I am trying to find the words, which should come easy to someone like me. Supposedly. The girl at the hairdresser asked me if I was a writer and I replied, I suppose, kind of. Which was an inelegant way of saying, I write but I don’t know if I can call myself a writer. And after a weekend of watching authors take the stage at Melbourne Writers Festival with their big ideas and opinions and quotes from this philosopher or that, I am no closer to feeling like a writer. But I know I write.
Do you want to hear something embarrassing? Of course you do. Who am I kidding? I still have to stop and think: what is a verb? What is a noun? It doesn’t come easy. The grammar. As you can tell. The other day someone at work asked me, how are you doing? I said, good. My colleague corrected me. Well, she said, you are well. This only happened last week but it shot me back – boom – to working the checkout as a 17 year old and the better spoken people who dared travel down the hill to shop at our shitty shopping centre correcting me. I’d laugh it off. Apologise. I was a very good employee. Got lots of those comment cards about how nice I was at the checkout. Even got a little, plastic trophy for it at some dinner thing I had to go to with the store manager. Someone else won a holiday that night. I won a trophy. For ignoring arseholes and keeping a smile on my face. For making them feel important and special as they put me down to lift themselves up and then send in a nice comment card about how smiley and lovely I was. If only they knew.
When someone says they’re good we know what that means. We can agree on that meaning. We get it. But instead of explaining how language and meaning changes, how good can stand in for ‘well’ or ‘fine’ (is that allowed?), I apologised and corrected myself. Well, I mumbled and sort of laughed, sorry, I am well. I didn’t want her to feel embarrassed for correcting me. I am good at ignoring arseholes and keeping the smile on my face.
Anyway, the difference between good and well isn’t grammar is it? (That’s rhetorical. Please don’t explain it to me.)
I don’t know why I even brought it up.
It’s just that these things that haunt you. Like laying awake at night and remembering the time I said, Jess and me instead of Jess and I. I. I. I. I know how it works. When to use me and when to use I. But sometimes I get it wrong.
I know how it works. That it is should have not should of. But sometimes it slips out wrong. And I hear myself and shudder. Or someone I have long admired corrects me on it. In the middle of a nice night out surrounded by people. They correct me. A disappointed look on their face. And I think, shit, what do they think of me? Is the real me showing? The one who didn’t learn about nouns and verbs until much later than she should HAVE and still can’t confidently tell you, off the stop of her head, for fear she will be wrong, and who doesn’t know all the rules of grammar, and is a terrible speller and mispronounces a lot of words like who the hell decided you should say hyperbole like that anyway?
I know how it works.
I remember a literary manager who said he was used to working with the bright young things who studied law at Melbourne Uni and not people like me. People like me. People like me. We don’t talk about that. People like me who came from postcodes and places that don’t produce the bright young lawyers and their ilk who rule this world. No.
I remember another who told me not to admit my age because it made less impressive.
We don’t talk about that.
This is not to complain. But it might explain. Why I find it so hard to say, yes, hi, I am a writer and I am good – good as in well and also a good writer – even if I don’t know the rules.
It may explain why I find it hard to talk about my latest book. What is it about. The process. Why I’m finding it so difficult to write the speech for the launch. The update for this blog. The pitch to publications about who gets to be an artist and class and the arts. The proposal for the next book.
But I do have a book. A second book. Published. In bookstores right now. My name on the cover, but a whole team of people who made it happen. People who listened and advised and edited and gave feedback and options and ideas and patience and support and talent and believed in me as a writer. An actual writer.
Triple Threat touches on some of those feelings – those feelings that you’re not good enough / smart enough / rich enough / connected enough to take up the same space as those who, by happy accident, were born into a family or situation which allows them to be – or try to be – an artist or actor or writer or musician. And that’s not to say those with the connections / money / smarts don’t also feel that way. But it is different. There is an opportunity, an entitlement, that they have the right to at least try it, if they want to. No harm, no foul. Is that how that saying goes?
Being an artist isn’t particularly easy for anyone in this country. It isn’t valued. Isn’t invested in. Some look at as some sort of self-indulgent hobby for egomaniacs, not a real job – those same people who relied on to get through the relentless sadness of lockdowns. No a real job. And so, when you grow up in an environment where you really need that real job, where there is less time to play or figure yourself out and what the hell is a gap year and who the hell is having one, then the arts look like a frivolous dream. A playground for the rich and connected. But wouldn’t be nice if all kids had the chance to have frivolous dreams? And to explore those dreams. To really make an attempt to be an actor or a musician or a sculpture just because they could. Even if they ended up being no good at it … no harm, no foul.
It took me a long time to start focusing on writing. Hence, I was older and less impressive than the lit manager thought I was. I wasn’t the bright young thing who studied Law because we were actively discouraged from even trying to attend the best universities – it wasn’t worth our time, our school never did very well in those exams which line you 99.9 to 0 and then squashes you to fit.
But I am writing now. And my second book has been published. And I will try to start calling myself a writer. Because if not now … when?