Swimming Upstream

Speaking to Dan today, I figured out that it feels like we’re swimming against the stream. Most of my life I have been fed the idea that anything is possible, that if you want something exciting to happen in your life, you have to go out there and get it. Pushing against the pressure to go one way in your life – the way that is peddled as the ‘normal’ everyday state of affairs – a nine to five job that isn’t what you thought you would end up doing. We all need money, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be something you hate doing or are indifferent about.

This is something I struggle with every single day lately. In my previous posts I’ve written about the pressure that comes from external influences – the pressure to get a so-called ‘proper’ job. Here I’m talking about the pressure that comes from within. The two voices that constantly tug me one way or another. On one hand, I know with every fibre of my being that I am a writer. I write. Thats all there is to it. I have authorial ambitions, and know one day I will get there. Yet theres that voice which makes me feel depressed in the mornings – the ‘I need more money’ voice, which tells me that maybe I’m being unrealistic, that perhaps I should give in and stop pushing against the stream.

This is the voice that pulls me down when I’m in my dark moods, the one that says I’m lazy and a crap writer and ‘why do I bother’. Its all too easy to give time to a voice this destructive. I think all artistic/creative people have this dark side to them, indeed most people have a dark, critical voice that tries to make us hate ourselves and give up. Its the voice that makes you look in the mirror before you leave the house and tell yourself you look crap even though you most definitely do not. Its a voice that encourages you to just sit and feel sorry for yourself, wallowing in useless self pity. This darkness is just another way to expend energy that could be used to write or create.

However, like with most things in life, the darkness in me is a balance to the more productive and postive side. It gives me ideas for writing, just as it saps my energy and leaves me depressed. Though some mornings I feel crap just because some part of me insists on being depressed, there is another part of me taking notes and storing away the sensations, ready to be used in future writing. I know what it feels like, what it looks like to have your body rebel against you and just turn over, pulling the covers over your head. I know what it feels like when I prefer to watch a film rather than do some writing. All this can be used in writing. After all, writing needs experience and can be rooted in the mundane – we recognise ourselves in the everyday occurences in a novel.

So whilst Dan and I might feel depressed at times because it is such hard work to figure out a path to your dreams, at least we know what it is like to struggle, to need money and that the lows can soar to wonderful highs. The sad and difficult moments in life only highlight the importance of those moments when you laugh and are filled with happiness.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jen says:

    Speaking to Dan today, I figured out that it feels like we’re swimming against the stream. You know, that stream that most people follow to see where it will go – they have a job, they wait to see where it will take them, rather than taking their life in their own hands and forcing themselves to find out what they want from life.

    Eeer, no offense but I think you’re being a little unfair to ‘most people’ here. I assume you’re talking about your project of following your writing vocation rather than getting a graduate job, and I wish you all the best in this, but most people don’t have any choice whatsoever in the matter (in fact, you yourself have little, as you say you need to find money somewhere). It’s not that folks just lazily follow a stream. It’s that they have to work or starve and go bankrupt. And a number of other factors. Even when it comes to choices between graduate jobs and something a little closer to what you enjoy doing, for instance if someone is the first person of his family to go to university, or comes from a poor background, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on that person (not necessarily from peers or family, maybe even from himself) to get a graduate job at the end of it. Then again, most people are not faced with the possibility of a graduate job, or becoming a writer. I’ve met plenty of people who would not even dream of considering themselves to be a writer, and thinking this entitled them to not getting a job, or who would dare consider their ‘hobby’ to be more important than their job. I disagree, however this has little to do with their following a stream without making the effort to ask questions, and more to do with where they’re coming from in the first place. I’ve had the privilege not to think like that, and in other ways I’ve had no choice but to not think like that.

    Although, I don’t want to be too hard on you because I faced the same quandary myself, since I am of comfortable enough origins to have asked myself that exact question, at some stage, although not quite comfortable enough to actually act on it – or even to get postgraduate education as yet, and that’s in a country where there aren’t any tuition fees – finding an employer who will be understanding, though, is something else. I think that if you’re going to write, you need to have life experience. Interpret that as you will, but I concluded that it meant getting a job. Not that anything else was realistically possible for me (other option being living with -and off- my parents, and I think, much as I like them, I would definitely have thrown myself off a damn cliff by now). But even so – given the option, I would rather have a job. It’s not a choice between two things, doing what I love is still more important than my job, which is a means to an end. I don’t believe in hobbyism – what I do outside of work is work just as much even though I don’t get paid for it.

