Sunday, 12 July 2009


I feel very unsettled recently, and keep having Deep Thoughts about Life, the Universe and Everything. You know - those sort of thoughts... quick run to the hills! It all began with an innocent idea to look at old school photographs…

If I had a super-hero name, it would be The Archivist. I keep a large collection of various ephemera from my schooldays – including cassette tapes that I used to record the sounds from a typical school day. Yes, I was a little strange. The idea behind it was an urgency that nothing would last, and that one day all this would be just a memory. This was no doubt prompted by the unexpected death of my father when I was 12 – mortality hit, and my response was to keep everything I could get my hands on – no matter how small, I carefully treasured it. None of it has any value except to me – unless in the future a museum would like to know what a day in the life of a comprehensive school sounded like in the late eighties. Loud, mostly – ‘norf landen’ gobby teenagers trading insults and frenzied laughter between lessons so dull you can practically hear the boredom.

The other reason I kept everything, fuelled by the feeling that nothing would last, was because I wanted to be able to remember what it was like to be a teenager if I was old by the time I became a writer. I had the idea I would grow up and write for teenagers (as when I was a teenager all my stories were for my contemporaries) and I didn’t want to forget how it felt. I kept a lot of diaries around this time as well – gut-achingly awful things to re-read, but perfect for wanting to remember how awkward life was back then. Perfect in fact for research, as long as I try and pretend that the hopeful voice coming from the diaries wasn’t mine.

The unsettling part of this post, apart from the fact looking back can always be a double-edged sword – is that I started to wonder what my contemporaries back then would think of me now. I am still in my childhood home where some might remember knocking for me, outwardly nothing has changed. I am like some weird pickled version of Miss Havisham. What would I think of them – if they were still in the same place as back then? My first thought might be ‘what on earth happened to you?’ like the theme song to the TV show ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads’ - one of those shows that trade on nostalgia and the whiff of regret, sentiments sometimes too close for comfort.

Hey what happened to you?
Whatever happened to me?
What became of the people?
We used to be
Tomorrow's almost over,
Today went by so fast,
The only thing to look forward to is the past.

I tried to analyse it (as that always makes things better, right?) and I guess my biggest fear is that they would all think I am a loser. Which means, as I don’t really care what faces in photographs think, is that ultimately *I* think I am a loser. And if that is what underpins everything, then it is really hard to change. I try so many tactics to not feel this way – I do try to trust that everything I do is for a reason and one day it will all work out swimmingly, but this is a whispy confidence that is hard to hold.

I think I put too much pressure on my story. I want it to save me… and I think I need to work out how to save myself first. I want the book to sell so it can take me away from all this – I want to buy a little place of my own, I want to justify my life, and prove that if you keep trying enough you will succeed. But these shouldn’t be the reasons – the reason should just be I have a story to tell. That was the original thought – and on the way it has instead become my saviour that will rescue me. I think that is what is piling on pressure and why I am finding editing so hard. I need to step back somehow, and convince myself that it is all alright, and just telling a story is a fine thing to do.

So feeling like this, it probably didn’t help that I found 28 consecutive episodes of Home & Away from 1989 on youtube. I used to love that show back then, as when everything else around me seemed insane and confusing, it (and Neighbours, and Grange Hill) was a constant reassuring presence. So I have been watching shows last seen when I was 14 (helping to add to the weirdness) and it was strange and somewhat lovely to revisit them again. Apart from finding out the actress that played (and still plays) little Sally Fletcher is now 30 years old. Google has a lot to answer for, sometimes.


Rose said...

if it's any consolation I sometimes feel like writing might rescue me too.

I think it might be the nature of anything creative that you want it to be good enough to become widely read and last and to mean something- because the reason you start doing it is because you want to share the story/ song/ feeling. it's not just arrogance or wanting people to think ooh didn't she do well, it's part of why you're writing. Although it is also wanting to be admired by peers!

I always think of the story of the tortoise and the hare when I'm feeling bad that I don't have 2 houses and 2 platinum albums or whatever.

musicobsessive said...

I agree with Rose - we all feel like that sometimes. I have spent over 30 years doing a job that I didn't really enjoy and thought that writing would lift me out of a rut. Well, it did and it didn't. I'm not a successful writer but it did save my sanity to produce a book and write my blog.

Now that I am unemployed, I wonder what, exactly, I have achieved in my life. I am struggling to create a CV that has any sort of skill base or qualifications yet I've been working since I was 21!

Surely at my time of life (ie old) I should've achieved something? Yet I don't feel it. Perhaps this is the writers' curse?

Rachel Fenton said...

Diagnosis: looks to me like you're suffering from a severe case of the pre-query/submission nerves!

Remedy: Take a sip of confidence, a few bites of self belief, wrap yourself up in a compliment, and you'll be as right as nine pins in no time; alright then, as famous and successful as Margaret Atwood!

BTW found you on catofimpossible's blog.

Jayne said...

Ah thank you all! I guess everyone gets into these ruts, it is so nice when people come along and lift you out.

Rose, that does help - knowing other people feel the same. And maybe it does 'rescue' us in small ways without even knowing it - things like our blogs, places we can share anxieties and pleasures. And I also think of the tortoise and the hare! Lots of value in being the tortoise.

Hi Martin, I guess it depends how we measure achievements and the fact people are so hard on themselves. Such as me - I will only think I have achieved something if I get a book published - regardless of having features in magazines, or my own column in a local newspaper. For some reason I dismiss these very good achievements and instead can only focus on a distant mountain top that says 'I will only be a real writer when I have a book on the shelf'. Why oh why oh why I think that is anyone's guess. Another writer's curse!

Hello Rachel, and welcome! I love your diagnosis and your remedy - especially the marvellous remedy! I think I'm also suffering from Editing Elbow.

And thanks for letting me know how you found me! Catofimpossiblecolour's blog is lovely - her posts are a pleasure to read, and I am always finding new people to read through her links - as soon as I have some time I must update my own!