the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: growing up

Do writers exist?

by MDY

A year before I finished high school, one of the broadsheets interviewed the state’s most recent doyenne of English examinations. “I’m a writer,” she was quoted as saying, and I knew immediately that she was the antithesis of everything my seventeen-year-old self stood for. Exactly what those things were, I’m not so sure now. I think artistic integrity might have been one of them, but I know integration by parts definitely wasn’t (maths was never my strong point, though I often envied its purposefulness and exotic symbols). I do remember being vehemently opposed to the notion of my being a writer, so much so that upon receiving a daub of prestige in a competition run by that same broadsheet later (or was it earlier?) that year, I would downplay the calibre of my work with a singular aggressiveness whenever it came up in conversation. I didn’t win the competition.

Even now when people ask me what I do, it’s “I write stuff” and not the other thing. The habit runs deep in my neuroses. To me, the term yokes along a whole wagon of personality disorders and bohemian undergarments and a mounting tally of operational expenses like alcohol and extramarital affairs. I fear these things. But there’s a deeper fear too, of being straitjacketed into not just bohemian undergarments which repulse me but any set of undergarments at all. I like being able to switch between sets of underwear, and wash them regularly, and even throw them out with a touch of nostalgia once they’ve obviously passed their wear-by date. And so whenever someone says “I’m a _____” I feel this shameful little tingle of fear mixed with schadenfreude at the fact that I’m not at all like them in their worn-out boxers but at the same time I am.

Five years on, I still write stuff. Despite my best efforts, it’s increasingly the only thing I really do. Improving a craft requires a monopoly time, and that means jettisoning the competition: music, academia, large chunks of social interaction. Not all of it, though. My best words are those of others, plucked from conversations or stories or the walk home past mothballed terraces crowding out the piebald sky. I resist my craft’s efforts to define me because I suspect the moment they do, I will cease to have anything to write about. A facility with words opens many doors, much like a facility containing many battering rams. It’s a powerful tool but nothing more, and I intend for it to stay that way. Writing can be who you are, but better, I think, to keep it as what you do.

Dealing with rejection

by MDY

Rejection is the norm. When I started out as a writer-for-hire, I used to send out at least ten cover letters a week for different freelance gigs and odd jobs I’d spied. Sometimes that number was closer to ten a day. Each letter was carefully tailored to the specifics of the opportunity (not “I saw your ad”, but “I saw your ad on Craigslist“), accompanied by a copy of my somewhat embellished yet obviously anorexic curriculum vitae and a pro forma offer to complete a test assignment completely gratis. My knowledge of Latin did not win me any favours. For every hundreds of letters I sent out in the course of three years, I was offered about seven or eight assignments of note. Out of those, I was paid meaningful sums (read: more than $2) for about four. The process taught me that talent can only get you so far. It also taught me to write a damn fast cover letter.

Rejection will crush your dreams. At the venerable age of 16¾, I sent out manuscripts of my novel to dozens of publishers, all of whom replied months later with form letters politely declining my work. I eventually realised that this was because it was total crap. Unfortunately, by this stage this novel had consumed 1825 hours of my life, 192 hours of my mentors’ lives, and the mass of a small Polynesian forest in paper and stamps. I didn’t want to write novels after that. So I wrote short stories. I sent them to cultured people and received more polite form letters. But when other dreams came calling, I was ready to chase them. Ideally, rejection not only crushes your dreams but your fear of failing them.

Rejection makes no sense. Just over a year ago I was quite sweet on this girl just as (I later found out) she was quite sweet on me. Then she hooked up with another guy because I hadn’t been forceful enough about being sweet on her. About six months ago, I was quite sweet on this other girl who was (rather obviously) quite sweet on me. Then she told me things wouldn’t work between us because I had been too forceful about being sweet on her. I’m still single. But I say “sweet on” because it sounds humorous and of the halcyon – which is how I want to remember those times, not all bitter and cheated like an Internet meme.

Sometimes hope works, or loud words, or the embrace of a special person. And sometimes they don’t. Personally, I deal with it in any way I can.

Transformations

by MDY

I saw Optimus Prime again today. He was guarding a kid in a stroller on the train, keeping watch over the carriage with his steely eyes. From time to time, the kid would hug him closer to his chest with a “choo-choo-choo” noise as we rushed into tunnel-dark, as though reassuring himself of his protector’s presence. He also seemed to enjoy spinning the three disks attached to Optimus’ left gauntlet, who didn’t seem offended by this blatant disregard of his weapon’s lethal potential.

I wondered what the disks were. Optimus used to protect me when I was little, but I didn’t recall him having them back then. He must’ve picked them up somewhere along the way, the better to repel the deceptively-weak onslaught of his foes during some particularly violent invasion or live-action reboot. I wondered when he’d changed, and where he’d left his sword.

Nobody else looked at Optimus. They looked at their touch-screens, or daily rags, or out the window eyes double-glazed like the glass. Even if they glanced at him they didn’t really see him. I wondered what they saw. Deadlines, maybe, or roast dinners, or things that had no words.

You could tell he really loved the Prime.