    I think you need to think about it less individualistically. Most of us don’t stand out as particularly special, creative people as we commute to work or walk around attending to our daily business. And I can’t help thinking – and they have communicated such to me and to others by hollering – that some of the more avant-garde-looking, or hippie-looking folks are thinking they’re going against the stream whereas the rest of us are total fucking squares. I was brought up to think in a similar way myself, as a libertarian conservative; as a queer person, of course, I kind of got vaccinated against that way of thinking (when you see people destining ‘special’ you to a life as an eccentric children’s writer who ‘prefers her own company’ and wears unfathomable amounts of purple and keeps bird skelettons in jars, or some other Leonora Carrington bullshit, you basically want out asap).

    So, yeah, all the best, but basically you just described my own personal hell! Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘most people’ are ‘going with the stream’ you’re going against it, because the awakening (I speak from experience) is fucking brutal.

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  2. Liz says:

    Hi Jen, thanks for your comment.

    I do completely agree with you – my post wasn’t an attack on people who have to work and need to work (since my partner works, my parents work and I am currently job searching!). It was just what I was thinking about at the time, because part of me feels like maybe I’m being selfish, not just getting a graduate job or a job that isn’t anywhere near what I want to do. I mean, I also need to work – I need money, and its not as if I’m cushioned by my parents or partner because we’re all struggling at the moment (and have been for some time). I’ve learnt a lot of things the hard way, and I’ve felt a lot of pressure from different directions to just ‘get a high paid job’ or something. I’m well aware that my earning potential is very high, but at the same time, I don’t have any desire to get a city job. I have a lot of respect for people who do; I’m just coming at this from my own individualistic feelings.

    I certainly don’t think of myself as any more special than anyone else. I happen to think that everyone has a story, has interesting experiences. Just because I’m a writer doesn’t mean I have some sort of ‘special’ creative outlook – it is just the way I express myself. I know I may be living in some dream world and might be seen as lazy to some people, but at the same time, I have worked very hard to get where I am. I think that people who are working have also worked very hard to get where they are. The stream I’m referring to is just a metaphor to what other people might refer to as ‘the rat race’ or something equally as over-used! It definitely doesn’t mean that I think people are lazily and blindly following in one direction.

    The point I wanted to make, in general, is that it is hard and can be a struggle to not go in the more accepted direction. It is also a struggle (especially right now) to find a paying job. I wasn’t bought up to think that, as you say, ‘that some of the more avant-garde-looking, or hippie-looking folks are thinking they’re going against the stream whereas the rest of us are total fucking squares’ – in fact I think this is a shit view of things because my parents are definitely not squares and work full time in jobs they don’t really like all that much. I don’t know anyone who would say that its going against the stream to NOT work! I definitely want to work and bring in money, but in a different way to what I see around me. Most likely, I will end up working doing something just to bring in the money at some point, but it just isn’t what I want to be doing.

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  3. Jen says:

    Hi Liz,

    Sorry to take so much time getting back to you on this.

    The post doesn’t come across as an attack on people who have to work at all, only you do mentionthat most people just go with the stream and don’t take the time to think about where they’re going, so it does come across like you think they’re not making the effort to do so. No big deal though, I’m sure that’s not what you mean.

    I definitely see where you’re coming from, in the UK postgraduate education is something very expensive, even if you can get grants and so on, so there’s definitely a pressure to live up to your earning potential afterwards, something that entails lots of unpaid overtime and not having a life, and so giving up on the stuff that’s important (writing in your case, and well, any kind of a home life in most). There’s also this pressure to be living up to a series of identities before a certain age, otherwise it’s too late. I felt more of a pressure that way in the UK (also because past a certain age it’s extremely hard to get postgraduate education unless you’re fabulously wealthy). With regards to music, I mean I’m not blaming them because objectively it’s ridiculous behaviour, but I’ve definitely felt from family and friends, at least, that it was a charming quirk and a sign of an imaginative personality (when I was 16); that I was taking it quite far but would grow out of it eventually (at age 21); that it was really getting beyond a joke and I should probably get a good job (at age 25); and I ended up letting those folks believe I’d given it up, after all it’s nobody’s business as long as I have time to do it. Of course, writing is probably different, I don’t know to what extent it has to be a ‘career’, whereas with music it’s really not a good idea, in the current climate, to try and make it a career, unless, once again, you have lots and lots of money to start with. For writing, I’ve actually heard that the privilege requirement is way higher even than with music, and that you get easily tokenised.

    But we don’t do this shit to ourselves because it’s easy, right?

    Anyway, all the best, and never stop being single-minded that this is what you want to do, that it’s the most important thing, because it is fucking hard and that’s the best way to do it.

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  4. Liz says:

    Hi Jen, thats okay, its always good to get comments! I guess it does come across as being a bit of an odd statement – I wrote this at something like 3am in the morning so didn’t really get across what I wanted to in the best way. I’ll probably edit it soon!

    Nope, we don’t do this because its easy. I wish you all the best yourself and hope you get to where you want 🙂

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