When I was a girl, I was constantly told to smile. Boys don’t like frowning girls! So I smiled, and I obeyed. I didn’t show off my intelligence (boys don’t like that), played housekeeper rather than assassin (boys don’t like girls that seem stronger than they are), and tried not to ask why on earth it was so important that the idiots that pulled hair and sprayed water onto our white shirts should like me. Tried not to ask why some mythical person’s dislike should matter.
As a freelance writer, I’m constantly left with the feeling that the worst thing you can do is be yourself. There’s an idea of professionalism that goes with the territory, and it feels safer to hold to that and bury those unprofessional bits of myself for the duration of a job, and hopefully into perpetuity so that no one ever realises that I’m, well, me. You ask the set questions, you treat it like just another job.
It has an impact. I find myself far too often hesitating, scared to take that final step that might insult or offend, or not suit that pre-approved idea of who I should be. I look at my creative writing projects with a mind of keeping everyone happy, which of course is the death of creativity. I linger in that shadowland of purgatory rather than waging the war I want to. We’re such social creatures, and the quickest way to assert control is to promise isolation. Smile, or the boys won’t like you. Be professional, or no one will want to work with you.
In some places in the world, it’s said that the wild, seasonal winds bring change. And it’s a still day, but I like the imagery, so screw it. There’s a reason the winds of change is a common trope. Life is heading in new, brilliant directions, against the grain of the best laid plans of mice and men.
I got to interview one of my childhood heroes recently. Always a terrifying prospect. How can anyone live up to the image in your head of them? What if they’re mean, what if it destroys your ability to look fondly at those memories you’ve cherished?
The first time I heard DAAS, it was a revelation. I realised that I didn’t have to smile, and I didn’t have to care so much about what other people thought. I could be angry (and gods, was I an angry teenager), and it was okay. I could be crass, or sarcastic, or not suffer fools, and it would be fine. There were other people out there who were angry and sarcastic and who didn’t want to be liked by the people we’re constantly told need to like us.
It stole my breath, that realisation. Those three comedians shaped my personality in a fundamental way. They taught me the value of stepping through that hesitation, of choosing to be me instead of being that cookie-cutter idea of who people might like. I don’t always live up to it, I still hesitate far too often, but there’s power in accepting that the world probably won’t love you, and you’ll survive it.
Once upon a time, I’d have turned down the interview, too scared of pretending I could match wits with a comedy genius. If I’d somehow agreed, I’d have done the standard questions, and hidden away from the risk of making an idiot of myself by deviating from the tried and true. I’d go the professional option because that’s what’s expected. A while back, I talked about trickster energies, and it dawned on me that this was a total trickster moment. I could build a pillow fortress of professionalism around myself and pretend it would protect me from being an anxious little penmonkey. Or I could shrug, and see what happened when I approached it as a game rather than a deeply serious experience.
So I asked questions, but not always the ones he’s used to. I jumped in and asked for information when I didn’t understand something (rather than pretending to be on his level and freaking out researching it later), and I sassed back rather than nodding along. I gave him space to go on tangents, rather than trying to control where the conversation went. I approached the interview as me- flawed, fucked up sense of humour me, not the professional me I spend a lot of time pretending to be- and let it be whatever the hell is became.
I felt that hesitation, of course I did. It’s a scary thought to consider that someone you respect won’t like you as you really, truly are. But you know what? Comedians are really, really good at rolling with deviations from the routine. They kinda thrive on it. That twenty minute span of time ended up going for just shy of an hour, and it was fun. And instead of a dry, boring Q&A, we had a conversation. It was weird, it was surreal, and yeah, I couldn’t keep up (and why should a non comedian be able to hold her ground against someone who has been rocking the scene since before she was born?)
And here’s the part that still baffles me: he gave me homework. Read ‘The Man In The Ring’ by Teddy Roosevelt. Which, fyi, is this:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
The interview ended with some fatherly advice, which was desperately needed: it’s time to stop idly watching and commenting on other people’s work, and to get my work out there. It’s time to stop waiting, and start dream chasing.
The truth is that I’m part way there- I love writing work, I love reading as my job. But, I know I can do more. So when one of the foundational figures of your life tells you to get your shit together and get the novel written (and try stand up comedy, but that’s a story for another day), really? How do you argue against that?
So, yeah. This is me, stepping up and getting shit happening. Wish me luck, and an overabundance of coffee. And if you see me IRL, pester me about the MS, will you?