The Neurotic Writer Cliché Thing

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

J. K. Rowling

So …

I had been going really well with this blog until I was ‘freshly pressed’.

It was easy to keep on blogging to three followers and my Mum.

A well-meaning person asked how I could write anything after the freshly pressed post; “How can you follow that up?” she asked in a well-meaning way because she is a well-meaning person. She explained, well-meaning-ly, how she would be too scared to put anything else out there after that sort of ‘recognition.’

I laughed at her well-meaningfulness – yeah, right …

Then I thought.

And thought.

And did just as she predicted.

I wrote nothing.

I was busy. I was working. I was putting on a play. I was going out for a run. I was cleaning the house. I was calling my sister. I was popping to the post office. I was meeting a friend for coffee. I wasn’t sleeping. I was cooking an elaborate meal. I was working through my lunch break. I was reading. I was – I was – I was … avoiding.

I was scared.

I felt like Alanis Morrisette trying to follow-up Jagged Little Pill … minus the worldwide acclaim, success, fame, money, talent, musical ability, friendship with Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Grammy Awards etc etc etc … OK, so, maybe not quite like Alanis but I am sure you understand what I am saying. (And, for the record, I really loved her follow-up album Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie)

I found that I couldn’t write. Anything I started wasn’t good enough, witty enough, political enough, relevant enough … blah, blah, blah, really, I was just scared.

I was scared of writing on my blog.

Isn’t that one of the most ludicrous lines ever? I was scared of writing on my blog … When I put it like that I could finally see the ridiculousness of the situation.

Chemical warfare is scary. Failing at a blog … I don’t even think that is a ‘thing’, right?

It is time to put things in perspective.

It is time to break the neurotic writer cliché thing and just get writing.

OK. Who am I kidding? It isn’t that easy. Being a neurotic writer cliché thing means I rarely put things in perspective.  But I can make a start …

So, thank you “Freshly Pressed” and the extra 197 followers and my original 3 followers and my Mum … I will keep on writing … And I hope you will keep on following …

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Temporary (a short story)

cropped-these-are-the-isolate-009.jpg“I’m not paying you. You’re useless. Go home,” Charlie barked, his white shirt already proudly displaying vicious sweat patches.

“I’d rather be here.”

“I’m not paying you to be here. Like I said, you’re bloody useless.”

Sam wanted to reply but the words got caught somewhere between his lungs and voice box and there they stayed, lodged in his chest, bringing tears to his eyes. Before he could stop it one escaped and rolled triumphantly down his cheek.

“Jesus Christ – go home,” Charlie’s bark was a little less biting as he handed him a tissue.

Sam hated his job. He had been planning to resign the very moment he started. But she had told him it was only temporary and she had meant it. Then. Of course she had meant it.

The fluorescent lights flickered and hummed. He watched a determined moth knock itself senseless against the plastic light fitting.

“Look at that little guy,” he said to no one in particular. He was always doing that; talking to no one in particular. It used to drive her insane, she had told him as much with that you’re-embarrassing-me-we’ll-discuss-this-when-we-get-home look he knew only too well.

Charlie, on the other hand, simply stared at him blankly.

“Jesus Christ, go –” but before Charlie could complete his somewhat predictable sentence the ding-dong customer alert chimed from the sliding doors.

Charlie sat up like a meerkat.

The ding-dong customer alert could be misleading at times. It had a tendency to be temperamental and cruel – raising the hopes of desperate salesman who felt sure this would be the sale they’d been waiting for only to learn it was just the wind. Sam liked to imagine it wasn’t the wind but ghosts who hadn’t yet realised they were actually dead going about their daily business, shopping for furniture, wondering why the sales assistants were ignoring them … He had mentioned this to Charlie who looked at him strangely and told him there was vacuuming to be done. Sam was always vacuuming – he felt more like a cleaner than a sales assistant.

