One of the people I follow on Google Plus is an artist, who shares some of his work there. So I get to see this stuff – not by going to an art gallery or buying a magazine or looking at a book in the library or even deliberately going to a photography website [things I’m not likely to do – photography is not my thing, I can enjoy a good photo when I see one but it’s not something I’d deliberately go looking for] but just by sitting in front of my computer and browsing through my G+ stream. I sit there, scrolling down through political rants and LOLcats and posts telling you how to sort your life out in seven easy steps and Facebook-style updates about what someone has had for dinner and so on and so forth, and in the middle of all that, suddenly there’s a photograph which I could so easily scroll past but no, it stops me in my tracks and invites me to look, really look.
And that in itself is already of great value to me. Stopping to look at something of beauty – it does me good.
But this guy is not some anonymous artist whose work I’m looking at in a book or on the wall of a gallery. This is someone I’ve been getting to know as a person. And I know he is interested in getting feedback. I get the feeling that this is part of why he’s showing his work online like this. So suddenly I find myself talking to the person who created this stuff and expressing my reaction to what he has created. And I’m out of my comfort zone. It is so much easier to remain at arm’s length, to just see the result without communicating with the person behind it. Going into an art gallery I could just enjoy the stuff I enjoy, I could – if I want to – tell friends about something in particular that I liked or disliked, but imagine if you were standing there looking at a painting and suddenly the artist turned up and said: so, what do you think?
I’m not complaining. Not at all. I am enjoying this new experience. It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone and that is often a healthy step. It’s getting me to think about the stuff I’m looking at in a way that I wouldn’t have before. It’s pushing me to attempt to articulate my reaction to a piece of visual art, which is something I’m not naturally inclined to do. And when I say “pushing” – it’s not like anyone is forcing me, this is purely voluntary. I could, if I wanted to, just look and say nothing, as probably a lot of people do a lot of the time – from the level of comments I see, it seems that most people don’t comment, and that’s perfectly acceptable. So it’s not that there’s some kind of requirement… It’s just that there’s an invitation, an opportunity for dialogue with the person who made the stuff, and because of getting to know this person I feel I want to – once in a while, when something particularly impacts me – say something, put my reaction into words.
This is probably in part due to my also being a creative person, who has sometimes shown her work to others and hoped for feedback – hoped, and dreaded… because sometimes the feedback you get is not what you were hoping for at all. I remember showing a poem to my mother when I was still a child, and she said it was “nice”. I’m sure she meant well, but I was really hurt and disappointed, I felt devalued, I felt like whatever it was that I’d put into those words on the paper had totally passed her by if she could call it “nice”.
But that’s the chance you take when you bring your creation out into the light and show it to people. You’ll get some reactions that will please you, some reactions that will challenge you and help you to grow, and some reactions that will feel hurtful, stifling, crushing – and you have to choose which ones to listen to: listen to the right ones and you will blossom and go on to create more and better stuff; listen to the wrong ones and you’ll end up stacking shelves or pushing papers in an office and wondering why you ever thought life had meaning.
My dad, during the time I knew him, was a bookkeeper. He never seemed a happy person. Not that there’s anything wrong with bookkeeping per se, I hasten to add, it’s just that I think he was doing it instead of living. After he died my mother and I found, amongst his personal things, stories he had written decades earlier – before life told him that now he’s a married man he should get a steady job and put these foolish things aside. (Yes, this is pure conjecture. I may be totally wrong about why. But hey, I’m a writer, making up stories is something I do…)
When I was at high school I wrote a short story – a change from my usual vein, which was poetry. I showed it to our literature teacher, and though I don’t remember her words, I know what effect they had on me: from that moment on, I relinquished my hopes and dreams to be a writer.
I stopped showing my writing to people. I didn’t completely stop writing – I couldn’t. But I didn’t talk about it. And I went about finding work and… well… existing. Simply existing.
A bit like my sister maybe? Now that I think of it – she had a talent, she was a painter and, though I’m no expert and I don’t know how good she was, I know she was at the very least a good painter. But the way we were brought up, creativity was all very well but it was something to do in your spare time. You should get a job, a stable job with a stable income. It wasn’t about becoming rich (we didn’t dream big dreams like that in our family), it was about safety and stability. I can’t blame my mother for having this outlook on life – she grew up very poor, her dad died when she was six leaving her mother to somehow make a living, and we’re talking about a time long before stuff like state welfare. So it’s quite natural that she would place a strong emphasis on having bread on the table. I can understand that. But it still makes me sad that we were brought up in a dream-stifling environment, and that my sister never really tried to see if she was a good enough artist to make something of it out there in the world. She was, apparently, a good computer programmer and later a good translator, and she did carry on being creative in her spare time – but we’ll never know what potential works of art the world lost because she was too busy doing more acceptable jobs to really focus on her talent, to learn more, practise more, grow and become the artist she could have become.
