Monday, July 11, 2016

A bit of my life as a writer.

In my thirties I tried to be a working writer. I was teaching one three hour evening school VCE class a week. I had two children, sixteen months apart who occupied much of my time. Still, I wrote. Journal. Short stories. A novel. Well, best to call it a novella. The novella amounted to 45,000 words. It was about a young woman whom I initially called Meredith but shortened to Mere - to some derision - who had married a young Anglican minister and lived to regret it. Underneath it all, I was writing about my own experience of being a Christian. Writing the book was cathartic and it helped me, at 37, to finally disentangle myself from the hold that Christianity and church had over me. That was extremely liberating and I've never returned to it. I think I'm probably over the bitterness I felt at being trapped in religion for so long. Can't stand going to church services for baptisms and funerals these days. Interestingly, I can still sing or recite all the liturgy. (I can also sing about a million TV show themes and adverts too and recite Shakespeare. It's all about exposure and repetition.)
Stick to the point. The writing. I began a business and sought copywriting opportunities. With the help of a relative in the design business I got perhaps three lucrative projects. I say lucrative because for the few hours involved they paid heaps more money than teaching did.  I enjoyed playing with words to complete the projects but they didn't provide any ongoing job satisfaction, especially the advertising catalogue for a now defunct stationery company. Pfft. Writing a newsletter for a restaurateur was more fun but he went bust and I experienced how hard some people have it regularly trying to get paid for their completed work. He shrugged and told me he simply didn't have the money - $500 - to give me. It was a lot of money back then given I was getting $25 an hour under our agreement. 
With the paucity of copywriting opportunities I mainly wrote résumés, the occasional student essay and job applications responding to key selection criteria. I became quite a job counsellor. The internet hadn't really taken off at that stage. I industriously read the classifieds in The Age, getting some sense of the job market and developed skills in helping people get work. Really. But once they'd secured work I never saw them again. You don't want them coming back because that means you've been unsuccessful. A couple of sad souls kept returning for yet another cover letter. 
My workroom is at the back of our house and looks out onto a paved courtyard. The kids’ tyre swing used to hang from an old fir tree, long since cut down. But it looked nice out there. One young woman, a return client, with a big fleshy stubbly face and woolly hair scraped back into a pony tail, gazed wistfully out there one day. You're so lucky, she said, to have this job. 
Some of my résumé writing experiences weren't pleasant. One woman, who'd seemed perfectly nice at the initial résumé consult turned into psycho-bitch when it came time to pay for the final product upon which she cast unwarranted aspersions. She held it in her left hand and slapped at it with the back of her right as she scorned the way I'd written it. In my ignorance, I'd put a hyphen in the compound word, bookkeeper. It was easily remedied but this instigated her ire. I fixed the problem and printed out a new copy. She claimed she'd have to take the two page document to a better résumé  service to see if they could fix my inferior work. I snatched it back from her. You're not having it, I said. I'd rather rip it up than let you take something unsatisfactory. This made her reconsider and she handed me twenty-five dollars before storming back through my home and out the door. Heart beating in her wake, I realised that she was simply trying to get the document for free. Probably behaved like that all over the place.
I formed a friendship of sorts with an elderly semi-retired businessman. He'd seen my ad in  the local paper. He'd get me to type business letters for him. Suppose I was his clever little secretary. He was a gentleman: tall, white-wavy hair, well groomed, soft checked shirts and business pants but with a sort of horsey country air about him. He'd wait while I typed his mail and we'd talk. He told me the story of his son’s death. His face crumpled and almost broke as he shared his grief. His son had died when a drug-filled condom he'd ingested in a smuggling attempt had burst in his intestine. His son had attended a private Christian college; had been loved and nurtured. This man couldn't understand what had happened. It broke my heart listening to him.
That was the thing about the little job I had. Clients shared their stories with me. Something about my demeanour seems to invite that. However  it wasn't enough and at forty I decided to let it go and get back into secondary teaching. Interestingly, my first teaching position after having my own kids was at the same school that gentleman’s son had attended. I was going to send my own children there, having put their names on a list back in my ‘intense Christian’ phase, but my five months experience there made me get my money back. As an educator, memories of that school still make me shudder.
During my break from teaching I also had three articles published in The Age, and I was paid for them; it was probably one of the biggest thrills of my life, especially when the first appeared. About 800 words long, it was underneath an article by Bettina Arndt and a cartoon illustration accompanied my piece about an experience I'd had, as a newly diagnosed person with diabetes. I'd submitted the article to coincide with Diabetes Week but I'd been occupied with looking after kids and hadn't expected it to be published. I’d had no indication that it would be. I experienced a sort of fifteen minutes of fame: congratulatory phone calls; the school where I taught on a very part-time basis had photocopied my article and pinned it on a notice board. I was astounded that I received so much adulation for this, and two other pieces that were subsequently published. They'd taken little effort to write. The hardest part was having the audacity to think that anyone would want to read what I'd written; having the guts to submit them. 
People wanted to talk about my writing. Teaching, for me, is far more worthy and humanitarian and yet I rarely get accolades for having devoted much of my adult life to it.
I'm glad I've never had to earn a living through writing. I've recently read Ruth Park’s engrossing two part autobiography, A Fence Around the Cuckoo and Fishing in the Styx. She wrote to live and by god she worked hard. (Highly recommend those books.)
I teach and I write. I've written things for which I haven't been paid that have been published in magazines. I've had as much satisfaction from writing these and seeing them published as I have from the paid articles, although there was a certain prestige in appearing in the then revered Age broadsheet newspaper.
Fortuitously, I heard, from an English teacher colleague, about blogging. Blogging seems to satisfy my writing needs. I began my fraudulentteacher blog in 2005 and later began fraudstersmusings. Between them I've had more than 65,000 page views. Not heaps but enough to satisfy me. I gather lots of those page viewers might not actually read what I've written but lots of them do. 
Why this need to write my stories? It's just what I've always done.

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