Last night – or, no, the night before that it must have been – yes, that was definitely the night I became a writer.
It wasn’t the first time this sort of thing had happened to me. It happened when I first saw my name in print – online – and then again, the first time I saw my name in print, in paper, in a publication in my hand, mere minutes later. I took photos on my phone and texted them to my mother and I squealed excitedly and incoherently at my boyfriend, who was very confused, thinking that the first-time-in-print moment had already passed.
It happened the first time I filled a notebook simply with ‘ideas’, things to come back to later, and knew for the first time that they were all things I actually would come back for. It happened the first time I got picked to participate in a writing workshop at school with a famous local author. It happened when my high school English teacher, in our year ten farewell assembly, announced my name and said, ‘We’re all looking forward to reading your novel someday.’
It happened the first time I went to a party, and someone asked me what I did and I couldn’t say student anymore, so I said writer. It happened the first time I went to a party and someone asked me what I did and I said writer and they didn’t ask me how I ever expected to make any money from that, but just said that was cool.
It happened the first time I saw Harriet the Spy, then again the first time I read Harriet the Spy, and then countless times over and over again every time I read the battered paperback that, now falling apart in my eleven-year-old hands, had been brand new when I bought it. It happened when I was two years old and dictated a story I’d ‘dreamed’ to my mother, insisting she mark all her corrections with square brackets.
On a rainy Wednesday night in the city centre, standing outside Smiths, it happened again, when I got paid – for the first time – for something that I wrote.
Scissors Paper Pen are a Canberra zine, literary salon, arts blog, young-writery network, and now the hosts of a monthly story-telling evening called Something Else. I was invited to write and read something at the inaugural event on Wednesday night.
When they first asked me to do it I had to swallow the fiery ball of fear that had suddenly roared into life in my throat before I could answer. I had been cherry-picking my uni courses to avoid in-class presentations since first year. I had a long and illustrious history of creative excuses used to get out of them before that. But somehow, when it came to writing, the argument that I would be afraid and I didn’t want to wasn’t strong enough anymore. The little person who sleeps (most of the time, anyway) curled up in the bottom of my ear, woke up with a snort and said, ‘Hey, this is just part of being a writer. Do it.’ I said yes before I could even really think about it.
The theme we were given was ‘Wires Crossed’, and the story I read was about an agony that only slow-blooming teenage girls can understand: being the last girl in my year level to develop breasts. As any fool could have predicted I spent the day of the reading panicking – I think my heart started palpitating at one in the afternoon – and re-writing my entire piece.
I put on my favourite swirly blue dress – for luck – and my giant stompy knee-high Docs, and I headed out into the rain.*
When I got to Smiths I drank two glasses of water in a very short space of time. I ran around and nervously greeted friends and acquaintances. Someone asked me what my story was about and when I told them they said, ‘Oh, I get it, wires crossed, underwires,‘ and I thought oh thank god it does relate to the theme. I was the second person to read and to my immense relief and gratitude everybody laughed, and they laughed when I’d hoped they would. I’ve never been so delighted to be in a room full of people laughing at me and my teenage pain.
After the event ended and the tension did it’s proverbial melty thing and I stepped out onto the blissfully cool street – it was still raining softly – I finally had enough space in my head to think this is why I do this and this is what I want to do. I’m not doing it for my modest appearance fee** or for the compliments afterwards – though neither of these things hurt. The thing I’ve known I wanted to do since I was eleven years old, and if I’d had enough sense would have suspected long before, is not just something I can do, but something I can enjoy. It is something I can imagine myself doing forever, if fickle circumstance will allow me. I don’t want to get a ‘real job’, I want to do this.
It might be hard to get the words going, some days; it might be incredibly nerve-wracking; it might be a dying art, a dead industry, and horrendously underpaid. But it will never be unrewarding. And I don’t think it’s too trite to say that that night, skipping through the rain with my ten dollars in one hand, my other half holding on to the other, I found exactly what it is that makes me happy.
* There’s something about me, milestones, and rain. The first gig I ever went to that I had to review, which turned out to be the first piece that I ever got published, took place in a downpour too.
** Ten bucks, which I’m totally framing by the way.