When I was a teenager, I was passionate about writing poems. I won’t claim they were any good, but I expressed things I believed in, and they were personal and meaningful things to me. On rare occasions, I’d share them with other people. Unfortunately, a bad experience at an open mic night, where nerves got the better of me, has haunted me for many years, making me absolutely terrified to share things I’ve written in public. Every time I’ve tried, that rather horrible moment in my life has sprung up to humiliate me and scare me into silence.
I recently decided to join a writing group, and everyone there was very friendly, so today I shared something with them. As I read it out, I could feel my old fears returning and I felt like my heart was about to jump out of my mouth. I was convinced it would all go wrong, and I’d be humiliated and ridiculed afresh.
Well, it didn’t happen – it all went just fine. Everyone liked what I wrote, and was kind and constructive when it came to feedback. They told me I sounded confident when I read it out. I truly slayed some personal demons today, and I think 18-year-old Lee would have been very impressed. Here’s what I wrote and shared.
When I was younger, there always seemed to be a lot of people telling me that I couldn’t do things. It started with my parents. Whenever I expressed a childhood dream of what I’d like to do when I was a grown-up, there would always be reasons why it was a bad idea. “Oh, no, you can’t do that,” they’d say, “you can’t make a good living out of that”. They’d pour scorn on whether there would be a stable pay cheque, or whether I’d ever get a mortgage. It was understandable, though – my parents both had childhoods blighted by family breakdown and poverty, and they’d been forced into leaving school early. This condemned them to low-paid, insecure work for their entire lives, with the threat of destitution constantly hanging over them. In my dad’s case, it destroyed his health, crushed his hopes and dreams, and condemned him to an early grave. It’s hardly surprising they wanted better for me.
Although it was never spoken out loud, I think my dad’s vision for my life was that I’d leave school with a decent crop of qualifications, join a well-known and respected company, maybe an insurance firm or something, and stay there for fifty years, until retiring from a senior position with a gold watch and an equally golden pension. I’d have a nice house with a nice car on the driveway, and I’d be a keen golfer, perhaps securing business deals on the fairway. I think that’s the life he always wanted. He got as far as the golf, and occasionally managed the nice car, but the rest eluded him.
My parents made an effort to send me to a good school, which I hated but did alright at, and then I went to university, which was way beyond anything they could ever have dreamed of. So far, so good – how about the fifty years at the insurance company? Haha! That was never going to happen! My parents grew up in the days when that sort of thing was actually a realistic prospect, but it was already becoming a thing of the past in the early nineties when I first entered employment. The longest I’ve ever spent working for any company was eight years, and even then I did several different jobs within it – I have an unfortunate tendency to get bored, and my dad’s vision later struck me as quite horrifying. Fifty years in the same little room? Isn’t that what happens to serial killers?
I’ve done alright, I suppose, having had some decent jobs over the years, it’s just that none of them lasted very long – sometimes that’s been my fault, sometimes someone else’s. I was just beginning to get into a nice freelance groove – doing a mixture of things I really enjoyed – when a certain worldwide event in early 2020 upset the applecart, and forced me back to the drawing board. Much of my work at the time depended on regular travel between Edinburgh and the south of England, and so it all dried up very quickly. During the stressful and difficult days I was confined to my home base, I had to find things to keep me occupied, and it was then that I realised I wanted to be something that would horrify my anxious parents – I wanted to be a writer.
In what turned out to be a wonderful case of being in the right place at the right time, I pitched an article about vintage technology to the editor of one of my favourite magazines, and it just so happened that he offered me a regular column, the previous writer having moved on to pastures new. It only pays beer money, but seventeen columns later, the novelty of seeing my name in print every two months shows no sign of wearing off. It’s one of the proudest achievements of my life, bringing me enormous satisfaction and pleasure, and it’s encouraged me to believe that hey – I might actually be quite good at this. Maybe it can move from beer money to being my living. Maybe I have something useful and relevant to say. Maybe I can move from factual pieces about a personal interest, to something genuinely personal. Maybe I can tell stories about things I’ve been through, about how I’ve overcome the doubts my parents planted in my mind about what someone can do with their life. Maybe I can move from the occasional haiku – I’m a bit obsessed with them at the moment – to more ambitious creative works. Maybe I can move people with my words, find a voice, and make a difference.
It’s a glorious dream, isn’t it? It’s not an easy goal. It would be easier sitting in that little room for fifty years, staring at spreadsheets and sitting through interminable meetings, but I’ve done plenty of that in my time and I don’t care to do any more of it. I picture myself at a desk, sure, at a computer, yes, but instead writing things that will stir the soul, transport people to different places and show them new ideas. There’s still voices in my head screaming “you can’t do that”, but it’s high time I filtered them out, ignored them, and just got on with the task in hand. Wish me luck.