The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong and alert as the young couple stood, confused and unsure, in the entrance to the store. Charlie fixed his tie, popped a mint in his mouth and grabbed a clipboard. “Nothing in it but it makes you look important. Customers respond to that sort of thing. It is all part of my technique,” Charlie had told him on his first day.

Charlie stood up and tucked his shirt in; his ever-increasing beer-belly clearly took offence to the constraints of business wear. His sizeable belly constantly pulled his shirt away from his pants, burst belt buckles, popped buttons. He blamed manufacturing, the drycleaner, his wife but never the beer, fried food and copious amounts of cream and jam donuts that filled his morning tea ritual. Sam would push out his belly at home and warn her that he too could look like that one day. She laughed that laugh and told him she would love him no matter how fat he got and added it was only a temporary job anyway, he wouldn’t be there forever. He didn’t tell her but he had noticed his pants were getting tighter and his face a little rounder – he quietly did fifty sit ups every night when he thought she had drifted off to sleep.

Charlie took up his suit jacket from the back of his chair and slowly put it on. Sam quite enjoyed watching Charlie’s pre-sale routine. “You don’t want to appear too eager,” had been another pearl of wisdom Charlie had kindly shared on Sam’s first day. Unfortunately customers were becoming an endangered species at Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium and the mantra you-don’t-want-to-appear-too-eager often meant losing customers before eye contact could be made. Sam blamed the fluorescent lights; Charlie blamed the economy, the competition, himself.

The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong – happy that it had the opportunity to announce real customers rather than those pesky ghosts who persisted in shopping for furniture despite the fact they were dead. The young couple scanned the store from the comfort of the welcome mat (Charlie said customers respond to that sort of thing, it made the store welcoming because it said as much on the mat) and then whispered quietly to each other. It looked as if they were plotting their getaway.

“I’ve got to grab them. Just – just …” he flapped his arms uselessly as he trotted over to the couple, all minty-fresh, clipboarded and tucked-in.

Sam knew what the flapping arms meant: Stay away from the customers. He’d seen those flapping arms on numerous occasions, predominately in his first month of employment when he was forced to wear the condescending ‘in-training’ badge and laugh uproariously whenever a customer attempted witty repartee about his ‘name badge’.

“Where’s that from?” they’d ask with a smirk.

“Excuse me?” he would feign confusion.

“Your name,” they’d point to the badge to emphasis the hilarity of the joke, “In Training.”

They’d always put on some dreadfully insulting accent – French or German or something – Monsieur Entrainin, Herr Intraining. Then he would laugh and they would beam at their cleverness and continue to “just browse” and leave with a “see ya Mr Training” but no sofa or coffee table or five dollar throw cushion which was an absolute steal but no thanks not today … He hated customers. He had told her he was not cut out for customer service and she just laughed that laughed and told him it was only temporary.

He watched Charlie convince the couple to extract themselves from the welcome mat and take a wander around the store. Charlie would be their guide. Their friend. Their assistant. “Never call yourself a sales assistant,” he had told him, “it puts people off.”

The couple looked as dazed and confused as the moth who continued to knock himself against the light fitting. Sam wondered whether they too had simply been drawn in by the fluorescent lights.

He remembered visits to stores like this. He remembered feeling overwhelmed, wondering why they needed to buy a new sofa at all when the one he had picked up from roadside collection was quite adequate and a perfect example of lowering one’s carbon footprint and recycling and affirmative action for the environment because, after all, she was the so-called environmentalist and how could she buy into that Western wastefulness, that Capitalist greed … He sighed. Why could he only remember the fights?

Sam watched as the couple contemplated the queen-sized mattress. They looked like oversized dolls, lying shoulder to shoulder, shoes on, arms by their sides, stiff and disinterested as Charlie pointed out the miracles of the foam, the springs, the stitching. Sam watched as the woman took her partner’s hand. Sam watched as the man gently brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. Sam watched as she cupped his face. Sam watched as Charlie, in discomfort and politeness, referred to the clipboard and cleared his throat. Sam watched the tender scene unfold whilst the moth thumped against the fluorescent lights that hummed overhead. Sam watched as the woman told the man they were being watched. Sam watched as the woman pointed him out.

