That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion. ~ REM
Outside one of my neighbours is ripping something. Really loud. Or perhaps they’re using industrial strength tape to bind something… metre after metre after metre. Whatever it is, it provides the perfect sound track for writing this article.
The past month has been the journey of an ogre; the Shrek-type ogre who is made up of layers (you know, like an onion). I’ve peeled back one layer, only to discover there is another and another. At times it has been a gentle separation and reveal. Other times it has been like my neighbour, an audacious ripping accompanied by a tilt as the gravity in my universe goes haywire.
When I first contemplated “my greatest fear” my initial reaction was: please, no more. For the past six months I’ve explored and excavating; healing, rewiring my thought processes and building a new me. I don’t want to dig any deeper. I’m content with where I am.
That’s enough to sound alarm bells.
What I’ve realised is we have surface fears, kind of shellac to protect what is beneath: the real fears. We can have a go at understanding and conquering these surface fears, but it doesn’t really change anything but the veneer.
When I moved beyond the surface I’d sanded back and touched up over the last six months, other fears came out to play… like slater bugs disturbed from a rotting log. Out crawled the fear of the blank page and the fear of the story never being as good on the page, as the one in my head. All relevant fears, all paralysing in greater and lesser degrees, but it didn’t gel. It felt off, like I was missing something.
The next layer came off when I found an old exercise book, with fears written during my last bout of depression, in a one-week assault on The Artist’s Way last November.
I knew I was closer this time, because I truly felt the fear. The fear of the dark, the numbness of depression, the desperation born from the destruction of my creativity and what it takes to come out of the hole. Yes, I am truly afraid of the spectre of depression but as I began to explore the fear and what I need to do to ensure I don’t go there again, it felt incomplete, like the fears in the layer above. Like the completed picture waited on a few more pieces.
Then last week two people said the same thing to me in a 24-hour period (one in email, the other in person). To them, I am first and most importantly, a writer. They articulated what I have never been able to.
See, my greatest fear is stepping up to claim my space as writer.
I know this, because if I follow roadmap of yearning, envy and jealousy it leads back to the people who have claimed their space as writer. I know this because when Adam announced he was taking long service leave to write, I wished I could do it, and when he spoke about approaching writing from the perspective of an apprenticeship, I felt hard done by, because I didn’t have this same insight or opportunity.
But that all requires claiming the space of writer, so it’s never been mine to have.
I call myself a writer, but I am writer in name only. A writer writes, and I, for the most part don’t. Writers know heart and soul they are Writer. I only doubt, oscillating in and out of the skin of Writer.
Yes, I’ve had stories published and made professional sales. Yes, I’ve been invited to pen stories for anthologies. Yes, I even won an award (but my internal regulator says “But that wasn’t for writing”!) But I do it all from the safety of the sideline. I’m never truly serious about it. Committed.
I fill my life with so many other things I have a legitimate reason for not writing. Writing fits around everything else. So many other things are more important. Nothing is ever forced to fit around writing.
But why… why would I hold back from seizing what I keep telling everyone is my greatest passion, my soul food, my grounding force, my everything. Why would I let other things be more important, when outside of my family, there is nothing more important?
The answer came last night as I stirred the filling of my veal and chilli pie.
At the core, underneath all these layers of scuttling and sometimes fearsome demons, is the fear of being thought of as naïve. That is actually my greatest fear. It sounds stupid. It sounds, if I’m honest, pathetic. But I know this is the heart, this is what disempowers everything else.
When I was 18 the university I went to had a Writer-In-Residence program. I think I was the first to sign up. I considered this the next big step on becoming a writer. When the writer handed back my first story he told me point-blank my writing was naïve. I needed to go and live in the real world.
So for the past twenty years I’ve lived in the real world. Filling my life with busyness so I don’t need to write. In doing so I protect myself from baring my ineptitude; inflicting my lack of experience, understanding and sophistication on the world.
Hanging here on the sidelines is enough sustenance to ward off the all-consuming hunger. But it’s involvement without risk. And without risk there is no real reward, only a clawing, senseless yearning instead of satisfaction. Of peace, contentment and achievement. Of progress and growth.
I’m here to tell Mr Writer-In-Residence he can shove his personal and derogatory critique where the sun don’t shine, because I’ve stripped back all the layers and I’m not putting my ogre costume back on to masquerade as someone else. I’m no longer a naïf; the 18-year-old aspiring writer, with an innocent twinkle in her eye and a spring in her pen, with years ahead to fill with learning and experience is all grown up.
This is the end of the spack-filler, quasi-creative, junk food of busyness. I’m stepping off the sidelines. I’m taking the biggest risk of all. I am claiming my space as Writer.