‘Life’s Short Interruption: Part II’
Part of the second year of school entailed practical placement. This meant working about seventy hours in a field of writing or editing. The head of my course had seen me give a presentation on journalism the previous year, so she suggested I put myself forward for placement with Leader Newspapers, as they handed out one place every year. I did, thinking nothing of it, and landed the spot.
As usual, I was petrified of what I’d find at the Leader. I wasn’t a journalist. And I wasn’t sure I had the tools to be a journalist. I could write, sorta, and was sorta confident about that, but my interpersonal skills – at least in a professional capacity – were vastly underdeveloped.
Originally, my editor, Sally, wanted me to exploit my background in film, (although she didn’t know how anaemic that background was). We thought about looking at film in the area of Preston and Northcote. When I couldn’t come up with any great leads, she looked at me doing pieces about dealing with my depression.
Sally considered depression the new cancer in terms of stigma – so many people suffered from it, but nobody wanted to talk about it. She asked me to write two pieces about my experiences (and my inability to sell the first draft of Overload), and they ran as features in the Preston and Northcote Leader Newspapers in the middle of the year (article 01, and article 02). I also wrote a short profile on a classmate’s Asian roommate as an insight into multiculturalism. That required me interviewing her for forty minutes, transcribing it all, and then writing a piece that was only a couple of hundred words.
My two weeks at Leader were great, and everybody there was great, but my productivity wasn’t great because of my diffidence. I was frightened to put myself out there more than was expected of me. I was, as always, intimidated by comparisons, about the people I was working with, and whether the quality of my own writing would stand up against theirs – especially since my qualifications and experience certainly wouldn’t.
When I returned to school, I was put forward for a scholarship for excellence for general academic achievement. I won. When I told one of my teachers, his face just split into this huge, pleased grin. It was touching to see somebody that proud of me. When I told Allie, the first question she asked me was about the remuneration. I’m not sure if she was being mercenary or was genuinely happy and just curious about the financial reward but it was an odd question to lead with. I invited her to the presentation ceremony. She said she wouldn’t be able to arrange it because of the kids, (and she couldn’t get her family to babysit for a couple of hours because she was still denying my existence to them).
Otherwise, the school year continued as the first one had unfolded, albeit with an increased workload. One of the classes involved working for the course’s publisher, which included practical experience in editing. I also submitted the first draft of ‘Overload’, and it was accepted under the proviso I’d rewrite it.
The critical part of me argued ‘Overload’ was only accepted because of whom I knew. If any of my work succeeded, I wanted it to succeed on merit, regardless of who I was or who I knew, even if I was told this was sometimes how the industry worked. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it felt like cheating.
The other thing that continued the same throughout the year were the patterns of my relationship with Allie: break-up, reconcile, break-up, reconcile, etc. But when we broke up towards the end of the year, I decided that was it, no matter what happened we wouldn’t reconcile again. We would never be alike.
Allie asked me to give her another chance, promising things would be different. I told her no. She had a distinctive duality happening: the romantic side involving me; and the reality of kids, bills, mortgage, and life’s everyday demands. The latter always reasserted itself in a way that made her re-contextualise the former with cold, logical pragmatism that always had me justifying myself, and trying to prove myself to her. I just couldn’t meet her expectations.
For almost four years, I’d been dedicated to the relationship. I argued with her, came to her house until late (she rarely wanted me to stay over during those heady times), then drove home and argued with my parents violently about the relationship. I was trying to make everybody else happy. It was time for me.
I suggested we could remain friends, but that for now I wanted to think about myself. I was about to graduate, I would have to find full-time work, I wanted to become self-sufficient and get out of this house, out of this back room, and into the world.
Maybe it was selfish. Maybe I’d only ever been about me.
But at least, as Allie had always wanted me to be, I was trying to be ‘normal people.’