Saturday, 17 May 2014

Born to be A Misfit-Flavoured Writer.

I've heard it said that many writers have felt like the oddball at some point in their life - like they were paddling through the river of life in the opposite direction to everyone else. I am reasonably sure I was born feeling like I didn't quite fit in with the rest of the world. I felt that way throughout childhood, adolescence and  the fun, crazy part of adulthood. And I still feel that way now.

I don't mean in a self-absorbed, hand-wringing 'no-one really understands me!' way. I mean more in the sense of  'Hmmm, I appear to be really rubbish at behaving like other, normal humans' kind of way. It never seemed to spoil my social life - I've had as many friends as other, non-weird people, although I suspect I was probably labelled My Weird Friend by more than a few - and I didn't attract nearly as many bullies as some poor sods with far less potential for ridicule than I possessed. But nonetheless I've always had this feeling of being a kind of imposter in this world; an alien who got accidentally dumped on the wrong planet and has since spent her whole life navigating and minimising the fallout from her cocked-up attempts to blend in with the natives.

It has its advantages, of course. This world will never cease to amaze, horrify, delight, shock, depress, inspire and frustrate me - and the day it does is the day I will know it's because I'm actually dead. It also means I feel no pressure whatsoever to conform to anybody's ideas of how I should look or dress or what I should aspire to; I've got so used to effortlessly failing at all those things for so much of my life already that I dropped out of that competition years ago. And this in itself has the added bonus of making my life far less complicated; I don't have to keep remembering what and who I'm 'supposed' to like and not like according to which particular friend or social group I'm talking to. Even if I just agreed with everyone all the time I'd still cock it up anyway, so I may as well just say what I really think and cock it up honestly.

In terms of what I might laughingly call my 'career prospects,' however.... mmm, yeah, that didn't work out so good. I've had a plethora of jobs over my adult life, and the one that lasted the longest was a rather pitiful four years. I've only been fired from two of them, and that was due to being spectacularly rubbish at those jobs rather than any disciplinary reasons - but even in many of the ones I quit, I'm pretty certain I was a bit of a nightmare employee while I was there. This is because they were office jobs; Dilbert In His Cubicle positions, if you like. The kind of jobs where there was A Method for doing every little thing that job entailed; a Method that had been used for years, by every other person who'd ever done that job, because it was A Method That Worked and was therefore How It Must Be Done At All Times.

Putting a little secret-alien-in-residence like me into any job like that is, inevitably, a conflict waiting to happen. In every one of those types of jobs, I quickly established a reputation for myself as the corporate equivalent of the annoying little kid who constantly asks "But why..?" My colleagues just found it funny that I got so bemused and frustrated by all these Methods and Procedures, while managers' reactions ranged from mild annoyance to suspicious unease, as if they were afraid I was some kind of one-woman revolutionist with a secret agenda to Take Down The Company From Within. I tried to knuckle down and play by the rules - no matter how stupid and archaic I thought some of them were - but even when I did, I still cocked things up for myself.

For example, each time I had my annual Employee Review with my line manager, I'm sure I probably did know, on some basic level, that the correct response to the question "So, have you considered opportunities for advancing your role within this company?" was not to burst out laughing and say "What, seriously?" I'm sure I also knew, if I was honest with myself, that when I was advised to record my progress with the technical tasks of my job in a personal work journal, they probably didn't mean for it to take the form of satirical cartoons and poems. All I can say in my defence was 'it felt like the right thing to do at the time.' Which pretty much proves how utterly unsuitable I was - and probably still am - for office jobs.

Eventually I would reach the inevitable point where I just thought "I can't do this anymore and still retain my sanity." My bosses always seemed genuinely surprised when I handed in my notice, as if it was the last thing they were expecting me to do - but I'm pretty sure they must have breathed huge sighs of relief in private. At least I was finally solving their 'Oh god, what the hell do we do with this one?' conundrum.

Through it all, I always had my writing. In fact, you could argue that my writing - and the kind of mindset that comes in particular with writing fiction - was the one thing I could never entirely separate from my hamster-wheel office job existence, and that was part of my repeated downfall in that field. And now I'm a completely-unemployable-in-the-current-recession mum of a primary-school child, I can finally devote my brain and my heart to my writing without feeling that it's What Makes Me A Misfit Person in this world. Well, okay - maybe it is, ultimately, but at least I'm not giving any middle-managers headaches about it anymore.

But at the same time, I've heard of many, many other writers who've happily held down office jobs while pursuing their writing dreams. They have been able to completely separate the office worker part of themselves from the writer part as effectively as building a partition screen between them, that they can open up and close off as and when it suits them. All of which suggests that being crap at office jobs is clearly not an intrinsic part of the writer make-up - and so the added ingredient must be the misfit part. There must be a subsection of Misfit Writers within the club as a whole, right?

There's hope for them, isn't there? There's a place in this world for Misfit Writers? I mean, I know we can be a bit weird sometimes, and there's always going to be this thing where you'll never feel like you really, truly know us completely - but we're okay people underneath it all, and at least you know if we like you we really do like you, for real ('cause if we didn't, we'd be far more likely to tell you than most other people...)

Maybe there should be some sort of Misfit Writers' Society? Maybe there already is...

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