It’s the first morning of 2013 and in the writing room, writing. Not even writing, really. More dragging myself back into a writing mindset after being not-a-writer for the bulk of last year. There are days – today is one of them – when the fact that I still do this amazes me.
I figured I’d kick this year off by telling you a story (it is, after all, what I do).
I want to start it with something like once upon a time I met a girl on a bus, but truthfully it’s not the kind of story you’d expect from that kind of opening. The way you starts a story sets up the ending, makes promises that need to be delivered, and I can’t deliver on that one.
So instead I’ll start it like this: when I was twenty and still at university, I learned not to tell people that I wanted to be a writer. And the way I learned this, truthfully, was through an awkward conversation I had on a bus during one of the interminably long trips you take on the Gold Coast when you try to get anywhere that isn’t a beach.
I don’t remember the girl terribly well, but I remember the conversation. She got onto the bus just before Miami Beach and sat in the seat before mine.
I want to say that I didn’t really notice her at first, ’cause that makes for a better narrative, but that probably isn’t true. I noticed girls when I was twenty. Not necessarily in a gratuitously objectifying kind of way, but more in the manner that lonely, geeky twenty-year old guys tend to notice them. That whole the world is full of women and I have no idea how to relate to them, but maybe if I observe them for long enough I’ll figure it out kind of thing. ‘Cause, apparently, treating them like human beings hadn’t really occurred to me yet.
What I remember is that it was eleven in the morning and she seemed…well, drunk, I guess. Or stoned. I don’t really know. Encounter enough people who are out of it on public transport and they blend together in your head. Public transport on the Gold Coast gives you ample opportunity to meet such people.
I ignored her, focusing on my book. We hadn’t even hit Mermaid Waters when she turned around and asked, “what you doing?”
“Reading,” I said, in that way that only young, serious readers can say it. The way where you invest as much please just fuck off and let me finish this chapter in the subtext as possible.
“What are you reading?” she asked, and I wish I could tell you. Really, all I’ve got are half-baked guesses. Anna Karenina, maybe, ’cause it’s about that time that I first tried to read the book. Or One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I was meant to read for uni that year, but didn’t actually finish for the better part of a decade and almost ruined Marquez for me forever. It’s entirely possible it was a Forgotten Realms tie in novel, ’cause at twenty I was equal parts Dungeons and Dragons geek and pretentious wanker, and I couldn’t really figure out which was really me.
Either way, she asked about the book. Whether I liked it. Why I was reading it. And somewhere along the line, despite all the please fuck off subtext I was cramming into every answer, I said something about studying creative writing at university.
And the girl’s eyes lit up, and I got that feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. The one that tells you, in no uncertain terms, god fucking damn son, you just fucked up.
“You should give me your email address,” the girl said. “I’ve always been interested in writing.”
My argument that I was just a second-year uni student who didn’t actually know anything about writing did nothing to dissuade her. Nor did the fact that I hadn’t had anything published. She asked again for my email address, got weirdly intense about it, and the subtext in my half-off of the conversation moved from please fuck off to oh, dear god, what have I done?
So I gave her a fake email address, and she left me alone after that. She got off the bus at Pacific Fair and I went back to my book. Probably not the way I would have handled things today, but I’m older now. Wiser, perhaps. Better at knowing how to navigate the conversation that inevitably follows any usage of the word writer.
And really, I can’t quite tell you why it weirded me so badly, that whole awkward conversation. I have my suspicions, which may or may not be true, but I’m largely disconnected from the version of myself at twenty. I turn thirty-six this year. It all happened long ago.
What I know is this: I told people I was studying to be a teacher for the rest of the undergraduate. My parents were both teachers. It was a course of study I could fake pretty convincingly.
And I still hate buses. With a goddamn passion.
I’ve been spamming the hell out of TZU’s cover of Heavy Heart in the lead-up to New Years. Partially it’s because it does everything a good cover should do – recontextualises the song, making you look at it in a new way. To my mind a good cover is like being invited to share a kind of glorious secret that changes the way you look at a small part of the world.
Plus, as always, I’m a fan of anything that revels in its own meta-text (if you’ve never heard the original, which is one of the few You Am I songs I really like, I suggest checking it out; it’s a really different experience to TZU’s version)
The rest, though…
Well, let’s just say that I’m not immune to the allure of a New Year. I don’t really understand it as an evening to be celebrated, and I’ve continued my long trend of ignoring the hell out of the culturally mandated idea of partying up a storm as the clock strikes midnight. This year, I played games on my phone and came within a hair’s breadth of finishing my book, and dubbed this a totally worthwhile use of my evening.
But I really like the aspect of New Years where people start looking back and planning ahead, building some context around their experiences for the last twelve months. I like that there’s a empty space between Christmas and New Years where you can sit down and plan. I like the process of reviewing my year and figuring out what I’d like to do better.
I don’t get resolutions, but that’s just me. Figuring out what I’d like to do better is usually a lengthy process, filled with experimentation and putting a lot of thought into things. I usually finish the process around March, rather than settling on an arbitrary date.
One of the things I look for at this time of year, though, is talismans. Not in the magical sense, but things I can hold onto as loaded signifiers, representatives of a whole mess of things I’d like to remember. Music is a big part of that, usually. I’m all about picking theme-songs for certain periods of my life.
In my twenties it was usually The Buzzcock’s Ever Fallen in Love with Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With, but that’s been less of a problem these days. The default narrative of my thirties has largely been why the hell am I still doing this? Or, as I prefer to think of it, learning to embrace the ball pit principle of being an adult.
I’m struggling with that at the moment. 2012 was the first year where I was gainfully employed, working full-time at a job I enjoyed to the point where writing wasn’t my first priority. It kinda changed the way I looked at the world. It certainly changed the way I looked at money.
And so I keep listening to TZU’s rewrite of Heavy Heart, which moves away from the forlorn heartbreak of the You and I original and shines a little light on being in your thirties and still chasing art, in whatever form, while the people around you are getting married, having kids, settling down. And I cling to the song for that, and in particular for a single line they’ve thrown into the mix that wasn’t there in the original.
It’s the life I chose, not the life that chose me.
I forget that all too often. I don’t want to do that anymore.
Actually, I lied about not having resolutions. I have three, although they’re less resolutions and more a thesis statement for the coming year, and they’re pretty much the same conclusion I come to every year:
1) Art Matters
2) People Matter
3) Change the fucking world.
Simple things to write. Hardest things in the fucking world to remember. Some days I do better living up to it than others.
So, yes, this has been a long post. Sorry about that. If you’ve read/scrolled down this far, let me give you the short version.
Happy New Year, you crazy fuckers. Here’s hoping you rocked in the new year in whatever form of celebration you prefer, whether it be fireworks, insane parties, computer games, or getting a good night’s sleep.
It’s been a long, quiet 2012 in many respects, and I’m really glad you’re still here.
Now lets go rock 2013 in whatever manner we choose to rock it.