And me – I put my writing dreams aside when that teacher commented on my story. I was around 14-15 at the time. Such a young age for giving up…
My first job was as a junior in a bank. I learned all sorts of aspects of office work, and I learned to work with figures and find the difference when there was one. I was naturally good with figures, so that worked fine. I went to work for an accountant, as a secretary but he also decided to give me some payroll work to do and found I was good at that. I started toying with the idea of becoming an accountant, but somehow I never gathered the motivation. I carried on doing secretarial work, which was something I knew how to do and it was easy to keep getting those kind of jobs once I’d had experience. At some stage I took a touch typing course. At some point I was sent by an employer to do a basic bookkeeping course. I learned all sorts of skills which employers found useful.
I did still write now and again, but very rarely. And I didn’t tell people about it.
I was nearly forty when I quit the rat race and stopped shifting papers around in an office all day. I’d had a reasonably good job, one my mother could approve of… I was working as an administrator at a tax advisers’ firm in London, I worked with figures and once a month I got to prepare a report for the boss and had the challenge of getting the figures to balance and that was the highlight of my working life – the adrenaline buzz was fantastic, I love deadlines, but once it was over I’d go into a kind of flop, and towards the end of my time there I’d be seen staring at the piles of paper on my desk and muttering stuff like: there has to be more to life than this.
I was forty when I met someone who got me to bring my writing out into the light.
How did it happen? I don’t really remember exactly now. I remember how I met her, but how did we get to the point of me admitting that I sometimes write?
She is a creative person too, and she has the gift of encouraging others. I think I must have somehow sensed that this was someone I could open up to, that this was someone who wouldn’t quench it… I found a person who not only didn’t say anything discouraging, but actively encouraged me to do something with my writing, to send articles to a magazine, to write sketches for our fellowship’s drama group… Slowly I started to get less petrified of mentioning my writing…
This was back home in Israel, before I came back to England to get married. Back in England, I was on a fiancée visa and not allowed to work till the wedding, so I had time on my hands. I saw an advert for a local creative writing course and thought: why not. That’s where I discovered that I do have the ability to write short stories! Yay! I got taught some useful stuff about writing, I was given helpful prompts which got my creativity going, and, most importantly, I got to sit in a room with a group of people once a week and read out something I’d written and get feedback, and the sky didn’t fall in and nobody mocked me and I got some really encouraging feedback. And because I was doing this course, I was also getting more used to mentioning my writing to people, telling them I’m doing a creative writing course and enjoying it and producing stuff.
No, this isn’t a “look at me, I got there in the end” kind of post – I’m not “there”, I’m not famous, I’m not a published writer, I’m actually using my talent mostly for blogging. And no, I’m not “there” as a blogger either, not famous, haven’t got a zillion subscribers… But I’m no longer that shy awkward person who never mentioned to people that she has this gift, this passion, this thing that she’s been doing since she was eight and she’s never going to stop doing – it may take different forms, sometimes I write a poem, sometimes a story, a few years ago I embarked on writing a novel and who knows, I might go back to it one day. Mainly, mostly, I blog – this is where the majority of my word count currently goes, on my blogs, where people can enjoy them straight away, and now and again I even get comments, reactions, feedback.
I even set up a place where I can post my creative writing as and when it happens, so again I might get immediate feedback.
And yes, sometimes I get feedback that isn’t pleasant or helpful, sometimes I get comments which are just hurtful (I’m saying “just hurtful” as opposed to some constructive criticism, which may be hurtful but it’s worth it for what you learn) and sometimes I feel frustrated because people are obviously not getting it, but if I don’t put it out there, what’s the point of writing…
Okay, that last bit isn’t quite true. Part of the point of writing is to get it written – when stuff is wanting to get written, it bugs me until I do it. Once I’ve written it I feel fine. So in one sense I don’t need to share it with others – but on some other deep level which I can’t explain I know I do get something out of sharing my writing. And in terms of growing and developing my writing skills, obviously getting feedback is an important part of the process. So even though it feels scary, and even though the comments won’t always be helpful, I’m still going to keep sharing my stuff.
It’s a very vulnerable feeling, especially when it’s a poem, because my poems come from the deepest part of me. So if someone doesn’t like it, or doesn’t get it, it’s very personal… But I think I’ve got past the stage of falling apart every time someone says something insensitive, or stomping my feet furiously when someone has obviously not got it… I’m growing. Doing things that scare you is a really healthy thing, the more you do it the more it helps you to get desensitised, to feel less scared.
Finding friends on the journey helps too. Meeting other creative people who are making themselves vulnerable – that encourages me to take more risks.
Wow, over 2300 words? Not a bad day’s work, me. And you, if you’ve read this far, give yourself a pat on the back for perseverance.
And do give me your feedback, if you’d like to.