“What are you looking at?” the young man shouted from the mattress.

Sam remembered how she lay like that; she had looked like a tiny, porcelain doll upon the mattress, arms by her side, stiff and disinterested. He hadn’t expected it, her, to look so unnatural. On their backs, shoulder to shoulder, arms by her side he had picked up one of her delicate hands and kissed it, he had cupped her face in his hands, he had called her name, he had stroked her hair, he had called the nurse, he had said goodbye. He had known it was coming even though she had insisted, every step of the way, that it was only temporary – the hair-loss and the injections and the vomit and waiting rooms …

“Hey! Retard! What’s your problem?”

Sam didn’t know where else to go so he had come to work; his temporary job.

The young man stormed towards Sam. The young woman sneered. Charlie flapped his arms uselessly. Sam continued to watch and blink and breathe and listen to the dull thump of the hapless moth.

“He’s still going for it. What a determined little guy,” he said to no one in particular.

Unfortunately there was someone in particular who assumed Sam was speaking to him.

The man moved in close to Sam, his warm breath smelling like fast food and sugary energy drinks. Sam watched the man’s lips that had, moments earlier, kissed the young woman’s hand suddenly curl and contort into a barrage of insult. The young woman appeared at her partner’s shoulder and pulled him back.  Sam watched the woman’s hand that, moments earlier, cupped the young man’s face suddenly twist into a finger sign.

The ding-dong customer alert sounded and they were gone.

Charlie stood on the welcome mat, flapping his arms uselessly in time with sound of the ding-dong. “Jesus Christ. Sam. Jesus –” Charlie put the clipboard back in the drawer, returned his suit jacket to the back of his chair, untucked his shirt and exhaled for what seemed an eternity.

“I know, I know. I’ll …” He considered going back to the house. Usually as he pulled into the Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium parking lot all he could think about was turning the car around and heading back home.

The moth fluttered and faltered around the light above him.

Sam’s job usually included spraying the moths with fly spray or inducing a fatal blow with the rolled up newspaper. Not today. Charlie watched as Sam stood on the desk, reached up to the light and gently cupped the moth in his hands. He watched as Sam slowly made his way across the store with the moth cradled in the cage of his hands. He heard the ding-dong customer alert as Sam tenderly released the moth into the parking lot.

Sam stood, a lone figure on a welcome mat, and watched the moth flutter and fly until he could see it no more.

“Come and have a donut,” Charlie called.

Sam wiped his feet on the mat and returned to his temporary job.

 

*****

Making myself keep up with this blog with the help of The Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dialogue 

What I wrote or; getting out of the office

I had to get out of the office and away from the desk. My head hurt. And my soul. Dramatic? Maybe. But I’m sure that was where most of the pain was coming from. I just wanted to get a little bit of this sunshine everyone (everyone who didn’t have to make revenue spreadsheets and rewrite copy for incompetent people who were asked to write their own copy but just couldn’t seem to do it, probably because they were enjoying the sunshine) was talking about.

I finally make it out outside.

I find the only table in the sunshine. It’s covered in bird shit. Covered. I wonder if the bird had some kind intolerance thing. Do birds get IBS? That would be terrifying. Anyway, the table delightfully decorated with bird poo is the only table in the sunshine and I have forgotten my cardigan. So I ignore the white and brown flakes and mounds of god-knows-what-these-birds-have-been-eating and sit down to write.

The smokers are out in force. The work-place hierarchy still firmly intact as the power-suits of the heads / managers of this and that smoke in prime position on the manicured lawn whilst  the cheap-suits of the security guards smoke in the dirt and wood-chips and litter that fills the sad flower-beds.

