It’s unnerving what a crisis of confidence can do to a writer, especially someone in the same position as I am, ie, a writer just starting out on their literary path. Yesterday was particularly bad for me in this regard – I kept seeing writers of some standing lauding and promoting their latest acceptances in some year’s best anthology due to be published later this year. I had woken up in a foul mood, for a reason that’s completely unfathomable, and I guess seeing these statuses only succeeded in plunging me deeper into the funk. BUT, before going any further, I will state that a) I am truly thrilled that these guys are getting their material out there and being recognised for what they create, and offer my heartiest congratulations to one and all: and b) I’ve come to suspect that my unwanted reaction goes beyond just the superficial varnish of wannabe jealousy that it initially appears to be.
Let me put this all into perspective – two weeks ago, my wife, Liz, underwent a major operation (full abdominal hysterectomy) which she should have had at least a year ago, but kept putting off due to work commitments. Finally, about a month ago, she was told very firmly that she HAD to have the operation, as her condition would only get worse over time and could lead to problems in the future. So, a date was set, her employers were informed and everything seemed okay. The first blushings of relief could be seen on the horizon.
Then, the day before Liz was due to go in to hospital, her departmental director told her, out of the blue and against all predictions (and not a few promises), that her contract would not be renewed. Let’s just say I was not best pleased (translation: I wanted to go there in person and slug the f****er). It was a) the sheer level of deceit inherent in the whole enterprise: regularly promising her a permanent job and then just snatching it all away at the last moment, without even a whisper of an apology: and b) the timing of the announcement. Insensitivity doesn’t even begin to adequately describe what he did.
Then there was the operation itself: despite all the advances in medical practise and surgery, there’s never a guarantee that something untoward won’t happen while someone’s under anaesthetic. As it turned out, Liz came through it fine, but we were informed later that the operation itself was far more complicated than first envisaged. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that a procedure that normally takes an hour ended up taking two hours. Fortunately, Liz is a sturdy woman, and she came home after four days and has continued to recuperate remarkably well under my care and attention.
People, including myself, tend to forget, however, that it’s not only the patient who needs to recover: it’s also those closest to them as well. It was only a week after the operation that I realised the sheer amount of pressure that had built up in me in the months (year?) prior to it. It also appears I am a bit of a natural worrier (inheriting it, in quite some measure, from my mother – she was an acknowledged expert in worrying) and that subconsciously it had been silently building up steam. Certainly with the initial realisation, things appeared to become much easier to cope with and there was a lightness in my step that had been missing for some time. The pressure was off – I could get on with things. Yesterday, however, showed me that there are some residual issues that still need working out.
My own turn of mind and dourness doesn’t help in these situations. I am forever looking at things from the devil’s point of view, and imagining the worst possible scenario. A part of that is a result of my somewhat repressed upbringing, but it’s been exacerbated by the stroke I suffered just over thirteen years ago – since then, depression has been a constant companion, forcing me to learn to find ways of dissipating its worst effects. A result of a change in the chemistry of the brain, or so I am told. Taking up writing has certainly helped enormously and it’s an exercise I enjoy immensely – but if I am honest, there’s a less welcome side to it – the drive to want to be seen to be successful (a side-effect of that repressed upbringing alluded to), which gets in the way of it all.
So, in other words, if you add all that up, what you get is something quite substantial, which is bound to have some kind of an effect. That concatenation of cause and effect came to a head yesterday, precipitated in part by the most innocent of things: a simple series of Facebook statuses. Given, also, that I have read some of these quality author’s work in my capacity as a reviewer, it just lead me to think: “Why am I even bothering here? I’ll never be that good.”. Ergo: an even fouler mood ensued. Of course, in the cold light of morning, everything has gracefully slotted into a sense of much welcome perspective – I am sure, nay, positive, that similar crises afflicted these same writers early on in their careers.
It has recently dawned on me that writing isn’t solely about that: it’s about developing a literary voice of my own, and a way of identifying my work as coming from me. Doubt will, of course, accompany me, as it inevitably does with any writer (or artist) at this stage on the path. I KNOW that I can string words together fluently and eloquently, can create atmosphere and a sense of place, and also have some good ideas – all I need are the requisite skills, which can only be acquired through constantly writing and practising (as well as taking advice from other writers and editors…).
Inevitably, though, what puts a lot of people off is the thought of the hard slog, the years of perfecting and honing a craft: luckily I have both patience and persistence, tempered with the knowledge that anything worth doing is worth taking taking the time to do properly. What I don’t want, though, is the less salubrious aspect of the stroke and its aftermath to interfere with my enjoyment. It’s a distinct struggle sometimes, and not a little annoying – whilst I hate to blame anything as abstract as something like a thrombo-embolic infarct I suffered years ago, I also recognise that ultimately nothing happens without consequences. Those consequences sometimes happen to be outside of my awareness – this is not an excuse, it’s just how things are, and I am just as pissed off with them as anyone can be.
So, I just need to get around myself and my idiosyncrasies- I suppose that’s what I am attempting to verbalise here. Attempting to find a solid way of utilising all these contradictory emotions and feelings, and putting them to some kind of useful employment. I’m not asking for sympathy: I don’t want pitying or anything – this piece is a way of finally nailing down the negativities that regularly go through my head. Indubitably, though, it’s all part of the grand adventure that I have embarked upon – I don’t need to be a ‘great’ writer to get myself out there: I just need to keep writing, and to keep sending the results out into the world.
The destination isn’t important: it’s what can be seen on the way there….