The short biographies that writers attach to stories, and by extension themselves, have a tendency to be rather uniform: “Writer A lives in City B, and attended University C. They have been published in prestigious journals D, E and F and won Prize G. Their work explores the themes of H and I.”
So, I’ll break the mould a little here. Instead, I’ll tell you why I write. I first found out that I liked writing when I wrote a short story called ‘Stinkylocks’ for Miss Stuchberry’s grade four class. It was a tale of a smelly young girl who visits the Bears’ house and stinks everything up: flowers wilting and porridge curdling in her wake (this work explores the themes of femininity and cooties). I don’t remember how it ends, because like Stinkylocks’ armpits, my memory is also appalling. The Bears come home and give her a bath, I guess. What I do remember is Miss Stuchberry’s reaction to the story. She asked me if I wrote it by myself a couple of times. I said yes. She told me that the story made her laugh. Then she told me that she read the story to her boyfriend, and it made him laugh, too. It was a throwaway exchange from her point of view, but it’s funny what sticks in a child’s mind. I suddenly realised that I might have a very minor power which I hadn’t previously thought I possessed: the ability to entertain someone who has no intrinsic emotional investment in allowing me to entertain them.
Fast forward twenty years. I hadn’t written anything much, but oh, I had worked some truly woeful jobs in the meantime: three years in a slaughterhouse, ten years (!) as a stock filler, two awful years in a toxic retail environment where you had to hassle every warm soul who passed through the door into buying crap they didn’t need (the kind of place that hires three times as many staff as they have real jobs to offer, and then lets people go left and right until staff are having tearful confrontations in front of the roster each week over who is the manager’s pet and who has been cut loose with no shifts, a la Lord of the Buys). Stints as a pizza driver and a truck driver, but not together, because that would have been awesome. A couple of unforgettable months selling security systems in-home, still the only job that’s ever made me produce real tears of frustration.
I began to have a recurring dream. In it, I’d be back at high school. It would be May or June, the middle of the school year in Australia, and with a start I’d realise that I had no memory of attending any classes, or even of opening my textbooks. I guess it’s a version of the classic being at school with no pants on dream, because it was the same horrible feeling – when will they notice that I don’t fit in here? I knew there were assignments due and I had no hope of doing them. Then I’d wake, empty and tired. I even tried to write a couple of stories again, but that went nowhere. People think that writing is hard, or at least they do once they’ve tried writing something other than an email or grocery list. It’s even harder when you have no idea of what you’re doing, and can no longer rely on the insouciance of childhood. Everything I tried to write was horrible, horrible, horrible.*
I threw in my job and decided to go back to school to learn how to write. And, I swear to god, the night after I signed up for and was accepted into my first diploma, I had that high school dream again. Only there was a different ending. I was in the classroom, staring at those unopened books with familiar dread, but this time I decided to nut up and see the teacher at the end of class. I told her the position I was in. I told her I had been lazy, but that I wanted to mend what had gone wrong before. “Well,” she said, giving me that tight expression of someone used to handing out too many extra chances, “you have a hell of a lot of work to do. But if you do this and this, and work hard at this, you can fix it.” I woke up straight after, relieved, almost glowing. They talk about symbolism in dreams, but as far as I’m concerned, this was my subconscious giving me a flat-out pat on the back for getting something right for once. And I never did have that dream again.**
So, that’s my bio. I write stories because I have ideas and feel horrible about myself if I don’t do anything with them. I guess what I’m also trying to say is that we should all take a leap of faith occasionally. Take some time to listen to the story we are trying to tell ourselves. At least some of the time, that story of ours is going to be right.
* “Ahaha, but nothing has changed!” I hear you cry.
** Actually, this is a bit of a furphy. I do still have the dream, mostly when I’ve taken some time off writing, but because I am a teacher now, the dream is about my teaching rounds and not having a lesson plan ready for a class which is about to start.