Once the power-suits crush their cigarettes into the lawn and rush off for some important meeting with some important client, the security guards take their places.

The short security guard has issues with his lighter and speaks in series of questions; “Oh, really?” “Fair enough?” “Two extra hours today makes it a long shift?” “I bloody hate Vodafone?” “I need a new lighter?”

I wonder if he ever got the answers he wants. His fellow security guard seems unlikely to argue with him. He looks like a very unassuming man and wears square glasses. I wonder what made him choose

a) to be a security guard, and

b) square glasses

I’m not brave enough to ask him. Besides, his colleague has more than enough questions for him.

“I’m loving this sunshine?”

Their voices and cigarette smoke drift over me.

Sometimes I wish I was a smoker. Without the cancer and wrinkles and yellow teeth and bad skin and addiction and harm to unborn babies and gangrene and all that stuff … But … Still … There is still something immaturely romantic and ridiculously ‘cool’ about the cigarette. Like Leonardo DiCaprio playing Romeo in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet.  Like  Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like Rita Hayward or Lana Turner or Ava Gardner or …. OK, who am I kidding here? Maybe it is because it gives you something to do with your hands. Or an excuse to have a bit of breather, outside on your own for a moment, during a full-on dinner-party or family gathering or something without looking totally rude. A breather? With a cigarette? Who am I fooling? It smells disgusting. I know it. I want no part in it. I am that person who gives you a filthy look as I rush past you on the street to avoid the killer passive smoke of your disgusting habit. I am that person who coughs loudly when you light up too close to me in the beer garden. I am that person who feels like they deserve some sort of medal, or at that the very least an impromptu performance by a mariachi band,  when they tell the doctor – “No, I don’t smoke” … But still. Some days …

Maybe it is because I feel like an idiot sitting at a table covered in bird excrement writing away whilst surrounded by smokers. Maybe I am feeling a bit of peer-pressure.

The sun moves and suddenly I am sitting at a table covered in the faecal matter from a flock of birds but minus the appeal of sunshine  … or a cardigan. I try to ignore all of those facts – the lack of sunshine, the lack of a cardigan, the abundance of bird poop – and focus on the positives: I am outside, I am away from the desk, I don’t smoke, I am not a security guard.

The sunshine gets locked behind the clouds and the wind picks up. A dry and miserable looking leaf snuggles up to my foot. I try to shake it off but it doesn’t want to leave me – clinging to my boot like the sooky two-year old who cannot be without its mother and , before they know it (where does the time go), he is twenty-five years old and still living at home and playing on his X-Box whilst his mother still does his cooking and washing and ironing and even though she hints loudly that he should find a place of his own, they all know he won’t be going anywhere because he’s got it too good. Like this leaf. But enough is enough. It is time for it to stop being so clingy and find its own way in the world. I get tough.

The security guards notice.

I wonder if they are out here to protect the leaves.

Or find new recruits for the security guard team.

I was pretty tough.

Or maybe I was too tough and now I am a ‘person of interest’.

I make sure they can see my lanyard and staff pass thing – just so they know I am on their side, nothing to worry about here. Just a leaf. Just a leaf.

Another three security guards join Shorty and Square-glasses. They are all smoking. I wonder

a) what is the collective noun for security guards?

b) do all security guards smoke?

c) have I done something wrong?

Shorty’s questions are getting louder – I think he is showing off for the other, taller security guards. He stands like a politician and gestures a lot.

The smoke continues to drift over me but the sunshine never does come back. I wish for my cardigan and a clean table but neither come – the end of my mini-break does though. I remember in grade 1 a kid asking the teacher why five-minutes could feel so long when we were waiting for home-time but feel so short when we were doing something fun. Like French Cricket. Our class loved French Cricket. She said it was exactly the same amount of time. I don’t think she understood the question.

