“I’m just a girl with a story who likes to tell stories. Or maybe I just like the sound of my own voice when I imagine how I sound when I speak to you. Stories. We’re all just a collection of stories, aren’t we? Even more fascinating … why do we change how our voice sounds when we recite certain chapters? Are we making up stories or revealing something more? Maybe all we are is just a collection of conflicting expressions, stumbling over our words, never quite certain who it is we are or how we want to be perceived.” —a fleeting thought, captured
I enrolled in a writing course at RMIT University in 2013. Well, actually, I enrolled the year before—but I began the course in 2013 after my application (from the previous year) was successful. The year is obviously not important—I am, as I like to say, ‘blowing a wee whisper in your ear’ … perhaps now you might assume me to be what is conventionally called “a writer”.
(That was an awfully lengthy, convoluted and somewhat unnecessary introduction. Apologies. I’m extremely inefficient at being concise when ‘making a point’—if ever I’m making a point at all.)
In this case, mind you, I am.
To illustrate—this is what Yours Truly wrote in her application (dated October 12 2012, if you really ought to know):
I know. It’s remarkable that I actually ‘got in’. (I’m guessing the individuals in charge of the application process were either fatigued when mine came along or frightened of being prejudice towards a perspective student with evident mental health issues. Or maybe I just got lucky, who knows.)
Attached to my absolutely professional cover letter were numerous examples of my ‘writing’. These included: previous blog posts, fashion articles, sadsy poetry (what poetry isn’t sad?), melancholic musings and—for a reason that can only be described as ‘oh dear, I really had no idea’—a collection of my Facebook statuses. Yes. I did. And no. I didn’t display a top-notch, highly professional title for them, either (A Writer’s Rant: Facebook Statuses).
In my defense, I must admit a few of my social media shenanigans were wit-filled, heinously insightful and altogether charming anecdotes. Truly.
* The only R&R I do on a long weekend is rant & rave, darling.
* Money & I have a love/hate relationship. I only love it when I have it. Devastatingly we are fighting this week.
* Who needs Botox when you have the dentist? Honey, I’m pretty much Ang Jolie after that appointment!
* So I may have to start attending church on a regular basis: all you get is stale bread and cheap wine—perfect for a girl who needs to lay off the carbs and has a borderline alcohol addiction. (Not to mention the abundant amount of crucifixes I could steal to make necklaces.)
Awfully charming, darling. Awfully.
So let’s be honest: I want you to think I am a writer because I want so desperately for you to believe it. But my wee whispers are sweet nothings, m’dear: I am not a writer … I am woman who likes to write. And they are quite different things.
To give you some idea of what I mean, let me tell you what I am discovering ‘learning my craft’—what I am is a conversationalist, an exaggerate-ist, a smartarse and, more interestingly; an illusionist: I write true stories, but I tell them with different voices.
To be precise:
I have a “bitch” voice: she’s a real crack up, a bit of a fuck up and, quite naturally, full of her own shit.
There’s my “beautiful” voice: she’s a philosophizing poet, gentle and gracious, learning her world, with all of the time in the world, wanting so much to share with you the truth she’s learnt.
And then there’s “the combination of the two”: she’s a beautiful meltdown quite indecipherable to read.
So it appears I’m schizophrenic or loving the sound of my own voice far too much.
Or, more believably … at twenty-four, I’m not quite certain who I am and, therefore, can’t possibly decide how I want to be perceived; namely because I don’t know who that person is yet.
It’s all a bit of a issue—but thankfully, during the length of my course, my wonderfully patient teachers and peers spurred me on with helpful suggestions like, ‘pair it back a bit Em’, or ‘don’t hold back … give us more of the crazy bitch!’. Aside from the minor detail that such advice was in complete conflict with the other, I was well and truly, absolutely, oh-dear-god, baffled.
Can I tell my whole story honestly if I am only given one voice in which to tell it? More confusingly, why does my writing have to be either completely hilarious or entirely heartbreaking for it to be publishable, polished and ‘reader-friendly’?
The creative feedback was constructive, absolutely; but the unspoken advice hangs in the air like stale truth: I must be ‘relatable’ or ‘unconventional’ … one or the other. I can’t really be both without making a royally–unglamorous scene. To ‘flesh my writing out’ I must strip back my skin (metaphorically speaking) and pull back my layers to reveal not only what is there but also why I keep myself hidden in the first place.
Pair it back a bit Em, don’t hold back … give us more of the bitch.
What will happen when I mix literary techniques while also being a bitch?
What will happen when I scribble sarcasm and sadness on the same line?
What will happen when I show you more than what I tell you; when you are shown more than what you wanted to know?
What will happen when the only one left on the page is me?
I’m listening to the invaluable advice now, even though I heard it months ago.
It is only me squeezing myself in a so-called-box, a box with handwritten labels, Sharpe-texted ‘this’ or ‘that’—‘Entertaining Emma’ or ‘Endearing Emma’.
Even from the beginning, in my purposely un-professional application I was pretending, premeditating and perfecting my words so they screamed … please, look at me!
They did look (of course) and they did accept (thank God) … but what did my literary friends find when they saw me, taught me, discovered me as more than a girl ‘with just one voice’?
We need more of the bitch.
