I haven’t said it here, yet – there are a great many things I’m yet to speak about here on the matter of finding my way back to myself – but I started freelance work this year designing event flyers and administrating the Twilight School website.
The Twilight School, run by Bruno Lettieri (of Rotunda fame, one of the most amazing and generous people that ever lived) is the community outreach project of the Salesian College Sunbury. The Salesian College sponsors something quite unique: an after-hours education service providing classes, guest speakers and other community events, at low-cost, for the Sunbury community. Most of these conversations involve literary personages and community health workers, and the classes run from cooking to writing and gardening to photography. The Twilight School also sponsors the Good Man Project, which is about fostering and developing healthy and open emotional dialogue with, between and among men. Barn Owl Journal is another of Bruno’s pet projects for getting creative writing out into the community, and you can read the current issue here.
(For an event example, you can go and see actor, comedian and writer John Clarke this month for $10 plus drinks, and all you need to do is bring a plate of food for the communal table. We’re talking an evening with a seriously famous, at least in Australia and New Zealand, seriously clever satirist for $10 and however much it costs you to bring a plate of sandwiches or cake. If you’re in Melbourne and this interests you, book now, because places are filling up. If I were living anywhere reasonably close to Sunbury at the moment, I’d go.)
I can’t overstate how important this sort of thing is. The Twilight School is offering and allowing real connection, expression and education in a world where the privileged have an infinite number of avenues in which to communicate yet we are still discouraged from being honest and vulnerable in the company of others.
(When your feminist goddess of a friend is telling you that she’s not sure she should have written about her experiences with depression and anorexia because it’s not appropriate to tell that kind of intimate story, on her own damn website no less, we have a problem with communication.)
Of late I’ve been trying to figure out how to manage more shifts at work, a new story idea that is essentially about queers with mental illness trying to solve crime while living the stigma and erasure their diagnoses and treatments bring, the ongoing mountain that is trying to clean my house, and survival. Survival isn’t so easy when everything from TV to the wreckage littering my bed reminds me of my failure to just be a functional person.
Needless to say, depression dogs my footsteps, a snarling, smothering shadow of barely-dammed despair. Right now the only place I can escape it – where I feel capable, functional and successful at anything – is while writing fiction or handling stock/talking to customers at work, but even that comes at a cost, given the emotional exhaustion that follows shunting aside my feelings for a shift or two. Yet I can’t survive without that escape from my own head, such that the things that help me survive are making it harder for me to function in general.
I can write, and while I am lost in the words I feel almost alive, but if I write all the time I can’t do anything else: I’m addicted to that brief flash of not-depression I feel such that getting up and attempting laundry or the dishes brings on an even greater awareness of my world as it is, and there’s nothing about that awareness that is easily endurable.
My new job involves talking to a lot of new-to-me people. (It also involves epic losses at Magic the Gathering and being walled-in by Funko Pop! figures.) I’m spending a surprising amount of time chatting to shop regulars while they browse cards from the 2015 core set and buy up most of our Planeswalkers, which usually leads to questions about who I am and what I do when I’m not grabbing the Khans folder from under the counter.
To you, my readers, the answer seems obvious. I write verbose blog posts, short fiction and novels. I write about writing, creativity and the life of a queer-with-mental-illness writer. I spent a large part of last Thursday talking about my writing process to my fellow writer-friend, which is illuminating in the sense that I have enough awareness now, about my own process, to speak on it. I’ve written two novels and one novelette in this year alone, so I think I’ve grasped the output side of writing. Sure, I don’t have many readers as yet, but I’ll keep working on that, and, maybe one day, I’ll be able to make half a living income from my words. Everything else I do is pretty much an adjunct to writing or a way of keeping a roof over my head while I write. It doesn’t matter what people say about my writing (although those comments are most often positive): that is incidental to the fact that my life is about the arrangement of words to create meaning.
