Launch Week: Up Close and Personal

Yesterday I went to the Professional Writing and Editing end-of-year break-up. Chat with fellow students and teachers, writers’ games (demonstrating the awesome talent in the room), awards, and the launch of the 2013 student anthology, Up Close and Personal.

On the one hand, I am thoroughly relieved to reach the end of the year (although it’s still not quite over for me – still got a project or two to wrestle with) because trying to balance full-time classwork and my projects was becoming difficult, especially when the lure of actually making things was taking hold. When I need to choose my computer time carefully, creative pursuits win over assignments (even though I’m pretty good at analysis and generally enjoy doing it). While I do enjoy learning and the academic environment, I enjoy creating things more, which makes sense: I am a creative. Now I know I have skills, now I have confidence in those skills, I am ready to get out of the classroom.

On the other hand, I am saying farewell to an environment where I am respected, appreciated, seen, and that doesn’t come without its sorrow; it’s too new a sensation to come without grief and anxiety attached for its loss.

Hold on while I venture into a tangent. It’ll make sense at the end, I promise.

My psychologist has given me homework: to stop and acknowledge my accomplishments. I’m not good at doing that. I feel tremendously guilty when I do, for how dare I put myself on a pedestal above anyone else? And at the same time, how dare I congratulate myself for doing something that’s just expected of me and anybody else anyway? I mean, sure, I’m dragging myself out of the pit that is anxiety and depression and family, and I’m becoming ever-more functional, but isn’t this just what I should have been? Therefore, isn’t it arrogance to give my accomplishments any weight at all?

Yes, there’s a logic problem here: I’m assuming that everybody can do what I have done and am doing. I assume that I am nothing special, and if I can do a thing, there’s no reason why anyone else can’t do it either. (As a case in point, I am dealing with professionals who don’t have the writing skills I do, and I can’t understand why these academics, who have completed more study than I have, can’t write worth a damn. I can’t keep it in my head that I have a specialised area of study, and that these skills are why the academics are paying me to do this job in the first place. If they could write and set up a Word document properly, they wouldn’t have hired me!) It’s a dangerous assumption to make, because it means I hold the rest of the world up to my personal standard, and, while I’m polite and tactful and kind (in other words, I think a lot of things I don’t say), this leads to internal frustration, anger and resentment, which poisons me and my interactions with others despite my best efforts otherwise.

A kinder, more realistic attitude would be to acknowledge that I am quite awesome at certain things,  and that I have a maturity, honesty and work ethic that a lot of people are yet to develop (which often leads to achievement) and this is okay because other people do not have to be like me. Other people shouldn’t be able to do all the things I can do (and the reverse) – in a way, I’m actively waging a war against being special, both in terms of myself and other people. This is a rather sobering thought: how sad is it that I feel like I shouldn’t special? How sad is it that I feel like other people shouldn’t be special?

Of course, if everybody were like me, and I didn’t have to develop skills for coping with other people, my life would be immeasurably easier. (If said academics didn’t blunder their way through Word, I’d have spent more time asleep/reading/watching TV/leaving the house.) Reality check, however: the sky’s not going to turn purple and green just because I think that’d be really cool.

So. Acknowledging my accomplishments, which means actually saying that I am awesome and not beating myself up over saying it. (I have to learn this. Who’s going to hire me if I don’t?)

This week’s accomplishment is the Student of the Year award (it took me fifteen minutes of staring at my computer before I could write those last six words), by unanimous decision among the teaching staff no less, and one of the amazing things that was said about me (and there were several amazing things) was that it wasn’t just my hard work on all the projects, although this was mentioned. The teachers said the other students benefited just because I was there, that I bring something special to the classroom environment. Given that until the last few years I wasn’t anything more than a ghost of a person drifting through my life – during my BA I wasn’t a student who was in any way noticed or strung more than few words together at a time – it is amazing, for reasons I’m not sure I can explain to people who don’t know who I was, to get that validation of actually being a real person. That accomplishment, actually, is more important to me than the title.

Now, while this is a clear instance of being seen and appreciated, and I’m writing this out for my homework because this is something I’ve earned and achieved, this isn’t exactly what I mean.

(Yes, we’re headed back to topic.)

You see, I was gifted a book as my award. A book on making handmade books. Not an editing book (I’ve got several) or a writing book (also have several), which would be obvious for all that they’d be appreciated, but something that had to have been picked out just for me because my teachers know that I really enjoyed the handmade bookmaking weeks in my Editing 2 class – because they know I am crafty and enjoy getting messy with glue/fabric/scissors/paper/cardboard/thread. They know that I’m in to digital publishing and production and editing, but they chose something for me I can go and have some serious fun with, that’s bookish but also a way to de-stress and unwind. (And I will.) They chose this book, this absurdly perfect book, because they know me.

The award and the clapping and the congratulations didn’t make me cry.

Opening the parcel to see this book, however, did.

(Please note that everything that follows comes from being raised working class in a Western country – my family background is by no means as financially privileged as many, but there is still, nevertheless, a great deal of privilege involved just from being born and raised in Australia with a parent who has always held down a stable job.)

