been there over two years, and thought “in for a penny, in for a pound.” So I emailed the HR Manager and asked if I could write a article as a test. No guarantee’s, no promises. I wanted to get a brief from an old story and write it, in my own time, so the HR Manager could consider if I would be a suitable writer for the magazine and if not, maybe she’d have some recommendations for courses I could do to maybe one day become a writer.
The response I got from the email has stayed with me to this day. It wasn’t a long one, it was short. It was;
“Perhaps you should consider doing a course in rudimentary grammar before considering a job outside your possibilities.”
I’d not long come off the anti-depression medication I’d been prescribed and my email had been the first step towards trying to better my life. I’m sure you can imagine how much that response built up my confidence. So I did what I’d always done and picked a fight over something trivial, and let the dream fade.
A couple of hours later, I got another email from the HR Manager that said “I hope my past email wasn’t discouraging. Perhaps you should consider doing a course at the Sydney Writer’s Centre.”
My first reaction was to ignore it. But I went to the website and I ended up signing up for a course in Freelance Feature Writing. I did it online, and never really considered finishing it. It wasn’t worth it, particularly if I was only going to do it and then get told I was still crap. After all, I’d just been told I never had a hope in hell of being a writer, so why bother.
I booked in and paid and then went about my business of drinking on weekends, sleeping in and ignoring the weekly emails that arrived with links to the course material until one day I got an email telling me I had to write a profile about one of the course participants, and they had to write one about me.
I nearly died. I powered through the course material. I didn’t care for myself, but I was worried the lady who had to write the article on me would fail if I didn’t, and that wasn’t fair at all. I had a conversation that lasted about an hour, and I wrote an article about this lady from the course. I emailed it in thinking to myself “I wonder how bad the response is going to be.”
When I got the email back from Valerie, who was the instructor on the course I didn’t open it for three days. I didn’t want to hear from a professional writer that as a writer I’d make a brilliant garbage collector. I may have come off the medication, but I wasn’t strong enough for that.
Eventually I opened it and I very nearly fainted. The feedback was overwhelming. I’ve still got that email in my keepers folder, and every now and then I look at it and still can’t quite believe the response from a professional writer. It was the reason I did the Freelance Feature Writing Course Stage 2 at the Centre. It was one of the reasons I’ve done so many courses at the Centre.
When the instructor for Stage 2 told me the article I wrote for her class was ‘ready to be published’ I nearly wet myself 😉 I’d left the publishing company by then, and was unemployed, but it didn’t matter. It was a massive confidence builder.
I’ve had good times and bad times since then. Moments of clarity and confidence before the VOICE came back stronger, and I’ve fallen back into old negative patterns. I’ve done a lot of the courses the Centre offer’s and I’ve found one thing to run true for all the courses, regardless of the instructor. The feedback is not fake. They don’t tell you you’re fantastic unless the produced item is actually any good. The criticism isn’t nasty either. It’s supportive of your ultimate goal, to be a writer. Whether you want to write an article, a novel, or a screenplay, or translate your literary effort into an eBook that may find an audience they support raw talent, and they tell you how to improve in a way that makes you think “you know what, I can do this”.
I realised yesterday that I had come a long way in the confidence stakes in the last 7 weeks, when I put a post on Facebook musing about finding a director to look at my short film Young at Heart. A friend of mine who is an actress told me she knew someone who directed short films and suggested that I send her the script to send on for me to gain a directors view point of the script.
Normally I would have said “thanks love, just need to do a quick edit on it” and then I’d ignore it altogether. This time I made a couple of spelling corrections, and then emailed it straight through. Regardless of whether or not my friends – we’ll call her Lin – friend decides to direct the film or not, the fact I’ve opened myself to another professional opinion is a major step forward for me.
I guess the point of this rather long post is that sometimes, regardless of the sentiment that starts you on the journey, you have to look back on people who may have hurt you and think “you didn’t do this out of the goodness of your own heart, but you set my feet on a journey I would never have taken without you.” I don’t plan on thanking her when I win an Oscar, but in the quietness of my soul I do thank her for dismissing my dreams and then trying to make it look like she wasn’t just be nasty by making a recommendation to go to the Centre.
Regardless of why she did it, if she hadn’t recommended the Sydney Writer’s Centre, if I hadn’t done that first course and gotten some strong, honest feedback from the instructor, I wouldn’t have continued to wander down this path. I’d have stuck with what I had, no matter what it did to me in the long term.
I’ve learnt that you can’t always take situations as they appear. It may be years later that you realise the benefits of the rejection you carried and used as an excuse not to bother. Sometimes, the cliche “when one door closes, another one opens” really is true.
I’ve got a fascination for Mama Cass Elliott. Her music speaks to me. One of her songs I’m most fond is below. It’s where I got today’s title from. Enjoy.