Being a writer is like a perpetual lesson in your own naivety. Every time you think you’ve wrapped your head around the industry, that you understand how it all works and are ready to take it on from your place of newfound wisdom, something comes along and slaps you in the face. When I got into Australia’s top screenwriting course I remember celebrating, thinking this was it, thinking from here on my success was just a technicality. When that course ended with no clear sign of impending fame or fortune or even anything, I started to get sad and despondent. Then I won the Ustinov, and suddenly I was ready to go, ready to take off into the stratosphere.
Well, you can probably sense where this story goes.
Perspective, I think, is important. I make my living entirely in the field of writing, and that makes me unquestionably one of the lucky ones in an industry that is famously brutal and rife with disappointment. But it doesn’t mean for a second that I’m where I want to be. I’ve learned to be optimistic in the face of all the setbacks, but sometimes too many come at once and it’s very, very hard to maintain any sense of positivity after a couple of days in a row made up of a succession of steel capped boots meeting your teeth.
Last week ended on a grim note, for various reasons. Several things I had taken for granted, some professional, some personal, fell apart in close succession, leaving me lying on the couch staring blank faced at the ceiling and wondering what the point was. I felt like Sisyphus at the top of the mountain, panting and out of breath and trying not to cry as he watches that boulder plummet back down. For the first time in a long time panic was setting in, an overriding feeling of ‘what the hell am I supposed to do now?’
In those cases, trying to tackle anything head on, especially if, like me, you’re impatient and impulsive, is a thankless task. Approaching problems from a place of anger or desperation scarcely yields pleasant results. So, against every instinct in my body, I decided not to think about those problems. I got drunk at my girlfriend’s work Christmas party. I went and saw the final performance of The Commune then spent the next day hanging out with the cast, watching the edited two hour version of Breaking Bad and idly talking about all sorts of things. I spent Monday rehearsing Moonlite then had dinner with close friends and by this point everything seemed that much more manageable.
The thing about those times where everything seems to collapse at once is that the individual problems that make up that ‘everything’ are surmountable in isolation. It’s only together that they seem like the end of the world, and readdressing them a couple of days later makes that clear.
Today I got proactive. I made a long overdue dice roll and it wasn’t pleasant, but it was like ripping off a particularly stubborn band aid – once it was done I felt sore but overall better. And once the initial sting abated, I got to work making up for lost ground. I made phone calls, contacted some people, and quickly something came together, a sense of hope and burgeoning opportunity that I haven’t felt since, well, probably since I won the Ustinov.
This isn’t to suggest that I’m looking at a suddenly fertile garden of sure things. It’s just that today I was reminded that I have come a long way and that even when everything seems bleak, I do have options. The hours I’ve spent laying foundations in the last few years have made sure of that, and even if it means nothing in the long run, hope is a very important thing to have.
The day I found out I’d been shortlisted for the Ustinov, I told myself not to get my hopes up. There was no way I’d win. The chances were remote at best and there was no point in letting myself get excited only to be crushed by disappointment at the inevitable ‘thanks but no thanks’ email. But then, about halfway through that pragmatic internal monologue, something occurred to me.
I would only get to feel the hope I felt in that time once. Even if it was ultimately dashed, I would be able to take the hit, get up and try again, like I’ve been doing my whole life. I would, after all, feel the same disappointment even if I told myself daily I wouldn’t win, because of course, despite my best efforts I would still have that hope, I just wouldn’t let myself show it. And why deprive myself of hope when life is so much harder without it?
So I let myself hope that I would win, just like right now I’m letting myself hope that things go well. And maybe that is naive. Maybe this is just another tough lesson I’ll look back on with a wry chuckle. But I’ll take hopeful naivety over the alternative any day.
And aside from anything else, I came home today to a puppy. If that’s not optimism rewarded, then I don’t know what is.
Writing words about writing words.