And so I head back to the world of spread-sheets and data-bases and invoices and wait for home-time …

 

 

Another List; or, ways to counteract feelings of creative stagnation when faced with a regular job that sucks all your time and energy [working title]

 

The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.

Pablo Picasso

I knew this would happen.

I was meant to be working a decent, part-time (i.e. maximum three-day-a-week) job which would give me time to focus upon writing, writing, writing for the other two days plus weekends when I could (i.e. so I don’t become a friendless hermit or cat-lady, minus the cats but with the isolated-craziness thing going on – I’m not allowed pets in my apartment but that’s another story, another blog, another day) …

This is not quite happening.

My three days often magically turned into five.  Just like that!

BAM!

Now I am signed up for four days a week. Sometimes five. Then I can negotiate a day-in-lieu. So maybe some weeks I can work three. But the usual will be four. Unless there is a show on or an important meeting. Then it is definitely five. But I’m only paid for four. But a day off can be negotiated so long as it isn’t for a day off when there is a show on or an important meeting. But most days. They’re flexible. To a point.

Confused? Me too.

But …

I thought I would manage.

One of my colleagues told me it wouldn’t work – “It’s a creative process,” he said. “You need time.”

Yes. That would be nice but I’m not Jane frickin Austen (apologies to Ms Austen – I know you didn’t have a middle name and probably would not appreciate being given that one in particular)  – I don’t have the luxury of time or a handsome trust account.

I have to Pay Rent / Buy food / Live (not necessarily in that order).

So, whilst I have been outwardly dismissing my colleague’s comments as completely and utterly wrong, inwardly I am thinking he might be right. There is a lot of pressure to get writing done when you only have limited time in which to do it: pressure trumps creativity.

But …

Maybe the reverse is true also; you make more of your time when you have less of it.

Or, in my case, you just freak out at the pressure of getting something done today and the pressure manifests into self-doubt and anxiety and youtube and Not Getting Anything Done.

So, here is my “list of ways to counteract feelings of creative stagnation when faced with a regular job that sucks all your time and energy” [working title]

  • Carry a pen and a pad of paper EVERYWHERE (um, okay, maybe not everywhere – everywhere, but you know, within reason) and write whenever anything is sparked.
  • Write something everyday. Be that mysterious person in the cafeteria at work who is scribbling away in their notebook (so long as you do look mysterious and interesting rather than creepy and homicidal).  Write any length / style / form; just do it everyday. Does a shopping list count? Hell yeah. Here’s my list for today:
Lime
Bananas
Tomatoes
Pineapple

(Riveting stuff there, I know … But one day it could be gold, you never know what I have to pick up from the store – stay tuned!)

  • Keep blogging
  • READ – READ – READ – never stop reading!
  • You don’t have to finish but you have to at least make a start …
  • Prove your smart-arse colleague WRONG

The Woman who asked Why or: How I l Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Critic

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

Aristotle

In my current day-job I work with really lovely people who always thank me for my work or say how great my Excel spreadsheets are or how happy they are with my contribution to the team or present me with two cinema tickets as a reward for all my efforts (yes, this actually happened. I saw Gatsby. That’s another story). Our department is not always this disneyfied-wonderland of positivity and appreciation, however I have never been nor felt criticized for my work.

It’s weird.

Because the work that I do that doesn’t-pay-the-bills-as-frequently-as-this-current-admin-job, as an actor and writer, is full of criticism. In fact, criticism and the Arts really go hand-in-hand; it’s part of the deal. Mum would always tell me I would need to “grow a thicker skin” if I wanted to be an actor … That sounded particularly terrifying and awful, especially to the fifteen year-old me who was sobbing into her pillow because she didn’t get the part in some god-awful amateur theatre production of Les liaisons dangereuses.

