Writing is a major part of my work, and has been in pretty much all of the positions that I’ve held during public service jobs in various departments, both federal and state government.
But it’s not the type of writing I enjoyed as a child, so even though I get job satisfaction from finishing a report or discussion paper, writing for work doesn’t fulfil my desire to create.
I often joke that [ahem, cough] years in the public service has completely stifled my creativity and my ability to write anything other than bureaucratese. It also seems to have changed me from someone who prefers spontaneity to someone who kind of prefers routine. (If you are a Myers-Briggs aficionado, what I mean is I’ve moved along the Perception-Judgment spectrum from a strong P preference to a much weaker P preference, or even a weak J preference.) Although maybe that’s just something that would have happened anyway as I got older and gained more responsibility. It’s more fun to blame work though. People blame the government for everything else, so why not that?
So in a roundabout way, I am making my living from writing, just as I imagined I’d do when I was a child. An open plan office in a CBD office block is not the environment I’d imagined and certainly not the environment I prefer.
(Speaking of the environment I’d prefer, there is a tiny town in country NSW called Majors Creek. When we lived in NSW, we used to love calling in to the pub any time we were in the area.
Every time we went there I imagined that it would be the perfect place to set up a creative writing hideaway. I imagined a small cottage, with polished wooden floors, floor to ceiling bookshelves to house my library, a window seat with a lift-up lid for reading in the sun (inside the window seat would be the entrance to a secret passageway, a la the Famous Five), a big cosy chair to curl up in when it got cold, a big old desk, a rather impressive computer with a mega screen so I could edit my photos.
Outside would be the garden of my dreams (where oxalis never grows and snails are atomised as soon as they hit the border of my property), with a random interplanting of vegetables and flowers and a magnificent herb garden.)
But I digress . . .
Sitting in an open plan office at a grey formica desk up against a garish red partition that clashes stunningly with the orange speckled carpet, snippets of overheard conversations and phone calls . . . it’s definitely not my preferred environment.
I once heard someone say ‘a grey formica desk inspires grey formica ideas’. That quote always comes into my mind whenever I’m confronted with a grey formica desk (which, let’s face it, when you work for the government is pretty often).
So where does that leave me?
On the one hand I could say that I’m stuck in an uninspiring environment doing uninspiring work, wishing I was in my little dream cottage.
The problem with that is that I need a day job. The ‘starving artist’ stereotype might seem romantic and initially quite attractive, but if I really think about it, I quite like my lifestyle and there’s not much I’m really prepared to give up to pursue a vague dream of working (doing I know not what) in my little cottage.
(And to be fair to work, I have done some interesting things, been involved in some great projects and am always appreciative of them letting me design my own work hours to suit my family responsibilities. A lot of people don’t get to do that, so this is not a complaint about my work.)
But sleepydwarf, I hear you say, surely you have spare time? You don’t work 24/7. You seem to have enough time to write your blog. You take photos, you scrapbook. If you wanted to write or draw or something like that without giving up your day job, what’s stopping you?
If you really wanted to do this, you’d find a way. So why don’t you stop moaning about how much you wish you could do this stuff and go out and do it? Seriously! Get over yourself!
Um, yes. And you, my glorious inner voice, have just reminded me of yet another quote I picked up from somewhere – maybe a movie – where one character laments that he can’t play the piano (or whatever it was that the other character did brilliantly), and says to the character who can, ‘I wish I could do that’. To which the artist replies, ‘no you don’t. If you wanted to do it, you’d be doing it.’
Simple words, but so powerful. ‘If you really wanted to, you would.’
So does the fact that I don’t draw mean I don’t want to draw? Because I don’t sit down and write a story, does this mean I don’t really want to write? Is kidding myself that I have a creative block just another way of saying I really don’t want to do this?
I look at sketches that other people do, or paintings, or even doodles or beautiful handwriting, and I wish I could be as artistic as them.
‘I wish I could draw’. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that. Yet I never pick up a pen or a pencil.
So the other way of interpreting that quote is if I really want to draw (or write), I should just do it. Here and now. Who cares what it looks like? The very act of making marks on a piece of paper is drawing (or writing, if that’s what I want to do). Sure, I might not like the result. It might be terrible. In fact, I’m pretty sure it will be. But I don’t have to show it to anyone. It might be full of ‘mistakes’, but that’s how you learn – by doing it, making mistakes and learning from them.
But then if I don’t want to draw (or write) – if I’m only saying I want to because I think I should want to, or I wanted to a long time ago but I don’t any more - then I need to give myself permission to let go of the idea that I want to draw (or write, or both). If I don’t want to, I don’t want to - simple. And then I can stop wanting to.**
(You may need to read that paragraph again. I know I did.)
So with that in mind, I've been wondering which way I'll go.
Well today I did draw something. (No I'm not going to put it on here.)
I was at my mother's place and she has a rather large collection of pencils that belonged to my father, who, we have already established, did have some pretty good artistic skills. She also has - and I never knew this until today - an old wooden drawing board that belonged to her mother. She dates it at 1915 or thereabouts. When Juniordwarf wants to draw at my mum's place he uses the drawing board.
It's a thing of great beauty and history with pen marks and ink stains as testament to my grandmother's work.
So I couldn't help but line up a few old pencils on the board and take a photo, to remind me that there is talent in my family, and that yes, maybe I can do this.
* with apologies to Dave Graney.
** Gretchen Rubin came to a similar conclusion in The Happiness Project. Somewhere.