You see, it’s not so very often I can open up a present and look down at something that shows the giver knows who I am. I have some friends who can do that for me in recent years, but not family. As an adult,  my family don’t know me well enough, or see me well enough, to get it right. My whole family, in fact, operates on a notion of ‘it’s the thought that counts’, an idea that sounds like it’s based in kindness but quickly becomes ugly: thinking of me by buying me a dress or feminine clothing (or soap or incense or anything that I don’t know for certain doesn’t contain artificial fragrance) or anything else I can’t/don’t use isn’t a thought at all. I quite often get gifted things I’ve previously said I don’t like, can’t use or don’t want. I’m regularly treated as a kind of generic ‘woman’ (the family Kris Kringle is a nightmare) rather than a person, K. A. … a person who doesn’t really fit conventional gender norms on either binary, but is still a person, and a quirky and colourful one at that, and still plenty easy to gift for if only people stop looking at my supposed gender and start looking at my actual personality.

In fact, I find gift-receiving to be upsetting, triggering and often no least bit binary-gender-essentialist. While other people look at me expectantly, because the person they think I am or want me to be should be happy and thrilled, or at least grateful, at receiving the object they’ve chosen, I’m nursing the unhappiness that comes from the symbolic reminder of not being a real person in the eyes of the gift-giver. It’s something I need to work on accepting – people don’t actually have to see the person I am, and I can’t make the bloody sky purple – but it means that just receiving a gift is often not a positive experience for me. Who likes being reminded that they don’t exist?

This book isn’t just a validation of what I’ve accomplished this year; it’s a symbol that these people saw beneath all that to the multi-faceted person I am, and that gifting me with something that speaks to me matters to them. It’s not something I can take for granted – the opposite, in fact. It’s a wonder to me, because it tells me that I am real to these people. It’s so rare and precious and amazing that I want to cling to it, treat it like a rope even though I’m not actually falling. I’m scared, to be honest, that I’ll lose that recognition by others of being a real person now that my life is changing. I have to learn that I can find it in other places, and I can’t cling to this course and these people if I want to grow and develop as a person – in point of fact, I have to learn to trust that I’ll find this recognition elsewhere, that I deserve it, that people are and should be capable of treating me as though I am real.

While I have to begin the next phase of my adventure (nothing lasts forever), and while my feelings about this tell me that I should begin this next phase (because I now need to learn things this course and these amazing people, friends and teachers alike, can’t teach me), leaving behind a place where I am real and seen doesn’t come without sadness, sorrow and grief.

I think this is okay, though.

I think, although it’s the first time I’ve ever felt this way, that this is what I’m supposed to be feeling.

Now, in the cause of being seen and real, let me present to you a publication that is all about, in fact, visibility and realness.

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Download: interactive PDF, epub (Kobo, Sony Reader, Apple/iBooks), mobi (Kindle)

What we see is what we get, but what we don’t see makes us miss so much more. A writer is someone who is not fully seen, or may be seen best through the prism of their writing. The Professional Writing and Editing book has been put together to show you the whole of us, not just a part. The writers who have contributed to this book have opened themselves up to the world, demonstrating not only their talents and skills, but their heart and souls.

We present to you Up Close and Personal, the 2013 Professional Writing and Editing Anthology, shining a light onto the inner workings of Professional Writing and Editing students at Victoria University.

This book was one of the two pieces produced by the Publishing Studio class of 2013, an amazing group of nine students and one teacher who spent five months slaving away managing the submissions, the editing, the design/layout and the proofing. My fellow students wrote the blurb and editorial, picked out the order of the pieces, chose the content, submitted the content, and spent the term break slavishly working away at the editing. I designed the print and digital interiors and, with a lot of help from my course coordinator, laid out the cover. The print edition has a 150 copy print run, which is amazing for a student-managed publication; print copies are for sale through the PWE department and at Rotunda events, but also given away as promotional materials to various important university officials and in-coming students. Something we’ve made gets to be a part of the history of this course.

This e-book is also the first-ever digital release of the PWE student anthology, something I’m thrilled to have pitched and brought into existence. It’s my hope that a digital release not only makes our words accessible to all students regardless of finances and ability to hold or read a print book, but allows us to go and bring our words to a much wider audience – to be, for many of us, our first step into the professional writing arena, but one we can proudly show the world.

My pieces:

‘Elysium’ (fiction): a girl seeks to escape her abusive family by following the call of the trees.

‘This thing called gender’ (creative non fiction): what is it like to live in the world as a genderless person? Let me share my reality…

This book also features the creative talents of so many of my friends: M. Hart, Danielle Higgins, Janet Stapleton, Anna Brasier, Dylan Marshall, Peter Dewar … to name but a few! Some of us have been published before, and some of us are just beginning our publishing journey; some of us are poets, fiction or non-fiction writers, and some of us dabble across many mediums. All of us, I believe, are worth reading.

I hope you find a new author to follow in Up Close and Personal‘s pages.

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