Actors, writers, theatre-makers, artists, designers, film-makers, creatives … We are all subject to criticism in our chosen fields. As an actor, simply not getting the gig can be taken as a criticism; that director thought she was better / prettier / thinner / more talented than me

To be honest, I am confident there are plenty of careers out there that must deal with fierce criticism everyday but there is something different about the criticism you receive for your creative work. Maybe because a little bit (or sometimes a lot) of yourself goes into creative work. Maybe because it is so exposing. Maybe because inside most people there is that creative urge, that sense that they too could have been doing something creative if only they’d had the break / money / parental support / reality television programs like The Voice, so that makes them some sort of expert who can dish-out criticism. Maybe because there really aren’t any “experts”. Maybe because the arts are so damn subjective (if you’re a crap doctor, you’re a crap doctor – there’s no question about it. Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, divides audiences).

There is also something different about the very public way in which that criticism is often given – reviews, particularly on the internet, are there for the world to see if they ever wanted to.

The growing of a thicker skin has been a very, very long process for me.

I once took part in a playwriting course – just a little bi-monthly meeting of wannabe playwrights, facilitated by one actual playwright. You would read your work aloud and get feedback. It was always a good day but never all that challenging. I was the youngest there and the only participant not attempting to write some sort of drawing-room drama. Needless to say the play I was working on, Dropped, was a little different from what the others found aesthetically pleasing.

After reading a section of my play (a section in which there is a bit of repetitive swearing but all in the appropriate context … of course) one of my fellow class-mates got quite irate:

“Why?” she asked.
“Why?” I didn’t know what she was really asking me here.
“Why?” she repeated.
“Why what?” I needed more information.
“Why?”
I just looked at her.
After a pause she continued, “I just don’t know why … I don’t understand. Why? Why these words? Why am I hearing this? Why?”

I didn’t have an answer for her.

That was criticism.

That was the first time the class had really challenged me.

And that was the moment I realised; as much as I hated it I also needed it – criticism.

It made me stop and think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. It also made me want to punch her in the face, but once I worked through that (no punches were thrown) I could actually start to look at my work objectively … Well, as objectively as you can.

Of course I won’t always like it, or agree with it, but I think I realised in that moment that it is a necessity for creative practice. Not a spiteful review or a mean-spirited comment but criticism that makes you think, question and challenge your work. Unfortunately there isn’t much of that around …

Learning to listen to criticism in whichever form it takes, to pick out the useful bits and brush off the crap, is difficult but you get to practice it a lot when you work in the arts.

It’s the only way I can keep turning up to castings. And not get the role.

It’s the only way I can keep writing. And not get the grant / commission / award.

In order to simply survive this crazy “industry” it is so very important separate the work from the person – to not look at a bad review or the fact you didn’t get a role as a personal attack … Keep it separate. Take from it what you can and make a choice: act on it or let it go. Otherwise, well, we would all go a little madder than we already are. Otherwise we would all just give up.

That woman with her incessant “whys” really did help me a hell of a lot.

(And Dropped is going to be performed soon complete with the aforementioned section in which there is a bit of repetitive swearing but all in the appropriate context … of course)

Missing Grandad (or, why I’ve not written in awhile)

Katy and Grandad

circa 1982

 

How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard 

A. A Milne

I have been away from this blog for a little while because my Grandad passed away. It was only two months and two days since my Nanna died when we got the news.

I am devastated.

There are times I feel really selfish for grieving because I know I was so very blessed to have grandparents throughout all my childhood and a good part of supposed-adulthood.

Anyway, I haven’t felt like doing much of anything but I am slowly getting things back on track. Like this blog.

I remember calling my Grandad for a chat one day, over a year ago now. I remember how his voice lifted when he heard me on the other end of the phone.

“I was just thinking about you Kate,” he said.

He went on to tell me he was standing at the kitchen sink, drying the dishes (as he did after every lunch), looking out the window and thinking about how proud he was of me for moving to Melbourne and following my dreams.

That was my Grandad.

He was a soppy thing.

He was my favourite person in the world.

And he is why I have to jump back right back into life and never stop chasing those dreams.