My friend J. P. Kyle links my last post on Amazon and Patreon and provides a great many links useful to self-published writers. Worth reading for this alone! It just so happens, however, to be a launching off-point for several essay-length comments by yours truly (yes, of course I write essay-length comments) about the self-publishing experience, blogging here at QWG and what it means to be a beginning/just-starting indie author…
(Also, Asylum is now up on Amazon. Yay!)
I have done two things today. They both revolve around the attempt to make some kind of income from my words.
One: two of my three self-published books are now up on Amazon. Yay! However, I want to apologise to all Amazon customers for the fact that I can’t put my free reads (Crooked Words and Death is Only a Theoretical Concept) up as free reads on Amazon … so if you’re an Amazon reader, you’re going to have to either pay 99 cents US (or whatever the local equivalent is) or go over to Smashwords/Apple/Kobo/Scribd. I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to buy something that’s free to read elsewhere. I should state that I have no intention of price-matching: I released those books as free reads for a reason and mean to keep them that way.
This week I taught people how to sew handmade books, someone else a little on how to make ebooks, edited a ten-thousand-word transcript of a panel-type presentation, realised that I totally know how to style a Word doc for html, and had a friend offer me a job that sounds like fun and money. My harddrive is also dying, so I’m now working off a shitty Windows 8 netbook, and my floral-patterned trolley (it’s so awesome people stop me in the street to tell me how awesome it is) cracked a wheel. But it’s mostly good. It’s actually pretty damn nice to be in a position where people are starting to throw things in my direction so I can use my collection of professional skills to (nearly) pay the rent.
When I finished my BA with an anthropology major and an Honours thesis on genocide as a form of sacrifice, I had no community, no sense of connectedness to academia or the industry. It’s a strange and wondrous thing, this time around, to have friends and connections to the community and PWE staff, to have a tangible skillset that isn’t ‘writing essays’ or ‘able to tell you just why the UN failed in Rwanda’, to have people in my life who know I’m the resident ebook expert. I don’t regret my BA. I loved my sojourn into Shakespeare; I loved everything I learnt in anthropology. My novel is essentially a fantastic form of the themes in my thesis. It did not give me, though, what a less-prestigious TAFE course gave me; I am not the person that began the course two and half years ago in terms of the array of skills I now have, and I am so damn glad of that.
If you are in Australia and you are a literary creative, if you have even the slightest pretensions to a industry career that goes a little beyond just crafting words – Professional Writing and Editing TAFE is the best investment of your time and money, and the Victoria University staff and community are the most amazing people. I know I say it again and again, but I owe so much to this course. They have allowed me to transform myself from K. A. the warehouse flunkie to K. A. the emerging writing and publishing professional.*
(* This phrasing, which is something I wrote without thinking about it, is quite interesting in the sense that it squarely places the agency in my hands. I could have said that they transformed me, and not so long ago I would have. That’s not true, however, and that must be a truth I’m starting to grasp enough that I can phrase it in just that way – that I’m the agent of change in my own life. My teachers and psychologists and friends can support me, encourage me and teach me, but they can’t change me. I can.)
I have a week and a half of class to go (and a week after that to finish the class anthology).
In that time I have to pick up my book from my printer (I owe my customer service rep at my printer a box of Roses for being so fucking awesome … note to self, buy said Roses), finish the PDF layout on one e-book, proof another e-book, complete the sixth round of proofing on a magazine, give a speech, get more print quotes, give a second speech, finish the scene breakdown of my screenplay, write a report, assist the design on another print book, get that book printed, go to school, create the EPUB version of one of those e-books, proof that e-book and the new print book, start styling copy for the layout of yet another publication, phone the person paying me to do said setting of styles on copy…
(There will be more I have forgotten.)
Oh, and eat, sleep, rest my hands, survive.
After all that, I want to go and make the e-versions of Asylum so people who want to read my book can do so without selling half their soul to Australia Post (and so that people who don’t want to or can’t read print books have choices). But. It is a print book, and I am ridiculously pleased at how well I’ve somehow managed to style the text. I’m not a graphic designer and the cover is simple, but the inside, if I say so myself, looks gorgeous. And real. Like a real fucking book. I have made a book. I can do the layout of a book.