And this is about the point in the conversation where I start to mumble and look at the floor, shuffling my feet awkwardly…
I dread the question “So what do you do?” at parties, or indeed any social occasion. A few years ago, I could simply say “I’m a law student” and then have an interesting conversation about the law, my ambitions etc. As I got older though, I found people began to roll their eyes at that answer, as if they were saying “Are you still dossing about? Get a real job you scoundrel.” (In my imagination, everyone giving me abuse is very, very posh…) All of a sudden, what I did became something to judge my worth as a person on, and still being a student in my mid-twenties just wasn’t cutting it.
Then, it got worse. You see, I did a lot of legal secretarial work whilst at law school. It was the best paying work that a law student could find, and one of the few jobs a student could get during the summer that was vaguely relevant to the degree. So when I moved to London, I took on legal secretarial work part-time to fund my degree. When I abandoned the degree (note to self – inform institution of this fact sometime…) I went full-time in order to keep a roof over my head and food on the table.
The question “what do you do” became acutely embarrassing. Not because there is anything wrong with being a legal secretary, far from it. But a male legal secretary. Well, there must be something wrong with you. Shameful, but I let society’s conceptions affect my self-worth, to the extent where I was ashamed of my job. Even when it was dressed up in fancy terms to obfuscate what I was being paid to do, eventually the conversation would boil down to “Oh. You’re a typist.” *turns back, finds someone more interesting to talk to*
So what do I do now? I’m straddling two job positions at the moment, part Document Production Specialist, part Legal Executive Assistant, but the reaction is the same. And what of what I want to do?
Because it sounds so, I don’t know, unusual perhaps, I get embarrased to say that I want to be a writer? Why? Why do I get that way? Is it shame about being a writer? Is it fear that people will ask me to give them an example of something I’ve written? Or ask about what I’m working on?
Probably the latter. I realised that even in the company of other writers, I was nervous and embarrassed about explaining what the plot of my work was. Because it wasn’t groundbreaking, it wasn’t deeply, deeply intellectual. It wasn’t War and Peace.
“Yeah, so there’s this priest, right, and he used to be in the military, and he’s in a team with a demon and an angel. Did I tell you about the vampire? No? Well, see, the Vatican runs this team of superheroes…”
At this stage, I tend to get really, really self-conscious. And when I get self-conscious about something, or myself, my natural reaction is to denigrate it, then lose all confidence.
So it was a really, really pleasant surprise to find out how well received the writing sample was last Friday at the writing group. More so than the last piece I submitted, from a more serious book that I always considered to be more “real” writing than this story. But it grabbed attention more, it was more compelling, and people just liked it more.
So yeah, my strange little story about superpowered religious types investigating strange events looks to be the pony to back at the moment. Profuse apologies to my London characters, but your story may have to wait. I’ll get back to you someday no doubt. But for now, it looks like the pulp fantasy story is beating you.
The problem with trying to write is the inherent self-doubt you have, the fear that whatever emotion you are feeling, you will never be able to express eloquently.
And I suppose this is a feeling that everyone encounters at some point in their lives. When you try to tell someone that you love them. When you have to make an appeal to someone to change their ways, or to agree to side with you. When you have to speak in memory of somebody. We all feel unequal at times to expressing what we feel inside – that somehow, we do not have sufficient skill with language to help people to feel what we feel, see what we see.
It is a sensation people will encounter only rarely. But if you write, it’s a daily problem. I can see in my mind’s eye that this character’s heart is breaking – but how the hell do I get that point of view across? Or I can imagine a beautiful sunset over the ocean, but can I describe it to others so they can see it as vividly as I can?
But you have to keep plugging away at the words, and try your best. At these times I get especially jealous of lyricists. In three, maybe four minutes of a song, they can evoke a range of emotions, memories and visions that leave me breathless. Strip away the music, and the lyrics are still poignant, funny, heartbreaking.
There are a few songs like that running through my playlists, songs whose lyrics get under my skin, touch my heart, and which make me marvel at how well the sentiment is caught by the lyric.
And I can only hope that someday I’ll have that effect on someone with my words.