I was twenty-one when I first realised that writing wasn’t going to be easy.
It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I was fresh out of my undergraduate, fresh out of home, and about to dive back into an honours year at University. I remember sitting on the balcony of my shitty share-house flat in the wee hours of the morning, nursing a cup of coffee and paging through one of the cheap, shitty poetry anthologies I’d picked up in a second hand book store. This is back when I lived on the Gold Coast, where even the best second hand book stores are fairly starved for poetry. At the time I still figured I’d grow up to be a poet, and I already knew there was no chance of making a living at that.
So I drank my coffee and read poetry and thought about what I was going to do with my life, looking at the big ol’ stretch of poverty that appeared before me.
And I thought, you know what, fuck it. I can handle being broke.
And I also thought, stupidly, worse case scenario, I’ll write a book and try to win the Vogel or something before I’m thirty-five.
It’s the kind of stupidity that makes me laugh now.
My favourite line of dialogue ever comes from Romeo & Juliet. It occurs in Act ii, Scene ii, during the first serious meeting between the titular characters. Romeo and Juliet go through their classic where for art thou type exchanges, Juliet goes to leave, and Romeo breaks out a single question:
O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
And that line, that line fucking kills me every time. No matter whose playing Romeo, no matter how bad the production or how good the rest of the play may be, those seven words are my favourite part.
I turn 35 next week. Winning the Vogel is no longer a viable back-up plan.
Over the years I’ve made a bunch of decisions about my life that ensured I had time to write. Occasionally, when I want to drive myself crazy, I sit down and write down lists of things I’ve never done as a result of those decisions:
- I haven’t ever bought a car, a couch, or a house
- I haven’t gotten married and had kids, or had a relationship that lasted longer than four years
- I’ve never really travelled or had a holiday longer than three days
- I’ve never lived somewhere for longer than three years.
- I’ve never… I’ve never… I’ve never…
Somewhere towards the end of the list I go searching for a glass of scotch. When I’m done, I go look at the infamous XKCD comic about adulthood and ball-pits and I pretend it makes me feel better. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it’s not. I’m human, after all, and even I’d like things to be easy from time to time.
At twenty-one I figured this was the cut-off year. At thirty-five, if I wasn’t happy and I hadn’t made it, it was time to go learn how to do something that wasn’t writing. It seemed a really long way away when I was twenty-one, and it was predicated on a flawed understanding on how one became a writer. It’s one of the things I dislike about undergraduate writing programs, and one of the reasons I eventually decided to leave my post-graduate studies: I spent twelve years in universities learning how to write, but I was thirty before I learned how to be a writer and have a career.
They are, in fact, slightly different things. And it’s no surprise that I’ve published more in the last five years than I did in twelve years of studying writing at university.
There are days when I find myself asking: is it worth it?
In the weeks before my Birthday the answer always seems to be no
Then I ask the second question: O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
And somehow I always forget that Romeo knows the answer to this; the whole damn point of the scene is that he knows what he’s after. When Juliet asks him, What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?, he’s got the response right there: The exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.
Me, I’m not that lucky. I’m no longer sure there is a finish line, or a place life reaches where I think, yeah, this is it, I’m done. Occasionally I brush against it by accident. Occasionally I get something I thought I want, only to discover they simply make me unhappy.
And that’s okay, I think. There are worse things than being a work-in-progress.