Ashamedly, I passed up that opportunity, writing exercise after writing exercise, ‘to give them more of the bitch’—even though I wrote ‘fuck’ more and ‘you’ less, assuming it was what they wanted.
I refused to hand over the hand who had scribbled their lines: me.
So does that make me “a writer” or “a performer”?
I can’t deny that I have been running away from myself for a very, very long time. I’ve hidden myself under a seemingly endless layer—one my ‘bitch voice’ admittedly calls fucked up (it isn’t far from the truth, as you will soon see), abusing crudeness and intelligence as a blanket of denial to keep me warm; not realising that all it covers, comforts, is a woman too frightened to learn who she is; a woman who wants you to see her, but only enough to know she exists.
Will you come with me to find out who this woman is?
Will you be patient with me when I stumble over my words, loose my balance stuttering unreliable and insane things?
It’s a bit to ask, I know.
Who, for fucks sake, do I want my reader to be?
My thoughts responded in their usual way: aligned themselves in shambles, scurrying to and fro like disobedient pets until their owner—Yours Truly—catapulted into what is commonly known as an incomprehensible internal monologue. I was about to chuck everything in the too hard basket when, out of nowhere, the runt of the litter forced her way into my frontal lobe.
‘You’, she said.
When the thought spoke, I knew instinctively who my reader was: why, it was you! I was writing for you.
Bless that little, fuzzy naiveté within, dreaming up a rash, one-word solution for a crisis that was only a crisis because I couldn’t elaborate on who ‘you’ were.
Bless the endearing tot, so unaware of the bee in her bonnet.
How ironic that, in everyway, I believed so much in that single thought.
The thought belonged to the ever present, innocent girl inside of me. She is easily frightened, yet foolishly vulnerable—if all my thoughts came from her; either my skin would be translucent or it would be dressed in tears. I tuck her in my heart, as you would a baby, trying my best to protect her from a world that isn’t so simple; from a world that might not understand her. I’ve experienced things, seen things; like many, I’ve stumbled upon unfair truths. I’ve learnt not to see the world only through her eyes—I’m a grown up now. Still, even when I’m looking elsewhere—distracted, distanced, detached from her—the little thing … she sees everything.
I used to wonder how that was possible, until I remembered what I hadn’t forgotten: she sees through feeling. The girl inside of me knows the world because she feels it—she feels all of it.
She is the core of me, of course. The part that makes me me. The fragile creature nestled amongst my bones: so selfless, so silly, her intention only to love, to embrace … everyone.
Normally my soul speaks without making a sound. In most cases, she flings a fucking fork into my guts as if its fettuccini; stirs my insides into pasta-knots before shoving the prongs in the most painful place I know—my truth—rips it right out and smears the bloody mess everywhere until every feeling I have ever felt engulfs me, bleeding hurt all over, until its all I can taste on my lips and I feel sick, overwhelmed and so frighteningly full of feelings. Until I finally admit I am unbearably alone; my inner being, aching, yearning to hold onto and just be held, reaching out for something—anything—other than the discomfort of knowing I am trapped in solitude, just like everyone else. Until the tightness of my skin is smothering and I plead for it to rip, rip, rip, praying to a God I’m not sure I believe in, to spit out my love so I don’t have to swallow the shame of my own innocence anymore.
So when my soul actually speaks—bless the bitch for using her words—I have no choice but to listen.
My reader is you.
I tried to picture you. What you might look like ‘in the flesh’. My teachers had told me ‘it was a good exercise’ for writers to do. (Apparently, ‘visualizing your reader’ makes for a more intimate, ‘a much more real’, experience. In hindsight—after all the pep talks, class discussions and what not—I suppose it would have been easier just to tell them I already knew you, woopsadarling.)
Any who: I invented these ridiculous scenarios in my head. I designed your ‘look’—from your faux-facial features right down to your please-let-them-be-fancy footwear. I played pretend-pub-time with you—mainly where I gasbagged, dragged a dart and binge-drank—but … do you know what?
I kept finding myself searching for your eyes in the spaces between, wanting so much to know what they were saying‚ but I could never see them. You were always just an outline, an ink-stained silhouette my hand hadn’t sketched. And filling in the missing pieces … it felt so wrong. I couldn’t throw clothes at you when I didn’t know your size; give you an outfit that wasn’t your style; or project feelings on you that only I had felt. I suppose I realised that even with clothes on we are all naked; and making you real in my mind doesn’t alter how real you are.
You are just you. I am just me. Together we will learn so much about each other, even though you will likely know me more. It hurts my heart to admit this … but there’s that beautiful hurt there too; one that comes from being seen—of showing you me—without the assurance of ever seeing.
I have not met you, but I know you somehow. And, even more peculiar, I love the wonder that is you. I know that I love too much, too. Foolishly, I am not frightened of fear; I’m frightened of feeling too much; of never having the time, the space, or the strength to let all these feelings be felt. I’m shit-scared, I guess, of drowning in the ripples, in the fickleness and bewilderment of my human heart.
A single thought can capture a million emotions, a million thoughts often left unspoken:
I need you to see me.
Can I tell you a secret?
I am so frightened that what I look like to you is ugly.
That you might not want to be my friend.
I need you to see me without judging what is there.